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posted: Mar. 16, 2006  |  Feedback

Clarification from yesterday's Cowbell: Some of you noticed that the Sports Gal picked UCLA over Memphis in the regional finals, followed by Memphis winning it all. That wasn't a typo. Now she's claiming that (A) she had Memphis over UCLA all along, and (B) I screwed up (even though I wrote down her explanation for the UCLA pick verbatim). She's also extremely upset that I ran two Grateful Dead references without mentioning her Phish reference in the Washington region. So we might end up getting divorced over this. Let's hope she waits to file papers until after the tournament.

For today: I wanted to run two brackets from people who actually follow sports to see if my mother and wife will end up doing better. So we're running my bracket as well as my buddy House's bracket. Why House? Because he watches more college hoops than anyone I know. Always a recipe for disaster with these things.

Here were our picks:

HOUSE BRACKET

ATLANTA REGION:
Sweet 16: Duke over George Washington ... LSU Over Texas A&M ... W.Va over Iowa ... Texas over Cal.

Regional Final: Duke over W.Va.

Explanation: "Had to include GW because they have my favorite player in the country, Pops Mensah-Bonsu (even though he's hurt). Had to include LSU because they have my second-favorite player in the country, Glen "Big Baby" Davis. I took Duke over Texas because my card is American Express."

OAKLAND REGION:
Sweet 16: Arkansas over Memphis ... Kansas over Pitt ... San Diego St. over Gonzaga ... UCLA over Marquette.

Regional Final: Kansas over UCLA.

Explanation: "Don't trust Memphis, notwithstanding my desire to see them go far just to see Rodney Carney dunk. Don't trust Gonzaga either, notwithstanding my desire to watch Adam Morrison become the first white player with a mustache in the Final Four in two decades. I haven't seen a ton of Kansas this year, but I'm always down with Rock-Chalk-Jayhawk."

WASHINGTON D.C. REGION:
Sweet 16: UConn over Kentucky ... Illinois over Utah St. ... North Carolina over Mich. St. ... Wichita St. over Winthrop.

Regional Final: UConn over UNC.

Explanation: "I think UConn is the best team in the tournament and my numerous ... ummmm ... friendly, non-monetary wagers are all going to reflect that. The Wichita St./Winthrop matchup is my shout-out to the mid-majors, and Wichita St. is my pick there -- who doesn't enjoy a nice Shocker?"

MINNEAPOLIS:
Sweet 16: Villanova over Arizona ... BC over Nevada ... Florida over Wis-Mil ... Georgetown over Ohio St.

Regional Final: Villanova over Georgetown.

Explanation: "Villanova against BC is going to be a bloodbath -- possibly the best game in the tourney. John Thompson III and [Hoyas assistant coach] Robert Burke both went to my high school, so Georgetown gets the love. Plus, I'm already envisioning CBS' pregame Rollie Massimino/John Thompson montage from the 80s and I'm choking up a little."

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND:
Final Four: UConn over Villanova ... Duke over Kansas.

Championship Game: UConn over Duke.

Explanation: "Keep it simple, stupid. At least that's what I keep telling myself when making my friendly, non-monetary wagers ... Duke and UConn, though both eminently beatable, are the two best teams and UConn has [at least] two more NBA-worthy players than Duke. Done and done."

SIMMONS BRACKET

ATLANTA REGION:
Sweet 16: Duke over UNC-W ... Cuse over Iona ... WVU over Iowa ... Texas over NC State.

Regional Final: Duke over WVU.

Explanation: If Redick didn't have that mini-slump before the ACC tournament, everyone would pencil Duke in as an automatic lock for the Final Four. Personally, I thought he was burned out -- both he and Morrison went from "Those guys are pretty good" to "THOSE GUYS ARE THE NEXT BIRD AND MAGIC!" in about three seconds. Both of them seemed to wear down as the season dragged along, partly because they even were given that ridiculous "RedMo" moniker, my vote for "lamest and most indefensible sports moment of 2006 so far." Now that the games are more spread out, Redick should be fine. I'm giddy for two weeks of Duke-bashing on the Internet. Always enjoyable. By the way, this region sucks.

OAKLAND REGION:
Sweet 16: Memphis over Arkansas ... Kansas over Pitt ... Gonzaga over SD State ... UCLA over Marquette.

Regional Final: UCLA over Kansas.

Explanation: I love how this region ends in Oakland of all places; apparently Compton couldn't finish its 20,000-seat arena in time. Anyway, I couldn't pick Memphis because they're the Seductive Pick Du Jour (and you know how badly these things turn out). As much as I enjoy Morrison's work, that's one of the worst all-around Gonzaga teams in a while -- really, you're barely holding off Loyola Marymount and I'm supposed to pick you for the Final Four? I just don't see it. By the way, watch for Julian Wright on Kansas -- a potential star who's also a pass-first guy. We need more of him.

Anyway, I'm taking UCLA. They fit the March Madness formula -- they have a great backcourt (Farmer and Affalo) and one decent big guy (Bozeman), they've been consistently good all season, and they have a very good coach who hasn't gotten nearly enough attention yet (Ben Howland). Prepare for the Vitale/Bilas/Packer/Lavin lovefest over him. And don't underestimate the whole California sports resurgence that's happening right now, between the Angels, USC's football team, the Clippers and Lakers and everything else. People out here are fired up! Actually, no they're not.

WASHINGTON REGION:
Sweet 16: UConn over UAB ... Illinois over Utah State ... MSU over UNC ... Tennessee over Seton Hall.

Regional Final: MSU over UConn.

Explanation: This bracket bugged me because two of my potential Final Four semi-sleeper teams (UNC and MSU) ended up facing each other in Round 2. Hate when that happens. You need to take chances in these things, so I'm rolling the dice with MSU as my Random Final Four Team for four reasons: (1) Three potential first rounders; (2) March experience; (3) They haven't peaked this season yet (a nice way of saying that they underachieved); and (4) Tom Izzo. Everyone always forgets about Izzo in March, then the Spartans start rolling off wins and everyone says, "Wow, that Tom Izzo can coach!" I'm going with them.

As for UConn, I can't pick any college team with a best player (in this case, Rudy Gay) who occasionally mails in big games. For instance, I watched him dog a home game against Villanova a few weeks ago; at one point, Jim Calhoun even screamed that he didn't deserve to wear a Huskies uniform, which raises the question, "If Gay can't get up for THAT game, how could he possibly stay motivated for 82 games a year? Disappointing player, abysmal draft. I can't back these guys and feel good about it. Plus, you know the residual bad karma from the Laptop Scandal will come back to bite them at some point. It's inevitable.

MINNESOTA REGION:
Sweet 16: Villanova over Wisconsin ... BC over Montana ... Florida over Wisc-Milw ... OSU over No. Iowa.

Regional Final: Villanova over Florida.

Explanation: My favorite region because of Nova, BC and Florida (three entertaining teams to watch). BC might have the most talent and swagger ... but you can't ignore the Al Skinner Factor. You just can't. Hell, they almost blew a 10-point lead to UNC with like 12 seconds to play in the ACC Tournament. (And by the way, you know it's an especially wacky tournament when Craig Smith is one of the dominant guys -- he couldn't even crack Chad Ford's "75,000 NBA Prospects to Watch in the Four Regions" list.) As for Florida, Yannick Noah's son is playing out of his mind right now; it's like someone showed him a list of the top-five potential 2006 Draft Picks in early February and he realized, "Wait a second, if I play hard for six weeks, I could become the No. 1 pick in the draft!" Still, I'm going with Villanova -- out of anyone, they seem like the most complete team to me. And it's always fun to see a 350-pound "Easy" Ed Pinckney cheering them on from the stands.

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND:
Final Four: Duke over UCLA, Villanova over MSU.

Championship Game: Duke over Villanova.

Explanation: Keep in mind, I always lose these pools. Always. So if I'm destined to lose, why not take one for the team (in this case, the entire nation) and slap a reverse-jinx on Duke and their Cobra Kai fan base? They're cooked. Put a fork in them. Now we can enjoy the tournament in peace.


posted: Mar. 15, 2006  |  Feedback

We've all made the joke about how the least likely person always ends up winning your office pool -- a secretary, a temp with 36D's, a janitor with a 12-letter first name -- mainly because it's true. So why not just fill out this year's bracket trying to think like them?

With that in mind, I asked the Sports Gal and my mom (visiting last weekend) to fill out their brackets for ESPN.com while I jotted down notes as they went along. Here's what transpired:

MY MOM'S BRACKET

ATLANTA REGION
Sweet 16: Duke over GW ... LSU over Cuse ... WVU over Iowa ... Texas over NC State.

Comments: "I like Syracuse, they're scrappers, but I think their luck will run out. I have to be honest, I don't know much about a lot of these schools."

Regional Final: Duke over Texas.

Explanation: "I had a friend named Duke in college and Texas has a high number. Duke's a doctor now -- he's a cardiologist in California."

OAKLAND REGION
Sweet 16: Memphis over Bucknell ... Pitt over Kansas ... Gonzaga over Indiana ... UCLA over Marquette.

Explanation: "Bucknell is kind of a preppie school; I like that. I think they can win one game. I have a tendency to go toward smaller schools and Jesuit schools, that's why I like Gonzaga and Marquette as well. As for UCLA, I remember when Lew Alcindor played there that was really exciting; I've always liked them. Did I ever tell you that I saw Bill Walton speak at Abbie Hoffman's funeral?"

Regional Final: Memphis over UCLA.

Explanation: "Just a gut feeling ... I go by the gut and by names I like, those are my two criteria. Like, I would never go for Oral Roberts. Ever. I like Gonzaga's name but I really like Memphis, I have a good feeling about them."

WASHINGTON REGION
Sweet 16: UConn over Kentucky ... Illinois over Washington ... UNC over Michigan State ... Tennessee over Seton Hall.

Comments: "The first round was easy in this one, why would anyone take Utah State, Murray State, George Mason, Albany, Winthrop ... and I didn't even know Air Force had sports teams. Have they always had sports teams?"

Regional Final: UConn over UNC.

Explanation: "I just read an article about how much the coach for UConn makes -- he makes a ton of money, I couldn't believe it. So they better win."

MINNESOTA REGION
Sweet 16: Villanova over Arizona ... BC over Nevada ... Florida over Oklahoma ... Georgetown over OSU.

Comments: "I don't understand the 'play-in game winner' (in the first round) -- I'm annoyed that I don't have a choice there. That doesn't seem fair."

Regional Final: Villanova over Georgetown.

Explanation: "I didn't take BC even though I went there -- I'm not like you, I don't have weird alliances to my teams. I like Villanova because they get a ton of press on Mike and the Mad Dog. I listen to them on my way home from work -- this way, I know what's going on in the sports world and can understand your columns. I like Georgetown because they're a Jesuit school but they rejected you so I can't pick them to make the Final Four. I still can't believe they rejected you."

Final Four: Duke over Memphis, Villanova over UConn.

Explanation: "I didn't realize I had all No. 1 seeds until you told me. I don't look at that when I'm picking. It's not my fault that all the teams I liked were No. 1 seeds."

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Duke over Villanova.

Explanation: "Just a gut feeling. Sorry, I know, it's boring. If this was a tournament for wine, my picks would be more interesting and I'd have more sleepers."


SPORTS GAL'S BRACKET

ATLANTA REGION
Sweet 16: Duke over GW ... Cuse over LSU ... So. Illinois over Iowa ... Texas over California.

Comments: "I like Duke because I liked Christian Laettner when he was there -- they always have hot guys on the team. I like Syracuse over LSU even though I feel bad for Louisiana because of everything that happened there. I like Southern Illinois over West Virginia in an upset [in Round 1] -- I've been to Virginia dozens of times and always avoided West Virginia, that place scares me for some reason. Then I have Southern Illinois winning the next round as well, you need to take chances. They're my sleeper. And I like Texas over California even though I'm a Dead fan."

Regional Final: Duke over Texas.

Explanation: "Duke always makes it until the end so it's dumb not to pick them -- that's how it always pans out. Those guys know what they're doing when they make the number seed thingies."

OAKLAND REGION
Sweet 16: Memphis over Bucknell ... Pitt over Kansas ... Gonzaga over SD State ... UCLA over Marquette.

Comments: "There's no way in hell I can pick Oral Roberts [laughing] ... is that really the name of their school? [Anyway], I had a friend that went to Bucknell so I think they can pull off one game. I like Pittsburgh; they're very nice there even though it's too cold and the people dress horribly -- it's like the Russia of the United States there. I didn't even know San Diego played basketball, so I have to pick them for one game; San Diego is beautiful and we should go there more. They'll lose to Gonzaga though. I like Morrison -- you made me watch them once -- he looks like Billy Crudup in 'Almost Famous.' And UCLA over Marquette doesn't seem like a fair matchup -- isn't UCLA much bigger? Wait, why would they call that school Oral Roberts? You never answered me. Is that someone's name?"

Regional Final: UCLA over Memphis.

Explanation: "I have to pick UCLA because that's our hometown team ... I know you hate when I say that, but this is where we live for now, we should root for the hometown team."

WASHINGTON REGION
Sweet 16: UConn over Kentucky ... Washington over Illinois ... UNC over Michigan State ... Tennessee over Seton Hall.

Comments: "This is a real weird bracket, lots of strange names in here. I don't like school names that are named after a person so I can't pick George Mason or Murray State, although I did pick George Washington, but at least he's a real person. You have to take UConn and UNC because they always win a couple. I'm taking Tennessee because 'Tennessee Jed' was one of the best Dead songs. And Washington will win because they're playing home -- that's the state of Washington, right?"

Regional Final: UConn over UNC.

Explanation: "UConn always makes it. I never watch these games but they're always in the last few games. Why would anyone pick anyone other than the best teams? That's why you always lose these things -- you out-think yourself."

MINNESOTA REGION
Sweet 16: Villanova over Arizona ... BC over Nevada ... Milwaukee over Florida ... OSU over Georgetown.

Comments: "This is an easy one: I have friends that went to Villanova and BC, so I had to pick them, and I know a bunch of people from Milwaukee -- nice people in that area, everyone in the midwest is very nice. But I think Ohio State will beat Georgetown because my friend Teresa is from Ohio. I know a lot of people from Ohio. Although Georgetown is a cool area, one of my favorites. Plus, they filmed the 'Exorcist' there. Remember when Heather and I took pictures there in front of the stairs where the priest fell down?"

Regional Final: Boston College over OSU.

Explanation: "I miss Boston."

Final Four: Memphis over Duke, UConn over Boston College.

Explanation: "I can't imagine BC making the Finals, and everyone else will pick Duke so I can't pick them."

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Memphis over UConn.

Explanation: "Memphis has the kid [Darius Washington] who missed the free throws last year and fell down crying, don't they? That made me cry, remember? I have to pick them to win, I really liked that kid. That was like the end of 'Hoop Dreams,' only sadder. They're going to win and then someone will make a movie about him."


posted: Mar. 13, 2006  |  Feedback

THOUGHTS WHILE WONDERING WHY DICK POUND DOESN'T HAVE HIS OWN TALK SHOW ...

I haven't plowed through them yet, but I'm setting the over/under of e-mails from readers calling A-Rod "Mr. March" at 534.5.

Will the NFL Network show the entire funeral for Edgerrin James's fantasy career, or will they just be running the highlights?

You're lying if you didn't get a little choked up when Edgar got the Silent Clock last week.

I think I would have paid $10,000 to see Craig Littlepage punch out Jim Nantz and Billy Packer during the Selection Show last night. Screw that -- make it 20 grand.

Hey, do you think Christian Laettner gets drunk once a week, watches the Duke-Kentucky Game, then wonders where the wheels came off?

Four thoughts on the Sopranos:

1. I'm going out on a limb here, but I think Tony's going to be OK.

2. Vito Spatafore should absolutely be wearing a Yankee hat at all times.

3. I couldn't be more excited to have Paulie Walnuts back in my life.

4. HBO is the same network that has shown violent prison rape, intravenous drug use, real-life stabbings and live autopsies over the years, but nothing compared to the sight of Janice Soprano breast-feeding. You know you're in for something horrifying when a 45-second hanging scene comes in second as the most scarring moment of a TV episode.

Who was scarier last week: The little girl from the "Hills Have Eyes" commercial ... or Al Davis emerging from the NFL owner meetings?

It's officially the end of an era: I found out that Pearl Jam has a new album coming out and wasn't even remotely excited.

Would you be even remotely surprised if Bill Belichick used a fourth-round pick on Alton from "The Gauntlet?" Me neither.

My favorite sports moment of 2006: Trot Nixon leading Syracuse to the Big East championship.

My second-favorite moment: John Thompson's TNT interview with a rehabbing Penny Hardaway last Thursday, which included the question, "Do you think you're a hypochondriac?" and Thompson coldly saying, "I think your career is over" as Penny hemmed and hawed in disbelief. I think Thompson reached "I'm Keith Hernandez" status about 20 years ago. Can we have him interview Sebastian Telfair's girlfriend next?

My third-favorite moment: Denny Green getting in shape for the upcoming season by hiring Aretha Franklin's personal trainer.

Wait, Evander Holyfield had his boxing license revoked? What?!?!?! He seems totally fine!

The best part about playing craps with Kobe: Watching him eventually drift over to the "DON'T PASS" line.

Please tell me that A-Rod and Jason Varitek are miked throughout the World Baseball Championships, and that every awkward interaction is being captured for some sort of documentary. Please. Pretty please.

That reminds me, I'm rooting for the Dominican Republic in the WBC for two reasons: (1) David Ortiz; and (2) David Ortiz.

I'm drawing on 15 years of reality-TV experience to make the following statement: New York's subdued reaction in the limo after getting booted of "Flavor of Love" was the most disappointing reality-TV moment of all-time.

You know your baby's hungry when she starts grabbing your face and trying to eat it like Hannibal Lecter.

Put it this way: I'm plowing through boxes of Topps NBA poker chips on eBay like Miguel Tejada goes through B-12 shots.

One more addition to the "Reasons why it's OK to start drinking before 10 a.m." list: The mere thought of Adam Vinatieri kicking for the Cowboys next season.

When you really think about it, that play-in game between the No. 64 and No. 65 seeds is almost like the "Do you have a gambling problem?" litmus test.

Top-four things that make "Heat" even more entertaining 11 years later: (1) President Palmer agreeing to drive the getaway car; (2) every scene with Henry Rollins; (3) Jeremy Piven's hairline; (4) Pacino's "She's got a great ass ... and you got your head all the way up it!" scene (which ages like a fine wine).

Well, Charlize Theron broke up with Stuart Townsend, and you know what that means ... Stuart, welcome to the Fisher Stevens Club! Here, Chad Lowe and Jon Tenney will show you to your locker.

I have an announcement to make: "Are you ready for Maggette?" has replaced "Who wants to sex Mutombo?" as my favorite NBA urban legend.

Wait a second, "Basic Instinct 2" is coming out soon, it's going to contain loads of sex ... and Sharon Stone is starring in it? We're all OK with this? Is this more or less disturbing than the news about "Rocky 6?" Are they going to use those blurry cameras for the sex scenes that Barbara Walters uses for her interviews? Is Stone's goal to become the oldest woman that anyone's been attracted to since the grandma on "Who's the Boss?" I'm reeling from this.

But seriously ... I own Bernie Mac and Michael Rappaport in NBA.com's fantasy league to the point that I might pay taxes on them next month just to be safe.

I wish there was a way to wager on things like, "There's absolutely no freaking way in hell that Amare Stoudamire comes back this season."

Finally, my mom's take on Brokeback Mountain: "I don't want to see it -- not because I'm against gays or anything, but because I hate cowboys."


posted: Mar. 10, 2006  |  Feedback

I hate pimping ESPN programming because it opens me up to the whole "he couldn't have liked it that much, they told him to write that" angle. If you look at my columns from the past five years, you will notice that I rarely write about any ESPN shows or movies unless it's something I really liked; since I'm not allowed to openly criticize any of our shows (for obvious reasons), it seems fishy when I'm only praising our stuff. That's why I stay away. And sometimes, when we promote something to smithereens and I DON'T write about it, the silence can be deafening, if you catch my drift.

Well, here's a deserved plug for an ESPN movie: I watched "Through the Fire" a few weeks ago, and thought it was absolutely superb. Remember when I wrote about Darcy Frey's book "The Last Shot" last summer, the one about high school hoopsters on Coney Island? "Fire" is the TV companion to that book, a documentary that follows the latest Coney Island sensation (Sebastian Telfair) through his senior year of high school in 2004. People have been throwing the "Hoops Dreams" comparison around here, and it's definitely in the ballpark, but I think "The Last Shot" works much better. It's just an absorbing documentary from start to finish, especially as we watch Telfair subtly change from "relatively humble but flashy" to "overconfident and somewhat intolerable." At the same time, you can't really blame him -- he's coming from nothing, he's overwhelmed by the attention and responsibility, and there isn't a single role model to guide him (until his brother brings him to Greece in the stirring last section of the movie). Telfair doesn't just have his family counting on him, he has an entire community counting on him. So he's a fascinating protagonist, mainly because you're never sure whether you like him or not.

But here's the thing: When the climax of the movie happens (Telfair's getting drafted by the Blazers), it's much more affecting than you can imagine, with an entire room of family and friends practically falling down in delight. The defining moment is the sight of Telfair's little brother uncontrollably sobbing with joy; if you ever wondered why basketball means so much to the African-American community, just watch that scene. From day one, ever since I could walk and talk, I've loved basketball as much as any middle-class white kid could love it. But it was never a potential savior for me. I never looked at basketball as my one chance to escape my current situation and provide a better life for my family. I never looked at basketball as my own personal lottery ticket. I never worried that, if I failed in some way as a player, my family and community would be failing with me. You watch Telfair's brother in that final scene and everything hits home: It's not that basketball means so much to the people from Coney Island, but that basketball means too much.

Anyway, there were some holes in the movie, like Telfair's disappearance on draft day (never explained), and some one-sided storytelling in some of the basketball scenes (Scoop covered some of this in his column), and even the involvement of celebs like Jay-Z and Spike Lee (who keep turning up in Telfair's locker room during the movie). But that's more nitpicking than anything else. It's a wonderfully done movie, it's worth seeing (it premieres Sunday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN), and I hope ESPN keeps running stuff like this because there's no real reason why HBO should have a monopoly on the Great Documentary Front.

Final grade: A


posted: Mar. 7, 2006  |  Feedback

Here's my Kirby Puckett story: He nearly signed with the Red Sox during the winter of 1991 or 1992, and the only thing I remember about this was spending a solid week thinking, "Holy crap, if we get Kirby Puckett, we're going to win the World Series" before he ended up re-signing with the Twins. That's how good the guy was. More importantly, there aren't many players who come along and make you think, "Even though he's not on my team, I still like the guy and wish that more players were like him" … but he was one of them. I can't even imagine how everyone in Minnesota feels today. What a sad week.

*****

I was EXTREMELY sick last weekend: Sinus infection, high fever, you name it. And granted, these things will happen under the "When you have a kid less than one year old, you have to get sick three times every winter" corollary. But this was horrible. Things were so bad on Friday, I couldn't get out of bed. I'm not kidding. I couldn't move.

Here was the low point: I fell asleep late-morning while watching TV, then woke up around noon because "Becker" came on. When "Becker" comes on, no matter how sick you are, I think your body automatically rallies to get away from it. They should use Becker re-runs to lure people out of comas. Unfortunately, I was so weak that I couldn't find the remote, so I was stuck there enduring "Becker" … and it turned out to be an episode in which the Sklar Brothers play twins who are dating someone in Becker's office. Now I'm in the third circle of hell. So I just started screaming like a nursing home patient until my wife came in to save the day. See, there ARE valid reasons to get married.

Anyway, I have four recommendations from my extended lying-in-bed-with-a-fever TV stint:

1. For any wrestling fans out there, you have to rent a DVD called "The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior." It's a 95-minute history of the Ultimate Warrior's rise and fall that doubles as a complete (and deserved) character assassination, because everyone hated the guy behind the scenes and couldn't wait to rip him on one of these shows. Plus, there's footage of his old interviews, which have aged like a fine wine -- even back then, they ranked consistently in the mid-90s on the Unintentional Comedy Scale, and now they're a solid 100 (with the Hogan/airplane monologue before WrestleMania VI ranking as a 115 out of 100). This DVD was almost as funny as "Grizzly Man."

2. Remember that movie with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet called "A Lot Like Love"? Before you mock me, just know that there was nothing else on, I had a 103-degree fever, it starts out with a mile-high club scene, there was a chance Peet was getting naked … I mean, you can't kill me for digging into this one on a Saturday afternoon when I'm hawking up phlegm. So I started watching it. And granted, I was half-asleep the entire time. But it's probably the first watchable chick flick I've seen since … well, I can't even remember. Was this mostly (if not all) attributable to the fact that Amanda Peet is maybe the ultimate Attainable Hot Chick in Hollywood right now -- so whenever you watch one of her movies, it feels like you could have dated her in another lifetime if everything broke right and you ended up driving her home from a party one night because she was bombed? Absolutely.

Still, it's a well-done movie for what it was. In fact, I asked my friend Josh about it afterward because he's a Hollywood guy, and Josh immediately said, "Good movie, totally underrated," so I didn't feel so bad. Josh also pointed out that, had they pretended this was a Cameron Crowe movie, not only would it have made three times as much money, but everyone would have believed that it was a Cameron Crowe movie.

Again, it's a chick flick, so be warned. But if you're looking for a "Take One For The Team" movie as a tradeoff to rent the Ultimate Warrior DVD and "Saw 2" (which wasn't bad), this one works.

(One drawback: As it turned out, it's a PG-13 movie and Peet never gets naked. Although there is a naked butt scene. I feel like you need to know these things.)

3. If you missed the UNC-Duke game, not only is UNC for real, but Tyler Hansbrough is the first 2005-06 college player who makes me feel, "All right, there's a guy who's a mortal lock to be an excellent pro." I know he's not coming out this summer … but it needs to be said. The guy never stops hustling. He can create his shot going left and going right. He already has a post-up move. He can use his body in traffic. He has 3-point range. He even seems to play bigger in big games. I love this kid. Twenty more players like him, LaMarcus Aldridge and Adam Morrison and I'd really be excited about the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Anyway, when you're filling out your bracket next week, watch out for the Tar Heels -- maybe they're a little young, but they keep getting better and better, they're athletic as hell, they have a very good coach, they're road-tested, and they have a franchise guy.

4. If you haven't seen "Hard to Kill" with Steven Seagal in a few years, definitely make some time for this one. (Note: I'd like to thank the Action Movie Channel for running this on Saturday morning, immediately followed by "Slap Shot." Well done.) Seagal plays a cop named Mason Storm -- under the old action movie corollary that you should have a name that can easily be reversed -- who goes into a coma for seven years after his family was murdered because he nearly blew open some payout conspiracy involving cops and a future senator. So he comes out of the coma (without help from a "Becker" re-run), much to the delight of nurse Kelly LeBrock, and he has hair extensions and a fantastic Confucius beard that should have been its own Halloween mask. When the bad guys find out he's alive, they send a hitman to the hospital who wipes everyone out because of the little-known '80s action movie rule that no hospital staff could be bigger than 4-5 people. Somehow a weakened Seagal eludes the guy while on a stretcher by using a broom to push himself around, then miraculously finds Kelly LeBrock, who hustles them into a car and tells him, "Come with me, I'm house-sitting in Ojai."

So Seagal gets to live in this mansion in Ojai, which has all the necessary things for him to rehabilitate: A gorgeous weight room; an Asian-themed room for him to perform self-acupuncture; hills in the backyard that he can climb; wooden boards for him to punch; and a hot nurse who's doting on him at all times and doesn't care that she lost her job because they're in hiding. Plus, he miraculously kept all his muscle tone during the seven-year coma. So he rehabs, gets back in shape, has the classic "I'll take you to the bank, Senator Trent … the blood bank" epiphany, then declares war on the bad guys -- eventually killing 30-40 bad guys in the last 30 minutes of the movie, highlighted by a fantastic running sequence in which he looks like an old woman trying to get to her car in the pouring rain. I'm telling you, the Seagal Experience was tremendous 15 years ago, and it's infinitely better now. Nobody had the same combination of bad acting, bad hair, bad running and surprisingly good karate skills. Just a once-in-a-lifetime performer.

Anyway, the "Ridiculous Action Movie" discussion always starts with "Road House" and "Cobra," and rightfully so. But "Hard To Kill" gets lost in the shuffle for some reason. It's too bad.

More tomorrow.


posted: Mar. 6, 2006  |  Feedback

Just for the hell of it, a post-Oscars mini-ramblings:

I always thought John Travolta had the creepiest hair in Hollywood ... and then Tom Hanks came along.

Seriously, Heath Ledger looks like he's about three more Brokeback Mountain jokes away from punching someone out.

Twelve months ago, if I were picking washed-up '80s actors to get nominated for a 2006 Best Supporting Actor, my list would have looked like this: (1) Rob Lowe, (2) Eddie Murphy, (3) Matt Dillon, (4) Patrick Swayze, (5) Lou Diamond Phillips, (6) the little brother from "Just One of the Guys."

Was anyone else incredulous that Don Knotts got left out of the People Who Died This Year Montage? I'm not even sure if "incredulous" is a strong enough word. I might even have to go with "outraged." Chris Penn and Vincent Schiavelli make it, and Don Knotts gets shafted?

(And while we're on the subject, shouldn't the People Who Died This Year Montage be turned into its own end-of-the-year TV show? They could do sports, music, movies, politics ... like you wouldn't watch this? It's the only can't-miss segment of any awards show. Plus, where else would I get to appreciate Pat Morita one final time as the Sports Gal sadly says, "Oh, Mr. Miyagi!")

Put it this way: A Dolly Parton-Michael Jackson duet would shatter my HDTV tuner.

Raise your hand if you thought Reese Witherspoon was going to forget to thank Ryan Phillippe.

(Raising hand.)

That reminds me, Phillippe looks like he's in line to be the next victim of the Fisher Stevens Corollary: Any time two struggling entertainers get married, and the female's career ends up taking off, it's only a matter of time before the relationship falls apart because no wanna-be star ever wants to be "The Guy Who's Famous Mainly For Being Married To His Wife." I'd list some other examples but there are too many to count -- Chad Lowe was the latest. Never fails. Dennis Quaid was the only one who managed to hold on for more than five or six years.

But seriously, Jon Stewart did a solid job as host, got off one great joke in the monologue (the Bjork/Cheney joke), nailed the Three 6 Mafia aftermath, did a pretty good job with the fake attack ads ... and I would be amazed if he's ever asked back.

Whenever Jennifer Aniston walks out on stage during an awards show, the director should cut to stock footage of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie laughing it up in the audience. You know, just to mess with us.

Part of me still thinks Jack Nicholson saw "Brokeback Mountain" on the winner card, took a deep breath, said to himself "Screw it, I hated that movie," called an audible and said, "And the Oscar goes to ... Crash!"

By the way, is Nicholson ever NOT the coolest guy in the room? Even when he's coming back from the bathroom at Lakers games, the whole place pretty much stops until he goes back to his seat. If you judge somebody's popularity by the number of people who would yelp, "Oh no!" if they found out Celebrity X died, I think Nicholson wins. He gets the most "Oh no!" yelps. I'm convinced. This is a whole other column.

Hey, did anyone else keep waiting for Philip Seymour Hoffman to accept his Oscar, ask Hilary Swank if he could kiss her on the mouth, then punch himself in the head and keep saying "I'm a (bleeping) idiot!" over and over again?

I think Dustin Hoffman and Tony LaRussa have the same personality coach.

Biggest shockers of the night: (1) Jennifer Garner unveiling her post-baby breasts and immediately tripping on stage (a quick 1-2 punch, or in this case, a 1-2-3 punch), (2) Crash winning for "Best Picture" (sure, it was well-done, well-acted and somewhat affecting, but at any point did you ever think, "Wow, I'm watching the 2005 Oscar winner right now"), (3) Ang Lee having a wife and kids.

My vote for next year's host: Keanu Reeves.

Think about it: Who would make you laugh more over the course of a 210-minute Oscars telecast, Jon Stewart or Keanu Reeves? See, I'm on to something here.

Finally, I'm glad that Felecity Huffman didn't win "Best Actress." Enough is enough with the "actresses going ugly to win an Oscar" trend. Whatever happened to the "actresses pushing the envelope with raw sex scenes" that Halle Berry tried to start? Can we get that one going again? Please!


posted: Mar. 1, 2006  |  Feedback

I had to write something about these USA Basketball tryouts. You might remember my opus about the "Nightmare Team" before its disastrous meltdown in the 2004 Olympics, with the premise being that we needed to stop slapping together All-Star teams and patch together a real hoops team. And it's an interesting column to reread, for two reasons:

1. That's exactly what they decided to do with this tryout process.

2. After the 18 months that have passed, it's much easier to see why that USA team fared so poorly. Just look at the guys who were on it. You had a Stephon Marbury-Allen Iverson backcourt only Isiah Thomas would have loved. You had Shawn Marion playing out of position at small forward, and it was eventually revealed that he's better as an undersized power forward. You had Lamar Odom, one of those deceiving great-on-paper guys, who has a knack for coming up short when it matters. You had Carlos Boozer, whose stock was artificially inflated because he was playing with LeBron James at the time. You had Richard Jefferson, who's not even the second-best guy on his own team right now. You had Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LeBron, natural rivals who wanted to play and would have inevitably been discouraged if they didn't play. You had Emeka Okafor and Amare Stoudemire, two raw big men who seemed overwhelmed in Athens. And you had Larry Brown coaching this mess; it has since been revealed in New York that he's not the Miracle Worker everyone thought.

So given that they butchered that 2004 team to such a phenomenal degree, did they really have to go through this charade of having everyone try out and commit for two years? Probably not. But the blueprint from my 2004 column can be achieved with the 22 guys who made the first cut.

Here were the three absolute essentials for the team that I mentioned back then:

"1. A pure point guard who can penetrate, create shots for teammates, make open 3s and make good decisions in the open floor."

Sadly, there isn't an American point guard who fits that bill. Chauncey Billups probably comes the closest. Two years from now, Chris Paul could end up being the complete package. And I think Dwyane Wade could fit the bill, even if he's gotten into some bad habits in Miami (in terms of looking for his own shot all the time). Luke Ridnour also made it -- a major stretch since he can't guard anyone. And Gilbert Arenas made it -- phenomenal scorer, but not a pure point guard, and someone who always looks for his own shot. I can't imagine him making it.

But here's my question: Why aren't we convincing Steve Nash to pull a Tanith Belbin and get his U.S. citizenship? Come on! He's lived in the States for, like, 13 years. Can't we threaten to deport him unless he becomes a citizen? Somebody needs to get the ball rolling on this one. I don't care how many laws we break.

"2. At least two pure shooters, ideally three."

They did a good job here: Michael Redd, Paul Pierce, Kobe, Wade, Rashard Lewis, Joe Johnson … all of them could thrive under international rules. Antawn Jamison was a waste of an invitation; he's clearly not good enough. And as much as I love the way Carmelo has been playing this season, I wouldn't have invited him -- I can't see him edging out Pierce, Kobe and Redd, much less LeBron, who obviously needs to be on the team. And we haven't even mentioned J.J. Redick yet (if they invite him).

"3. Big guys who can bang down low, set picks, shoot 3s and run the floor."

I think I was a little ambitious here -- there isn't an American big guy who does all of these things AND shoots 3s except Marion (who's not exactly automatic). Tim Duncan and KG killed them here by not playing. Whatever. They also have a standing invite out to Shaq; I would bet anything that he takes it, and only because he has clearly reached the "I see the end of the road ahead, now I'm positioning myself as a lovable character and a Pantheon Popular Athlete" stage of his career. This would be a nice swan song for him. And possibly lead to someone green-lighting "Kazaam 2."

Here were the big guys they selected to try out: Elton Brand, Dwight Howard, Brad Miller, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion (I'm counting him even though he's undersized). Brand and Marion are the two locks. Howard and Bosh could jump a level within the next 12 months. And what about Amare's knee? Will he look like the same player? I need to see him play this spring. And what about high schooler Greg Oden? What if he's better right out of the gate than Howard was? Tough to guess how this plays out.

My other requests from that 2004 column:

"Play Michael Redd more."

(A joke since he didn't make that 2004 team. Fortunately, he cracked the list this year. And if he doesn't make the team, I'm taking the Colangelo family hostage.)

"You would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER see someone like Stephon Marbury on our team."

(He didn't get invited. Thank God. By the way, the more time that passes, the more I'm convinced that Isiah picked the 2004 team. He had to be responsible for that mess. And if he wasn't, I'm sure he was envious as hell.)

"Play Brad Miller more."

(Another joke, since he didn't make that 2004 team either. I'm waffling a little here because his game has slipped a little over the past two seasons. Here's a case where the tryout process is a good thing.)

"Play Rip Hamilton more."

(Yet another joke -- they waited too late to invite him, then he said no. And he said no again this time around. Too bad. At the very least, his schnozzaroo mask would have terrified players from other countries.)

"We would look for underrated players who contributed to winning teams."

(They finally addressed this: Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier and Josh Howard all received invites. Personally, I would have invited Ron Artest to increase the odds for an international incident, but that's just me. Out of the three guys they picked, I like Howard the most.)

"Have two energy guys. Possibly three."

(Howard and Battier both work for this as well. So does Adam Morrison, actually.)

All right, here was my "Modified Dream Team" back in the summer of 2004. Keep in mind, some of these guys from the list of 22 hadn't emerged yet. And keep in mind, Iverson was still playing defense back then. And Brian Cardinal was still alive.

Anyway …

Duncan, Odom, Redd, Hamilton, Wade (starters); Iverson, Tayshaun Prince, Miller, LeBron, Stoudemire (bench guys); Cardinal, Fred Hoiberg (energy guys).

Using the list of 22, here's the team I would pick at this moment (assuming Shaq plays, and I think he will):

Starters: Shaq, Marion, Redd, LeBron, Billups

Just a monster starting five. They should be able to run, shoot, rebound and mesh together (especially if LeBron reaches into his inner Magic).

Bench: Brand, Pierce, Wade, D. Howard, Paul

Wade could (and probably will) finish games in Redd's spot -- you can't ask for a better 6th man since he can play two positions. I'm projecting two younger guys (Paul and Howard) as jumping a level within the next 12 months and filling two glaring needs (rebounding and ballhandling). And there's something special about Paul -- he makes everyone around him better. I can't leave him off the team and feel good about it. He's too important. As for Brand, he can rebound, block shots and make open 15-footers, and he's a good guy to boot (as well as one of the best 10 players in the league right now). He has to be there. Pierce gives you another shooter/rebounder/runner who can play three positions and wouldn't care about playing time; I think he's the best all-around player in the league right now. If you don't believe me, watch a Celtics game.

Filler guys: J. Howard, Bosh

Howard fills that defense/energy spot; Bosh gets the nod over Miller as the backup big man who won't care if he doesn't play, with the bonus that he's a great guy. Two logical picks.

(Of course, I didn't select a Token White Guy for the team … and you know that's going to happen in real life because USA Basketball would never have the stones to trot out a team with 12 African-Americans. If you don't believe me, I have game-worn USA Basketball jerseys for Dan Majerle, Raef LaFrentz and Wally Szczerbiak to show you. My money's on Miller for the TWG spot, although Redick wouldn't shock me. Again, here's why we need to force Nash to pull a Tanith Belbin. Kills two birds with one stone.)

Toughest omissions:

1. Kobe: Too much baggage, too much of a walking soap opera, spent too much time in a situation where he was the only viable scoring option. Even in something as dumb as the All-Star Game last month, you could see his rust in terms of playing team basketball; these last two Shaq-less seasons have been more damaging to him than anyone wants to admit. Plus, if he's on the team, you have to play him. And I don't think you need him -- not when you have Wade, Redd, LeBron and Pierce.

And then there's this: I don't care what transpired recently -- there's no way Shaq plays on this team if Kobe gets picked. I think he makes one of those behind-closed-doors, him-or-me threats like MJ did before the '92 Olympics (when he told them that he wouldn't play if Isiah was on the team). Personally, I'd rather have Shaq and Pierce than Stoudemire and Kobe. But given that this is USA Basketball, I'm sure we'll end up with the latter two guys. Fantastic.

2. Redick: A potential monster with the shorter 3-point line. Playing for any other country, he'd be the proverbial gunner that nobody could stop, right? Imagine him as J.J. Redickovich dropping nine 3s on us for Croatia … yikes. I'm willing to reconsider this pick as we get a little closer. Not a bad option as the TWG.

3. Stoudemire: Only because he's such a force of nature. But I don't think you need him and Shaq. And he's a little too me-first for me. And what about the knee?

4. Kirk Hinrich: Whoops, they didn't invite him and tabbed Ridnour instead. Bizarre. And while we're here, if Ridnour ends up taking Chris Paul's spot for TWG purposes, that would be depressing on a number of levels. I'm going to keep writing about this once a month, just to be safe. We can't let this happen. Chris Paul is too important of a player -- we need more like him.

5. Artest: Obviously the best defensive stopper in the league … unfortunately, he's also the best bet to cause World War 3. Too bad.



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