Give Julius the damn ball!

Julius Jones is not a complainer, but I imagine that if he was, he’d be bitching up a storm right now about his inability to tote the rock. Prior to signing a four-year, $11.8 million contract with the Hawks in the offseason, Jones was forced to watch ex-teammate Marion Barber steal carries from him in Dallas, despite the fact that Jones was considered the number one tailback. Searching for greener pastures, Jones came to Seattle with the expectation of being THE GUY, not just one part of a package deal. With the big contract and only career backup Maurice Morris to really challenge him for the role of starter (T.J. Duckett is locked into that short-yardage role, but can’t honestly be considered a legit starting option), all Jones had to do was be consistent at the start of the year to lock down his role.

And consistent he was. Despite the fact that MoMo started the season opener, Coach Mike Holmgren tapped Jones in relief and he didn’t disappoint, providing 45 yards on 13 carries, as well as 17 receiving yards on two catches. In Weeks 2 and 3, Jones went certifiably off, rushing for 127 and 140 yards, respectively, with a TD in each game.

Yet since Week 3, Jones hasn’t come close to equaling that production, nor has he been given the opportunity. Jones received 26 and 22 carries, respectively, in the two games he went off. Since then, he has received no more than 17 carries, which came in Week 5 against the New York Giants. Versus the Giants stingy run defense, Jones managed just 61 yards on those 17 attempts. He did so under tough conditions, however. The Hawks were on one of their infamous East Coast road trips, and the G-Men were able to stack against the run with a particularly weak Matt Hasselbeck (who was eventually removed from the game due to injury) under center. That unfair shake was really the last we saw of Julius until last week at Miami when he put together an 88-yard day with just 16 carries (a 5.5 YPC average).

Perhaps the most puzzling game for Jones came in Week 8 at San Francisco. The Niners were the victims of Jones’ 127-yard day in Week 2, but in Week 8 only allowed him to go for a measly nine yards. Coach Holmgren, however, may have been Jones’ biggest roadblock, allowing him to run the ball only six times that day. While the run game was stifled nearly all day long (a team total of 39 rushing yards), backup Maurice Morris was still given 11 chances at penetrating the Niners D, nearly twice as many as Jones. Morris, for all his efforts, only managed seven more yards (16) than Jones.

So I guess my question is, what the hell has Julius Jones done to piss off the coaching staff? He’s put together a few nice games when presented the opportunity, but he’s only been afforded that luxury a couple times this season. And it’s not like he’s some underpaid rookie; he’s supposed to be the guy to carry the ball for this team each and every game. Come on, coaches. Let’s get Julius the damn ball. He deserves it.

Is playing Hasselbeck the right move?

After missing the past five games with a back injury, Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck is expected to start this Sunday against Arizona. But is it the right call? The Hawks are more than halfway through a lost season and a loss to the Cardinals this week will mathematically eliminate the team from playoff contention. So what’s the point in playing a guy who isn’t 100%?

Sure, backup Seneca Wallace hasn’t done much to warrant confidence in Hasselbeck’s absence. But his supporting cast has been atrocious and Wallace has shown improvement. In last week’s game at Miami, Wallace completed 21 passes on 38 attempts and totaled 185 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. Compare that to the line of Dolphins starter Chad Pennington: 22-36 passing, 209 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. The backup nearly equaled the performance of his counterpart, the entrenched starter, and did so under adverse conditions: 80-degree heat, high humidity, 10:00 AM West Coast start time, down a receiver (Deion Branch).

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Play Seneca Wallace!” shout out, but I just don’t see the point in risking injury to a franchise quarterback when the only two things currently at stake are pride and draft position. And frankly, I’d rather see this team finish 4-12 with a Top 10 pick instead of shoot for 7-9 with a mid-round selection. Let’s not ruin these dreams, Seahawks.

2008-2009 Husky Basketball Preview

With the season getting underway on Saturday at the University of Portland, it’s time for SSN’s 2008-2009 Husky Men’s Basketball preview. The Dawgs finished 16-17 last season (7-11 in the Pac-10) and ended their year with a first-round loss to Valparaiso in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational Tournament.

Who’s Back

The Dawgs return senior starting PF Jon Brockman, a 2009 Wooden Award candidate, who averaged a double-double last season (17.8 PPG, 11.6 RPG) and is the captain and spiritual leader of the ballclub.

Other returners include: PG/SG Justin Dentmon, Sr. (9.8 PPG, 2.3 APG); PF/C Artem Wallace, Sr. (3.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG); SF Quincy Pondexter, Jr. (9.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG); C Joe Wolfinger, Jr. (4.2 PPG, 40.4% 3-point shooting percentage); PF Matthew Bryan-Amaning, So. (4.2 PPG, team-high 18 blocked shots); PG Venoy Overton, So. (4.9 PPG, 3.2 APG); SF Justin Holiday, So. (0.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG).

Who’s New

Point guard Isaiah Thomas (5’8″, 180 pounds), a Tacoma native, is arguably the most-hyped of this year’s incoming players. Originally a member of the 2007 recruiting class, Thomas spent two years at South Kent Prep School in Massachusetts before arriving on Montlake this season. A prolific scorer in high school, Thomas backed up the hype with a 27-point performance in last week’s exhibition game versus Western Washington University. Other newcomers include: PF Darnell Gant, RS Fr. (6’8″, 215); PF Tyreese Breshers, Fr. (6’7″, 255); SG Scott Suggs, Fr. (6’6″, 190); SG Elston Turner, Fr. (6’4″, 205).

Who’s Out

A bulk of the scoring load will need to be distributed amongst the rotation with the departure of guard Ryan Appleby (11.2 PPG), a senior last season. Senior guard Tim Morris also saw his eligibility clock run out last year, while redshirt junior swingman Joel Smith transferred to Chaminade University in Maui, Hawaii. Adrian Oliver, a sophomore guard a year ago, left the program five games into the 2007-2008 season and is now at San Jose State University in California.

Coaching Staff

No changes on the staff this year as all the coaches return. Head Coach Lorenzo Romar enters his seventh season on Montlake, having compiled a 119-72 record at UW since 2002. The three assistant coaches are Cameron Dollar, Jim Shaw, and Paul Fortier, with Lance LaVetter as Director of Basketball Operations.

How they stack up: Backcourt

Though slightly undersized, the Husky guards bring a great deal of speed and quickness to the floor that opposing defenses will have a tough time containing. Starting point guard Isaiah Thomas (pictured left) has an explosive first-step and a knack for getting to the rim. Despite his short stature, Thomas has powerful hops and has thrown down in-game while in high school.

Starting backcourtmate Justin Dentmon has had a bumpy tenure on Montlake but spent the offseason working on his shot to become a reliable scoring option. As a freshman, Dentmon was counted on to distribute the ball to the likes of Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, and Jamaal Williams but watched as that role changed over the following seasons. Seemingly in limbo between the 1 and the 2, the 5’10” Dentmon seems to have found his niche as an undersized shooting guard in his senior season. He kicked off the ’08-’09 campaign by going 4-6 from beyond the arc in last week’s exhibition against WWU.

Sophomore point guard Venoy Overton, a starter a year ago, employs an erratic but effective style of play that allows him to out-quick the majority of defenders he matches up against. If Overton wants to regain his starting spot, he’ll need to show some consistency with his jumper (25% behind the arc last year) and improve on his ability to finish around the rim in order to leapfrog either Thomas or Dentmon. Overton did post a team-high 45 steals last season.

Freshmen Elston Turner and Scott Suggs will challenge for rotational playing time early on and could emerge as zone-busters with their shooting abilities. Neither Turner nor Suggs is afraid to pull the trigger on a deep ball, and both possess above-average range and accuracy. At 6’6″, 190 pounds, Suggs will likely need to bulk up over the course of the season in order to handle the rigors of the college game. Turner has the bloodlines to be successful; he is the son of former NBA player Elston Turner, Sr., now an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets.

How they stack up: Frontcourt

Senior captain Jon Brockman is arguably one of the best power forwards in the nation and has the numbers to back it up. In his three years on Montlake, Brockman has averaged a combined 13.5 PPG and 9.2 RPG and has seen his numbers increase steadily with each subsequent season. If the trend holds true this year, we should expect a 20/12-type season from the Wooden Award contender.

Junior Quincy Pondexter is entrenched at the starting small forward spot for the Dawgs after coming on strong late last season. Though he has displayed flashes of athletic brilliance in the previous two years, Pondexter’s tenure can best be described as “inconsistent” thus far. Pondexter registered a career-high 25 points on two occasions as a freshman (against Arizona and Idaho), but regressed in his sophomore campaign, failing to eclipse double-digits in scoring average (9.9 PPG). With the departure of Ryan Appleby, Pondexter should be given a greater role in the offense and be allowed to create off the dribble more frequently, which is what he does best. His biggest weakness is confidence, however, and Pondexter will need to overcome his mental demons before he’s fully able to unleash his on-court physical prowess.

Sophomore Matthew Bryan-Amaning (pictured right) and redshirt freshman Darnell Gant are the two primary contenders for the fifth starting spot in Lorenzo Romar’s lineup, with Gant taking a surprising early lead in the contest. After starting the exhibition opener versus Western, Gant managed a mere four points in 19 minutes of action, while committing three personal fouls. Bryan-Amaning, meanwhile, came off the bench to score 12 points in 18 minutes of work while committing no fouls. Gant’s emergence as a starter hinges on his ability to do the dirty work, which Coach Romar has a fondness for, despite the fact that Bryan-Amaning is the more polished scorer. The combination of Gant and Bryan-Amaning equates to one very complete player, and the two should push each other to improve upon their weaknesses as the season progresses.

Freshman Tyreese Breshers, junior Joe Wolfinger, and senior Artem Wallace are wildcards. Breshers (shin surgery) and Wallace (knee surgery) are currently limited by injuries, while the 7-footer Wolfinger will likely see a reduced role out of the gate in Romar’s uptempo offense. Should Breshers and Wallace return to health, there’s a good chance they might not see expanded playing time anyways, as the run-and-gun style of play the Dawgs are looking to employ doesn’t quite fit their individual games at this point. If pressed into duty, look for Wolfinger to spread defenses and suck big men onto the perimeter to defend his long-range shooting ability; he’ll collect the occasional rebound as well, but is little more than a foul-prone roadblock on the defensive end. The 6’8″ Wallace has established himself as a grit guy the past two seasons, providing the rebounding and defensive intensity needed when Jon Brockman is on the bench. His inability to extend his shot beyond ten feet has made him an offensive liability, however, and he should yield minutes to Gant and Bryan-Amaning as a result. Breshers, for all his potential, might be in line for a redshirt season if he can’t play catch-up and get up to speed with the rest of the team.

How they’ll finish

The Dawgs could arguably finish anywhere between second and sixth in the Pac-10, but should be amongst the top four if their on-paper credentials play out in games. Their success will depend greatly on the ability of the freshman Thomas to run the offense and provide a heavy dose of scoring. It’s no secret that the Huskies of late have struggled when they fail to push the tempo, so look for the team to revert back to the days of the Brandon Roy-led Dawgs and run opponents out of the gym. Improved athleticism and quickness from a year ago should ease that transition and take some of the burden off Brockman, who should continue to put up consistent numbers no matter the style of play. If this team can put all the pieces together, there’s no reason why they can’t end their two-year NCAA Tournament drought and return to the true postseason for the first time since 2006.

KIRO 710 AM to switch to all-sports

Jayda Evans of The Seattle Times is reporting that KIRO 710 AM radio will become an all-sports station beginning April 1, 2009.

If you’re a Seattle sports fan, this is fantastic news. For as long as I can remember, there has really been only one sports station in the area, 950 KJR AM. KJR does a decent job with their local sports talk, but really provides no national perspective on issues until around 10:00 PM each night when they switch to an ESPN feed. If anything, this development should breed competition between the two outlets and force both the old (KJR) and the new (KIRO) to step up their on-air game on a daily basis.

My only advice to KIRO is to leave the objectivity at the door. I can understand trying to appease the Hawks and M’s (and Sounders, I guess) by toning down the on-air criticism, but fans are entitled to voice their opinions and hear those of the on-air personalities, as well. In the Mariners first go-round with KIRO (which ended a few years ago), the station would always have New York Vinnie host a post-postgame show where the conversation could get a little salty at times. I say bring back Vinnie and have another go at that, he’s not doing anything these days.

And on a side note, I can’t tell you how happy I am that the Mariners are leaving KOMO Radio. There’s no reason why anyone should listen to KOMO unless they’re stuck in traffic. KOMO spent the last couple years butchering Mariners broadcasts to death and seemingly attempting to take down the career of Dave Niehaus with all their ridiculous BS. The pre- and post-game show hosts they had were straight garbage and offered nothing more than an elementary school opinion on the quality of play; honestly, if you listened just to those broadcasts you wouldn’t be able to tell if the Mariners were in last place or first place, it was that bad.

In addition, almost all the postgame calls they received came direct from retirement homes, with old guys demanding more playing time for Willie Bloomquist. “What about that Bloomquist fellow, why don’t we play him more? Put him at first base in place of that Sexton, see what he can do there. I don’t understand why they’re not playing, don’t they want to win….” Yeah.

The Top 11: Seattle sports villains, #11-7

Everyone likes lists, which is why here at SSN we’ve created the Top 11. The Top 11 is a weekly listing of the greatest 11 Somethings to ever occur in Seattle sports history. Our Top 11 is much like a Top 10 list only one better…and 11 is also the number once worn by such Seattle icons as Edgar Martinez, Detlef Schrempf, and Marques Tuiasosopo, so it can do no wrong. Without further ado, on to the list.

11. Jim McIlvaine. It’s hard to do anything wrong when you don’t do anything, but Jim McIlvaine did all he could to disprove that theory during his short stint in Seattle. McIlvaine, the 7’1″ shot-blocking waste of space that he was, came to the Emerald City in 1996 thanks to a horrible decision on the part of the Sonics front office. Given a four-year, $34 million contract by the club, McIlvaine was supposed to be the guy to take the team to the next level, the perfect complement to the likes of Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. Instead, Big Jim (really at no fault of his own) set off a catastrophic series of events that drove the franchise into the ground and ultimately led in the Sonics’ departure from Seattle twelve years later. How did all this happen? Let’s review.

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In your face, Seattle: Piniella wins Manager of the Year

Welcome to the maiden voyage of a piece I like to call “In your face, Seattle.” Here at IYFS, we’ll examine a wide range of sports-related topics that are essentially salt in the wounds of Seattle sports fans. Whether it be Jim McIlvaine returning to the NBA with a 50-point performance off the bench of the Oklahoma City Thunder or Bobby Ayala closing out Game 7 of the World Series, IYFS will be here to cover it and get the fan reaction.

Our first IYFS is dedicated to former Mariner manager Lou Piniella, who today was named National League Manager of the Year. Piniella led the 2008 Chicago Cubs to a first-round playoff exit (not exactly MOY-type material, but the voting is conducted before the playoffs begin) and a National League-best 97 regular season wins in capturing the award.

Piniella, as many of our sober readers may recall, managed the Seattle Mariners from 1993 to 2002, before gracefully taking his leave to be closer to his family in Florida following the ’02 season. Major accomplishments include the Mariners first winning record in 1993 (82-80, .506 winning percentage); first postseason appearance in franchise history in 1995; subsequent postseason appearances in 1997, 2000, and 2001; and an all-time record 116 regular-season wins in 2001 (tying the 1908 Chicago Cubs for that achievement). Piniella also posted a winning record in seven of the ten seasons he was in Seattle, which may not seem that impressive to the untrained observer, but is pretty much grounds for Hall of Fame induction here in the Northwest.

Though he’s been somewhat of a nomad in the six years since leaving Seattle (having spent three years as the manager of the then-moribund Tampa Bay then-Devil Rays, one year as a color commentator for Fox, and now two years with the Cubs), Piniella has seemingly found the greener pastures he went searching for more than a half a decade ago in Chicago. While we applaud the successes of one of our former hometown heroes, it really serves to underscore the municipal sports scene when a man who walked out on us like a weekend parent with three kids is still near and dear to hearts in the Emerald City. So in your face, Seattle, Lou Piniella is doing just fine.

Cora in ’09?

It’s official, Joey Cora has been interviewed as a potential candidate for the Mariners open managerial post. The interview took place Tuesday afternoon and early reports indicate no tears were shed by either of the involved parties, so good news there.

All jokes aside, the real question we should be asking right now is, “Is Joey Cora a good fit for the Mariners?” He’s without a doubt the most recognizable figure amongst a crowd of no-names–Brad Mills and DeMarlo Hale (Red Sox), Chip Hale (Diamondbacks), Jose Oquendo (Cardinals), Don Wakamatsu (A’s), and Randy Ready (Padres) are the other six candidates, none of whom (including Cora) have Major League managing experience–and is easily the fan’s choice for next M’s skipper, but let’s be honest here: Does Joey Cora really strike you as the managing type? And for this ballclub?

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Tuba Man Memorial Tonight

Just a reminder that there will be a public memorial for Tuba Man Edward McMichael this evening at 6:30 PM at the Qwest Field Events Center. Doors will open at 5:30 PM for the event and will feature musical guests, a variety of guest speakers, and representatives from the Mariners and Seahawks.

Issaquah native Lincecum wins Cy Young

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum capped off an All-Star sophomore season by winning the National League Cy Young Award yesterday. Despite his team’s 72-90 record and second-to-last-place finish in the NL West, Lincecum managed to piece together an 18-5 record, 2.62 ERA, and Major League-high 265 strikeouts while featuring a fastball that consistently topped out above 95 MPH to complement a vicious, “12-to-6” curveball.

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The State of Seattle Sports

I was reading Sports Illustrated today when I came across an article titled “Sportspocalypse Now,” written by Chris Ballard. Depicting none other than our fair city, Ballard’s one-page essay was devoted to the sad state of athletics in Seattle. There was talk of the Sonics’ departure, naturally, as well as the trio of ineptitude in the forms of the Mariners, Seahawks, and Husky Football progam. Ballard went so far as to visit our city to fully immerse himself in the tragedy that is the Seattle sports scene.

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