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December 24, 2018

A Christmas (or anytime) tale

of two former on-field rivals


In November 1970, my father's Oregon Ducks faced the undefeated Air Force Falcons at Autzen Stadium.

It was notable for several reasons, including that it was the coming-out party for Oregon's rail-thin sophomore quarterback, Dan Fouts, who led the Ducks to a 46-35 victory.


Plus, at one point, Oregon's star middle linebacker, Tom Graham, used his trademark move, trying to step on the back of the opposing snapper on a field goal attempt and then block the kick.


Tom even was capable of completely leaping over the center in a time when there was no such thing as a long-snapper specialist. Invariably, the center was the snapper. Period.


And this case, the Falcons' center -- Orderia Mitchell -- happened to be the best center in the country and a certain NFL prospect but for the requirement that military academy players fulfill their post-graduate active duty obligation, as had Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach after winning the Heisman Trophy.


The man most came to know as "O" got angry.


"Don't you ever do that again," he snarled at Tom.        


I'm bringing this up because the other night, we attended an annual Christmas party at the home of our friends, Pam and "O' Mitchell, in Colorado Springs.    


We've been friends for more than 20 years, brought together by mutual friends and the realization that "O' had played several times against the Ducks, including in thst 1970 game in Eugene, which I to this day consider one of the most memorable and entertaining college games I ever have seen. That game ended up the basis for one of the games in my novel, The Witch's Season, and I didn't do a very good job of concealing that the Cascade Fishermen's star middle linebacker, Alex Tolliver, was Tom Graham; and that the Air Force Falcons' star center coping with virulent student protests of the Air Force's role in the Vietnam War, Andre Orderia, was Orderia Mitchell. 


In 2001, Tom officiated at Jerry Frei's memorial service, and during the informal gathering afterwards, we hooked with with "O" on a speaker phone in Colorado Springs between his scheduled surgeries. Fouts was at the service in Denver and joined in the conversation. By then, "O" Mitchell was a renowned orthopedic surgeon, having settled for going to medcal school instead of to the NFL. 

'Tom died of brain cancer on May 30, 2017. 


I was an honorary pallbearer at the service, representing my father and my family.

Here's the piece I did here on Tom and his death.


"O" Mitchell retired this month. Hs had a great career, and it lasted longer than his stay in the NFL would have been.  I had written a July 1997 newspaper piece on "O." That's pasted below.


 To two great men.


Playing doctor:
The Colonel is now Doctor O


July 20, 1997

COLORADO SPRINGS — In January 1973, the Hula Bowl was the premier postseason college all-star game. The experience was a week of beachcombing, of luaus, of tours, of laughing through non-pad practices, of nocturnal excursions through Waikiki ... and a no-pressure game.


Just down the street from the all-stars' hotel, a military rest and recreation facility was the respite for many soldiers taking a break from the war in Vietnam. President Richard Nixon's second inauguration was days away, and his "Vietnamization" policy at least meant American involvement was lessening.


That Hula Bowl group quickly came up with a nickname for Orderia Mitchell of the Air Force Academy, who had been a second-team Associated Press All-America center that season.


"They called me "Colonel,"' Mitchell recalls. "Everybody was talking about the contracts they were going to sign. They'd get to me, and they'd say, "Hey, Colonel, what are you signing for?'


"I'd say, "Five years!"'


The popular vice wing commander had neither a way nor a desire to avoid what then was the inflexible postgraduate military commitment.


Five years.


Many of Mitchell's football peers went on to pro careers. As a junior, he was on a Black Sports Magazine All-America offensive team, for example, with Reggie McKenzie, Lionel Antoine, Greg Pruitt, Jerome Barkum and Ahmad Rashad.


"I have been blessed with the opportunity to do things most people only dream about," Mitchell says. "About the only thing I didn't do was play pro football. But there were six centers drafted my year who started at some point for NFL teams, and I know I could have played with, or better than, most of them. But I was happy to go to the next life."
* .  * .  * 


The doctor is in; and, like his partners in the Front Range Orthopaedic office in Colorado Springs, Dr. O. Mitchell, 47, is swamped. (Orderia has become "O." on the Front Range roster of doctors; his friends have called him that for years.)


It is a Tuesday, the final day Mitchell will see patients before he takes a trip to Las Vegas to, among other things, attend a high-school all-star basketball tournament with his friend, Air Force basketball coach Reggie Minton. In a normal week, Mitchell is in the office Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and does scheduled surgeries Wednesday and Friday.


In exam room No. 7, Taylor Kelly is 4 years old, and he has come from Limon with his mother. He has had trouble with his bone development, but that doesn't matter now as he turns to his friend, the doctor, and says conspiratorially: "I got to tell you something!"


"What?" Dr. O. Mitchell asks.


"I saw the new Turbo Rangers!" Taylor says, and a moment later strikes a muscleman's pose.


"Oh, man, don't hit me!" Mitchell says in mock horror.


Mitchell assures Taylor that he is going to be a fine athlete someday, reassures his mother that Taylor is making progress and tells them he will see them again in a year.

* .  * .  * 


At Elkhart Central High School in northern Indiana, Mitchell was an unlikely football center, at 155 pounds, and he also was a basketball center and a third baseman. His father was a chemist; his mother worked for the local company that made band instruments.


When Mitchell first was making his college choice, in 1969, many of his contemporaries were in contempt of establishment authority; Mitchell accepted an Air Force Academy appointment.


"I wanted to fly and fight," Mitchell says. "Everybody wanted to do that. The authority part of the academy wasn't any big deal to me because my father was an authoritarian, and I was used to that."

 * .  * .  * 

 Ruth Brooks and her husband are retired and about to embark on one of their cross-country trips in a motor home. Brooks is making progress from ambulatory problems, and now is taking walks.


As she sits in her wheelchair, she has a question about what she is permitted to do while she is on her medication:


"Can I have a Manhattan?"


Mitchell smiles and says one is OK.

* .  * .  *
When he arrived at the academy, Mitchell wasn't considered a football prospect. He played one basketball season as a teammate of current San Antonio Spurs general manager-coach Gregg Popovich. But he also went out for football, and before long he was bigger, stronger and starting in the middle of the line.


Like almost all cadets, Mitchell went through some ambivalence. But he had his friends, including father figures. Capt. Reggie Minton arrived on the academy staff when Mitchell was a freshman, and he also was close to athletic trainer Jim Conboy and assistant basketball coach Hank Egan.


"Reggie took me under his wing," Mitchell says. "Him, Jim Conboy, Hank Egan; their homes were my homes. I ate their food, I tore up their cars. It seemed like every day I was saying, "I'm going home.' Reggie would sit me down. He was my strength at that time."


When Mitchell was a sophomore in 1970, the anti-Vietnam War sentiments meant that the nationally ranked and Sugar Bowl-bound Falcons heard much taunting — from the stands and on the street.

"People would ask," Mitchell recalls, ""Why are you doing those things? Why are you killing babies?' I'd just look at them and say, "I'm not killing babies.' But it wasn't really that bad."

* .  * .  *
Ron Parlin, a jet-ski mechanic, suffered a severely broken leg in - what else? - a jet-ski accident. Mitchell surgically implanted a rod in the tibia, and the original half-cast has just come off so Mitchell can take a look and then put on a more sturdy cast.


"Look what you did to me!" Parlin says, joking, on a table in the cast room, nodding down to the stitches and angry purple bruises.


Mitchell says the healing is coming along fine, then not-so-gently points out that smoking inhibits bone regrowth and strengthening. He and Parlin talk seriously about what the patient can do on the leg, but they are ribbing each other as well. Mitchell puts on a cast, then as he leaves, points to Parlin's cigarette box - stuffed in a sock - and delivers another reminder.

* .  * .  *

When Mitchell, an academic All-American, was approaching graduation, he was offered a choice between flight school and medical school - on the Air Force's tab.


He no longer wanted to fly and fight.


While so many of his football friends from that Hula Bowl game and All-America teams were playing in the NFL, Mitchell was attending the Tulane University medical school in New Orleans. After an internship in general surgery and family practice in Dayton, Ohio, he decided to specialize in orthopedics, and the Air Force sent him back to Tulane for four more years of study.


"I was originally thinking about going into cardiovascular or neurosurgery," Mitchell says. "Then I did rotations on it and I didn't like the personalities I ran into. They were aloof; they had that elite personality. In orthopedics, you did things and people got better."
* .  * .  *  
Pratyush Buddiga, 8, has severe internal femoral torsion - meaning he is pigeon-toed and his bones haven't grown completely straight. Mitchell has prescribed orthotics for his shoes, then - with Buddiga's brother, Akshay, 7 , and his mother, Rekha, watching intently - he shows Buddiga some exercises. Finally, Mitchell lifts Akshay onto the examination table and has him go through the exercises with his brother, so they can do them together.


If the orthotics don't help enough, Mitchell says, he eventually might perform surgery to "twist" the bones.
But that's not necessary yet.

* .  * .  * 
After leaving Tulane the second time, Mitchell returned to the academy, where the former All-American became the team doctor and the chief of the orthopedic department at the academy hospital.


In 1986, he left the Air Force and went into private practice, remaining in Colorado Springs. "I had that support group," he says. "I had my friends. It's a beautiful area. I had no reason to go anywhere else."

His practice quickly was built up, and he joined Front Range Orthopaedic partners in 1992. "Being in solo practice was very hard because you have to be on call all the time," he says. "This is a better way of doing it with less stress."

* .  * .  *
Amanda Job, a high-school volleyball player, has had a broken wrist that has just come out of the cast.


"Guess what?" Mitchell says after looking at the X-rays. "It's healed 95 percent and we're going to leave you out of the cast."


"Guess I can't play volleyball for a while?" Amanda asks.


"No, because if you try to set, or dig," Mitchell says, pantomiming the moves, "you'd let out an unbelievable scream."


He offers another rehabilitative exercise, though. "Washing dishes is good."

Thanks a lot, doc.   

* .  * .  *
Mitchell doesn't advertise his athletic past; just his athletic interest. In the hallways of his end of the Front Range Orthopaedic offices, he has football action pictures on the wall and a framed and signed Michael Jordan jersey, but no evidence from his own career. His own pictures and awards - All-America plaques, team pictures, the shot of his induction into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame - are in his office.


He attends as many Nuggets, Avalanche, Rockies and Broncos games in Denver as he can, and he talks sports, especially with his younger patients. He can afford those tickets; private practice has made him affluent. 


Mitchell never has married [NOTE: He and Pam married a few years later], but his nephew - Dennis - lived with him and attended Air Academy High in Colorado Springs, where he was a basketball standout. At home, Uncle O's standards were stringent. So stringent, in fact, that Dennis must have thought he'd joined the Air Force. Done your homework? Done the dishes? You're not going anywhere until you've studied.


"It's the thing I tell all the kids who come into my office," he says. "They play sports and they talk about how important sports are, and I tell them how important the academic background is. People can be good, even great, at sports, and it's not enough. You need something to fall back on."


Heard that before, haven't we? And haven't all those kids who pass through his office? But this man — who never even had a chance to try pro football — can say it with unusual credibility.

December 19, 2018

The three young(ish) stars

on Denver's court, ice and field 



I'll start with a quiz. 


Who's the oldest?


Avalanche sixth-year pro Nathan MacKinnon?

Nuggets fourth-year pro Nikola Jokic?

Or Broncos rookie Phillip Lindsay? 


And the correct answer is...


Lindsay. He was born in July 1994 and is 24.


Jokic, born in February 1995, is 23. 


 MacKinnon, born in September 1995, also is 23. Yes, the hockey player who in 2014 broke in as the NHL's rookie of the year, or the Calder Trophy winner, is the youngest of the three.       


That's not meant to be a manifesto about the merits of the young stars in the NBA, NHL and NFL.


I'm not hockey-centric to the point of subscribing to the sport's most aggravating argument, that if you're not a hockey-first fan, you shouldn't be allowed to be a hockey fan at all. 

I'm from a football family and I've covered the NFL, NBA and NHL — and in different ways, like them all.


Lindsay, whom I covered at CU (that's my picture when I spoke with him after the USC game a year ago), is a terrifc, heartening story, especially in Colorado. I'm not going to insult you by saying why. You know why. You've heard the reasons 17 kazillion times, to the point where they have become cliches.      


Rather, it's an illustration of just how different the sports' pipelines are.

MacKinnon took time to develop after being the NHL's top overal pick in 2013, when he still was 17 years old. Other No. 1 overall picks, usually those touted as "generational" talents, have been immediately among the league's absolute elite. MacKinnon wasn't until his breakout 2017-18, when he finished second to New Jersey's Taylor Hall in the Hart Trophy (MVP) voting. Accept that at face value, and he was his league's second-best player last season. The truth was, he deserved to
win it.


Now ... I know someone's going to try to make this a knock on Jokic and Lindsay. It's not. Actually, I think it's pretty darned exciting and invigorating that Lindsay, Jokic and Lindsay all are on the Colorado sports scene at the same time. They're all elite.   

But MacKinnon came close to winning his league's MVP at age 23. As terrific as they are, is anyone pretending that Lindsay or Jokic are among their league's top handful of players?


I don't think so. 

That's how far MacKinnon has come in a year.




December 17, 2018

With raised expectations, mediocre

isn't good enough for Avalanche 


Semyon Varlamov, all by his lonesome at the top of his crease Monday nght. 


 I now check in with the Avalanche intermittently, and always at home. That's as opposed to being part of the coverage when Denver's newspaper sent a writer on the road for Avalanche games.  


I was on the NHL beat when it could mean sandwiches at Patrissy's, pizza at Gino's East, wings at Gabriel's Gate, calamari steak at Original Joe's, a burger while standing in the parking lot at

Tommy's, even an orchestra seat at "Mamma Mia."


Well, that and hockey, of course, being around the Avalanche and immersing myself in the day-to-day routine of practices, morning skates, games and the contact work that's a part of doing a major-league job covering a major-league team on a beat-writer basis.


But now that my contact is infrequent, checking in for snapshots, my perspective is different -- including this season. In one sense, stepping back enables me to see a bigger picture. I'm not caring about lines at the morning skate. (Actually, I never did, but at least had to pretend to.)


Two years removed from the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history, when Colorado amassed a dreadful 48 points while scraping the salary-cap ceiling in 2016-17, and one season removed from an unlikely rebound to a playoff berth, the Avalanche has been mercurial so far this season.


And we're grousing -- yes, me, too -- about that inconsistency, about the ups and downs, about what seem to be the too-frequent clinkers interspersed through the road-dominated schedule so far.


I get it, but then I look at the NHL standings for the first time in a few days, rather than checking them daily, and I see that the Avalanche is ensconsed in the top five of the Western Conference and then consider that the NordiCanadian top line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog remains the most electric in the league, and it strikes me that the standards have been raised. Not quite back to what they were in the franchise's glory years, when anything but the Stanley Cup was a disappointment, but at least getting back into that realm.    

After their 4-1 loss at home to the Islanders Monday night, the Avs were 18-10-6, positioned to meet the Predators again in the first round if the standings look this way at the end of the regular season. (Which they likely won't., but...) Colorado has been 1-3-1 in its last five and 3-4-2 in its last nine. But I'll come back to this: When I took a look at the schedule when it came out, my initial reaction was that if the Avalanche could be in a playoff position at Christmas, that would be praiseworthy. Of the 37 pre-Christmas games, 16 are at home. 


The biggest problems are that the Avalanche is only 7-4-3 at home, and it has gotten substandard goaltending. Yes, Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer have had good nights, and folks have slobbered all over themselves pointing it out, but major-league goaltenders are supposed to play that way consistently. Varlamov is 22nd and Grubauer – who at least has benefited from great goal support — is 41st among qualifiers in goals-against average, and Grubauer's save percentage (.897) is below the Astrom Line. They were supposed to be 1 and 1A. They've been more like 2A and 2B.


(By the way, can we stop portraying every opposing goaltender as having been larcenous, even when giving up four goals to the Avalanche in, say, a 6-4 Colorado loss? In the NHL, when the opposing goalie is good and makes some tough saves, it's called ... the NHL. ) 


When the Colorado coach is condescending, it's a sure sign that the goalie hasn't been good enough, as was the case when Varlamov allowed three goals on 20 shots against the Islanders. 


"He was OK," Jared Bednar said of Varlamov. "Our whole team, I thought we were just OK. I thought they (the Islanders) were the hungrier team tonight."


There's no excuse for that.


"It changes daily for me," Bednar said of his perspective. "I'm not concerned. I believe in our team and what we're capable of doing. I just feel like we're just not as sharp and as crisp as we were earlieer. And that's why we win one, lose one, and that's where we're at right now. I think the urgency has to come back in our game.


"Look, I didn't feel like our team was real urgent, right from the drop of the puck. And I thought they were. They're a hungry team and they're playing well. They're one of the best defensive teams in the Eastern Conference right now for goals-against, so it's hard to come by. I think at times we want it to be easier than it's going to be." 


It's never easy. 




December 7, 2018


Stories in December issue of Mile High Sports Magazine, available now.

Awards issue: 


Nathan MacKinnon (professional athlete of year) 

Jared Bednar (professional coach of year)

Read them here in Digital issue  





November 28, 2018

Nathan MacKinnon's biggest accomplishment:

Building on, not resting on, his breakthrough

as he fuels Avalanche's NordiCanadian Line   


Nathan MacKnnon aftef the game Wednesday night -- and after the pack discovered him. 


While the post-game media pack initially flocked to and surrounded

defenseman Erik Johnson on the far side of the Avalanche dressing room

Wednesday night, I instead pounced on the opportunity to sit down

alone with, first, Mikko Rantanen, and then Nathan MacKinnon.


 (I'm not going to try to explain it, other to confess it

often involves letting team broadcasters to lead the way and ask at least

the first wave of questions. That's just the way the post-game

media approach has evolved -- from maneuvering to get

into one-on-one or small-scrum conversations with players, to

comfort in numbers.)


This was after the Avalanche's 6-3 win over the Penguins at the

Pepsi Center. The Avs have won six straight, are 15-6-4 and haven't

lost in regulation since Nov. 9. And their top line, with MacKinnon 

centering Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog, is the top story in the NHL. 


A Canadian between a Finn and a Swede, two wingers from

Nordic nations? I'm calling them the NordiCanadian Line. It's my

choice and I'm sticking to it.


Against the Penguins, MacKinnon had an empty-net goal and three assists;

Landeskog a goal and an assist; and Rantanen two assists. At the

end of the night, Rantanen (42 points) and MacKinnon (41) remained

1-2 in NHL scoring.  


"It's not magic," MacKinnon said of the line. "We're even keel and we

come out and dominate. That's our mindset. We're not wondering 

where one another is on the ice. It's second nature now, which I think

is real cool. Even when we came in last place (in 2016-17), Mikko

and I developed a good chemistry. Last year, when Gabe got put

on our line, we took off from there." 



MacKinnon finished second to Taylor Hall in the Hart Trophy voting

last season. I had written dozens of columns and stories in his first

four seasons, addressing the issue of whether -- or even when -- the

first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft would break through to

superstardom. He was flashy, he could be breathtaking, but even his

terrific games made you wonder: Why can't be do that every night? He 

wasn't billed as a "generational" talent when he went at the top of the

draft in 2013 -- at least not to the extent that Connor McDavid and Auston

Matthews were in ensuing years -- but he needed to be better.


And the switch seemed to flip last November. After his terrific 2017-18,

he has been even more impressive so far this season. It's all praiseworthy,   

but now mostly so because he came back hungry, determined to prove

that he hadn't just arrived at superstardom; he was going to stay there.


"You know what?" MacKinnon began. "You always have some doubts

if you can repeat it. That was uncharted territory for me last season, when

I put up almost 100 points. Coming from 50 the season before that to 100,

you don't really know if you can do it again. I feel comfortable now I can

do it again. Obviously, playing with Mikko and Gabe, we're continuing on
 our success from last year. I've had tons of help, but it obviously feels good

that I can repeat it and hopefully be a dominant player in this league for

a long time."





Because both the Avalanche (at Nashville) and Penguins (at Winnipeg)

had played on the road Wednesday night, MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby, 

'who had a hat trick against the Avalanche in accounting for all three

Pittsburgh goals, hadn't been able to go to dinner the night before their

teams' meeting in Denver. The two buddies from Halifax -- offseason

training partners and co-stars of hilarious annual Tim Hortons

commercial campaigns in Canada -- will have to wait on that until

next week, when their teams meet again at the PPG Paints Arena.


"I said hi to him after the game," MacKinnon said. "When we go to 

Pittsburgh next week, it will be fun to catch up with him. He's one of 

my closest buddies. We work out together every day in the summer,

but it's more than a professional friendship. We're close and I took at

him as a brother. In the back of my mind, or whatever, it's cool to see 

him get a hat trick. He's such a legend and it was a real cool game to be

part of."   


In assessing the Avalanche's start, MacKinnon played the us-against-the-

world card.


"It's a lot of fun," he said. "At the beginning of the season, we were kind

of written off again. Obviously, we're on a good winning streak right 

now. I think we're a really fast team. We're coming together. To beat

Nashville and the Penguins back to back is cool. It shows our growth

and our maturity. We gave up a three-goal lead tonight and we didn't



Rantanen's two assists against the Penguins left him with 32

for the season, also a league-high and two more than Toronto's

Mitch Marner. The question becomes: Is MacKinnon making

Rantanen or is Rantanen making MacKinnon. And the answer

is: Yes.


"We're just helping each other," MacKinnon said. "I don't think one

or the other i helping each other more. He's such a special player.

'I think we're just making  each other better."


At that point, the mob arrived, I thanked MacKinnon and stepped



A little earlier, Rantanen told me (and these are not biiled as revlations): "It's a

lot of fun. The team is winning now and it feels good. It's th best feeling when

you win six in a row."

The Line, he said, "as been together a long time. We've been together almost

the whole season last year and 25 games here, so you get to know each other.

It's two good players there. We like to talk before the games about what

we do and there's a natural chemistry there."


Whatever it is, it's working.


November 25, 2018

A Fun -- and Freezing -- afternoon

with small-town, small-school football 



As Strasburg coach Jeff Giger addressed his team after the Indians' 13-7 loss to Limon in the

Class 1A state title game Saturday, a few -- OK maybe more than a few -- of the players

couldn't hold back tears.  


 STRASBURG – Let me check my splotchy notes and scoring summary,

scrawled in a stenographer's notebook with a green Flair pen — not a

savvy choice — as I alternately wandered up and down each sideline

at Strasburg High's Winter Field Saturday afternoon.


It looks as if someone named "Gzuw%hdy$@Z" scored the tie-breaking

touchdown for the Limon Badgers in their 13-7 win over the Strasburg

Indians in the Class 1A state championship game that was a matchup

of schools in the small towns along Interstate 70 east of Denver.


In the fourth quarter, a driving, wet snow turned horrible,

game-long windswept conditions into something worse.


For the record, sophomore fullback Kory Tacha scored that

tie-breaking touchdown, two plays after Braden Sandersfeld

made a spectacular leaping and then falling catch of a Cannan

Bennett pass for a 38-yard gain that got the Badgers to the 1.

It was Tacha's second TD of the game, and it stood up as the

Badgers won their 18th football state championship.


Here's how windy it was, with the gale blowing north to south:

One of the key plays in the game was a 1-yard Strasburg punt,

giving Limon possession at the Indians' 22 early in the third

quarter, leading to Tacha's first score.


It wasn't even a bad punt. In mid-flight, the wind just

shifted it into reverse.


And Limon won another state championship. 


To many Coloradans, Limon is known for three things.


It's the town that serves as directional reference at Colorado

highway and freeway intersections, even if Siri mispronounces

it "Limb-un." You've seen it mentioned on signs thousands of

times, even if you've never been there.


It's also the home of the wonderfully old-school, old-world

Lincoln Theatre — which has "The Grinch" and "A Star is

Born" coming up on its marquee and its screens over the

next couple of weekends.


And its high school long has been a Colorado lower-enrollment

football power, dating back to when the Badgers won 10 state

titles in 38 seasons under legendary coach Lloyd Gaskill, who

was inducted in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and

died in 1998.


I was at the game helping jump-start the Greeley Tribune's

new venture, The Playbook, tied to the Patriot League -- of

which Strasburg is a member in most sports. Only in football,

it instead is in the Class 1A Northern Conference.


The Indians, who had fallen 36-6 to Limon in the regular

season, almost pulled off the upset of the undefeated Badgers

Saturday. I enjoyed the rejuvenating visit to small-town high

school football — all except for weather.



Strasburg's Trystan Graf (34) heads left against Limon. Other Indians are Chad Sutherland (51),

Collin Russell (5), Eddie Duron (57) and Owen Strain (75).  


In the short drive from the I-70 exit to Strasburg's Main

Street, a parked rig was strategically positioned with signs

cheering on the visiting Badgers as they passed by in their

bus. Nobody in Strasburg seemed to object.


At the high school, windows of trucks and cars parked outside

the gym and locker room were painted with the Strasburg players'

numbers and best wishes.


Near the entrance gate at Winter Field, if you bought an official program,

encompassing the state playoffs in all classes, you were pre-warned before

handing over your $5 that the roster information for Limon was wrong.

(Caveat emptor.)


On the visiting side of the stadium, many Limon boosters pulled up to the

fence and watched from the heated interiors or braved the elements as they

stood near them. Near them, the heavily costumed Badger mascot turned

out to have made the best clothing choice in the stadium.


Anybody hungry?


At the concession hut on the Strasburg side, an event grill was set up,

and for $3.50, you got a hot dog, chips and drink. Or a burger for $3.


The weather was beautiful an hour before the 1 p.m. kickoff. The game

should have started then, or at 10. It was almost as if the coin flip flipped 

a switch, and the winds began, soon whipping angrily from north to south

and making being on the field or in the stands an adventure, long before

the snow started.


Check out the flag. That's how hard the wind was blowing. And it was unrelenting.  


I gave the tiny Del Hemphill Press Box a shot, climbing up the metal

stairs beyond the top of the bleachers, and picked up a sheet with 
correct roster information from both teams. The public address announcer,

Strasburg math teacher Kevin Hemphill, pulled out an extra copy from

his clipboard for me and as he ran down the starters on the public-address

system on both sides of the ball for both teams — yes, most starters play

both ways — I noted their positions. In green.

There was a story there, as I was reminded when former Longmont

Times-Call sportswriter Steve Hemphill entered the press box wearing 

a Strasburg jersey and told me that he now is the sports editor of the

Roanoke (Va.) Times.


Wait. Hemphill? It turned out that Steve and Kevin's father, Del Hemphill,

for whom the press box and the adjacent middle school are named, was

the district's superintendent and the P.A. "Voice" at the Indians' games for

nearly 30 years before his 2004 death. And now Kevin's son and Steve's

nephew, A.J., was a sophomore wide receiver for Strasburg, part of

the team hoping to knock off their I-70 rivals.



The Strasburg side of the field. Fans were bundled up, and so were the cheerleaders.  


From there, I went down to the field, determined to be reminded of my

early days in the profession, when keeping my own play-by-play and

stats on the sideline — while seeing and overhearing the banter on the

benches and field — were part of the fun.


Bad call. 


At one point, I dropped my roster sheet and panicked as it flew away.

I never did properly thank the man who stepped on it and handed it

to me.


At halftime in the car, I took a picture of the sheet for backup, because

I wasn't sure how many copies existed and I didn't want to climb back

up those stairs to see if there were more.


Amid the awful weather conditions, the Indians came close.



Limon fans celebrate the final seconds rolling off the clock and another state championship.  


When it was over, as Strasburg coach Jeff Giger gathered his team

around him and, perhaps noticing  the tears and sobs around him,

told the Indians he was proud of them.


He told them that coming up short couldn’t change that.


A few minutes later, after stepping away from his team, he told me why.


“All year, we’ve had adversity and they bounced back,” Giger said. “We

had so many different injuries to different guys in different places, and

they kept fighting and giving themselves a chance. That was a good football

team we played. We had every opportunity. They just made the play.”


The Indians scored on their first possession of the game, going 45 yards

 in eight plays and finishing it off with sophomore running back Trystan

Graf’s 5-yard run. But that was it for Strasburg, and the heartbreaker

came midway through the fourth quarter, when Limon had the 13-7 lead. 

Strasburg sophomore quarterback Collin Russell scrambled on fourth-and-3

from the Badgers’ 21 and hit a wide-open receiver standing alone just over

the goal line.


The problem was, the receiver – this is high school, we’ll leave his

name out – dropped it. 


And Limon held on. 


“It sucks,” Russell told me as I hoped the wet recorder was working. 

“I just feel bad for the seniors. I know the sophomores and juniors

will come back next year. And we’ll get one.”


Senior linebacker and lineman Eddie Duron stopped to take hugs of

consolation from his family as he walked to the dressing room.


“We got to where we wanted to be,” he said. “But we didn’t come up with

the big one.”


He conceded that the weather played a factor.


“It affected our passing game a lot,” he said. “We have a real excellent

quarterback and now I have to wish him luck in the future. We all worked

our butts off, beginning in the summer workout program in June, and

we’re really disappointed to come this far and not get the victory.”


Even if they're not in the Patriot League in football, they represented

the Patriot League well.



  In this terrific shot by Jeff Tucker, Limon's Braden Sandersfelt makes the crucial catch that gets the

Badgers to the Strasburg 1 and sets up the tie-breaking touchdown.


POSTSCRIPT: Then I went to the Steelers-Broncos game Sunday.

The press box was a little bigger.  




November 13, 2018

Nuggets' rainbow skyline 

logo back on the horizon 


Jamal Murray


The Nuggets are wearing the new version of their rainbow skyline logo 

uniforms against the Houston Rockets as I type.


As the unveiling approached, I was asked about them by several

who knew or discovered that I was covering the Nuggets -- as a

young beat writer who covered both NHL and NBA teams for

seven seasons while still in my 20s -- when they first  wore the

skyline logo. 



It was a long time ago and I won't guarantee the accuracy, but this is

how I remember it.

The Nuggets had a contest. They unveiled the new jerseys at a news

conference and also surprised us by bringing out a fellow named Kiki

Vandeweghe as the model in the jersey and saying he just had agreed

to a new contract. This was after weeks of checking with his agent, Gary

Vandeweghe (his uncle), about the progress of the negotiations.) 


Later, the winning jersey designer came and saw me at the Denver

Post. (Some of you might know ... I used to work there.) He brought

his designs. As I remember it, he was mildly upset that the team

hadn't followed his design EXACTLY and showed me his original

drawings just to have it on the record. I think the differences were

minor. I did an item on it for the notebook of odds and ends on

Denver's teams we did on the scoreboard page. I don't remember

the exact time frame of the meeting, whether it was before or during

the season. I don't remember the artist's name. Sorry. But it's in

the Post archives somewhere.


I'm pretty certain he wouldn't like these latest incarnations with

its lines rather than solid colors.    

November 11, 2018

State of Colorado football 

season officially is a fiasco 



Bobo11.jpg AFA3.jpg

One Nov. 17 addition: I admit it was harder to make the

argument to bring back Mike MacIntyre at CU 

after he this week trashed the players he inherited, noting

the program was at low ebb and a laughingstock when he took 

over and it took a while to get "my guys" in to the program. He's right.

But it's bush league to say it, even after the fact. The best coaches,

even if for solely pragmatic reasons, embrace the players they

inherit and get the  most out of them. (See Jim McElwain...at CSU.)

Perhaps one of the reasons for the Buffs' inability to win games

even when competitive in MacIntyre's early seasons was the

perception within the program that their coach wasn't buying into the 

team concept. 



I was pondering which dateline to put on this column about the

NFL and the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision college

season in Colorado.


Denver. Boulder. Fort Collins. Colorado Springs.


I came back to this:


In 2018, on the football front, we are...


FIASCO, U.S.A. --  


The 3-6 Broncos didn't lose Sunday, thanks to their bye. I don't

agree that Vance Joseph, shown above after the loss to the Texans at

home last week, invitably will be fired, because if Denver wins, say,

five of the final seven and/or seems to demonstrate that its inexperienced

head coach has made significant progress down the stretch, a case can

be made to bring him back.


I'm serious. It could happen.


Look, despite all the hand-wringing over Joseph's clock management

and decision-making against Houston, the fact is if one one the best kickers

in the NFL, Brandon McManus, had just done his job and drilled the

51-yarder in the final seconds, the Texans would have been walking

off despondently, the Broncos would have been celebrating a one-point

win and there would have been no discussion about whether John

Elway would fire Joseph the next morning. When McManus ran back

over to the sideline and unleashed a practice kick into the net before

coming back on to try to make the game-winner, it had the look of a

guy tightening up. 


(Yes, I wondered that at the time.)   



Short of a bold and even surprising move in choosing an interim

head coach, firing Joseph at this point would accomplish nothing.

Finish out the year, give him a chance for the shocking turnaround,

take stock -- and then make the change, if it still seems warranted.


 I'll say the same alternatives should be on the table if the Broncos

are blown out on the "road" against the Chargers and are 3-7 heading

into the final six weeks. Keep Joseph or do something that cuts against

the grain of the concentional in that situation.     


What qualifies as a surprising move? 


Go back to the Broncos' quarterback depth chart from the 1980s.

John Elway or Gary Kubiak.


Bear with me. 


Elway could put on a coaching hat and headset for the rest of the

season and get a close-up, hands-on look at the roster he has created.

That includes taking stock of whether Case Keenum ever

can be anything more than a stopgap -- which is what he appears

to be now. He has been, well, Case Keenum. Absolutely, Elway

does that sort of evaluation and conclusion-drawing all the time

from the exexutive's office and often walks with the ex-quarterback's

hurting gait onto the practice field, but this would be different.       


Make no mistake, the coordinators -- Bill Musgrave and Joe Woods --

would "coach" the team. Elway would be the coaching staff's overseeing

CEO (with sideline involvement, it would be more direct than it is now),

making the time-management and basic (Punt? Field goal? Go for it?)

strategy decisions, plus pitching in with opinions about the basic play-

calling outline.     


The same outline could be in effect for Kubiak, who of course has

head-coaching experience and would be capable of more direct



Granted, unless we're all misreading the situation and Kubiak, he

has washed his hands of coaching -- mainly for health reasons -- and

wouldn't want to do this.


Neither would Elway, the son of a coach who early on realized what

a fickle business that was.     


But if the decision is to fire Joseph during the season, it's worth a try.


To whatever extent possible in the NFL under the CBA and frontloaded

contracts, have the players auditioning for the boss.


BUFFALOES: I was fooled, too. Five weeks ago, I was at Folsom Field,

watching CU beat Arizona State to get to 5-0, and listening to Mike

MacIntyre, plus Leviska Shenault and his teammates after the game.


This was a nice story, a CU program rebounding from a desultory

2017, which notably closed with a horrific showing at Utah that left

the Buffs looking as if they had zero interest in achieving bowl



The start was illusionary.


Nebraska is awful in its first year under Scott Frost, UCLA is awful

in its first year under Chip Kelly, Arizona State is only mediocre in

its first year under Herm Edwards (sense a trend here?), New Hampshire

was the paycheck breather and CSU is ... well, I'll get to CSU in a minute.


Shenault was an electric difference-maker until his turf-toe injury, but his

absence until the Wahington State loss Saturday, and the Buffs' other

injuries, doesn't completely explain the collapse. This is a team with

a schedule that looked tougher, based on programs' traditions, than

it was. This is a 5-5 football team. The record is what the Buffs are.



The weird thing is that even the subsequent road losses at USC

and Washington wouldn't rule the Buffs out of contention in the

Pac 12 South. The leader, Utah, has three conference losses.


So what of MacIntyre in his sixth season?


Bring him back. And when I say that, I'm not going along with the reason

often cited for the retention of coaches in this era. You've heard it,

and it will come up again when I get to Mike Bobo's situation at CSU.

They can't afford to fire him.   


The position isn't rdiculous. MacIntyre would be due just a shade under

$10 million if he's fired after this season. That's not all that eyebrow-

raising -- well, maybe it is, but you know what I mean -- in this era,

'which is why I long ago felt "sympathy" for fired head coaches

regardless of how absurd boosters' expectations are. That's nice work

if you can get it.   


CU can't start over again.


It's that simple. MacIntyre is recruting with facilities that at least stack

up with the rest of the Pac 12 -- outside of Oregon -- and required some

fudging of the original financial requirements to get them built.

MacIntyre inherited a program at low ebb. Give him one more year.

At least. I despise giving boosters the right to fire coaches, but the fact is,

if someone truly wants MacIntyre out, the out-of-whack financial

parameters of the coaching profession mean that if the money can be

raised or ticketed to oust him, that changes things. But I'm saying

pragmatic reasoning, involving the good of the program and not

sympathy for Mike MacIntyre, should lead to his return.



RAMS: When I spoke with Bobo in his office during pre-season

practice for a Mile High Sports Magazine profile, he remarked after

the formal interview that he was having numbness issues in his

feet in the wake of his offseason knee replacement. It turned out,

of course, that he was away from the program for a spell and

then was affected through the season. He's still struggling, as

evidenced by watching him on the sideline during the 49-10

thumping at Reno Saturday night. 

That affected CSU this season.


It's part of the explanation for the 3-7 season, but not sufficient



Here's why the Rams' struggles are even more problematic than CU's:

All momentum toward becoming a perennial Mountain West power,

and a bona fide candidate to step up to a Power Five league, is gone.


We probably overrate the current state of programs in assessing

chances of programs moving up, but it's still an issue. CSU was

taken seriously as the Big 12 considered, and deciding against, getting

back to 12 teams. That probably wouldn't be the case now, and the

chief spokesman for the cause -- Tony Frank -- is stepping down as

presidnt to concentrate on his chancellor duties for the CSU system.    

But even the more modest goal, and one that is eminently reasonable,

of joining Boise State as the Nountain West's most recognizable and

nationally respected program, is in danger of becoming a longshot.


Given the investment in the stadium and facilities, and even CSU's

burgeoning reputation as a vibrant, first-class public university, this

is an impossible-to-justify setback. Bobo himself is refreshing, often

sounding like an unhappy booster in both setting expectations and

reacting to setbacks, but when you have those buyouts ... and Bobo's

would be $8 million if he's fired after this season.


Jim McElwain and his staff did a tremendous job in building up to,

and coaching through, that 2014 season. But to be fair, he at times took

an approach that sacrificed longer-term for the present, and Bobo has

had to deal with that. But he also has been victimized by what now

has to be considered a suspect strategy of recruiting the Southeastern

Conference territory hard. There have been major successes there,

most notably Michael Gallup (and that was via the JC route), but

on balance the conclusion has to be that accepting second-tier talent

from SEC country won't lead to Mountain West dominance. 

Blindly saying focusing on Colorado prep talent is the way to go is

the wrong approach, too. It has to be a mix.


The same goes for Bobo's buyout and future. He should have a chance

to dig out. Until 2017, he was recruiting off a model and plans and later

a construction site. Absolutely, that should have kicked in sooner, and

it hasn't. But I'm pretty sure that if there isn't a turnaround, nobody's

going to have to chase out Bobo.    


FALCONS: This isn't going to change. In today's era, Troy Calhoun --

former AFA quarterback, cadet and assistant coach -- is the right man

in the right place. The Falcons are 4-6 and they beat Navy and lost to

Army. Air Force generals are restless, but nobody else should be. 




October 26, 2018

Matt Duchene's return to Denver

with Senators a bit misty


In the good, ol' days ... Matt Duchene as an Avalanche 



As tributes go, it was understated. But the first-period mention on the

Pepsi Center scoreboards with a welcome back still got to Ottawa

Senators center — and that still seems a bit funny to say — Matt Duchene

Friday night.


"My favorite part, for me,  was the tribute and the reception from

the fans," Duchene said in the visiting dressing room after the Avalanche's

6-3 win over the Senators. "I teared up, for sure."


I asked him how misty he got ... and why he got misty. 


"Because I think it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life,"

he said of his late 2016 trade request. "It was never something I

wanted to do. It was something I felt I had to. Sometimes that's life

and that's the business. Just the signs in warmup and the people that

were being so kind. You touch the puck, you're going to get booed, 

that's normal. Avs fans are  competitive and you kind of expect that.

"But I'm very grateful to the Avalanche organization for how they

received me all night and the fans also. They mean a lot to me and

they always will."  


About 30 seconds after the tribute, Duchene — who came into the game with

 only one goal for the season — scored the first of his two goals of the night.  


"I think I saw tears in my eyes and [Cody Ceci] just hit my stick," Duchene

said. "I had so mch emotion going until midway through the second, I could

hardly breathe out there. The altitude definitely doesn't help, either."    


His second goal, at 10:32 of the second, gave the Senators a 3-2 lead before

the roof caved in.



Matt Duchene and his wife, Ashley, at a Nuggets game shortly

before he was traded a year ago.  


Duchene's friends and family — including his pregnant wife, Ashley, who is

from the Denver area — watched it unfold from the private box Matt bought

for the night. 


Duchene still owns a home in the area, and that's not likely to change in the

near future.


"I'll never cut ties here," he said. "Denver will aways be a home for me

 and I could definitely see myself coming back here one day, whether it's

to play or to retire here. It's definitely in the realm of possibility, absolutely.

I grew up here. I feel like I grew up more here than I ever did before. I'm

eternally grateful to the people of Denver and to the organization."


This was such a story. One you could make up, but it would seem corny.

The kid from Haliburton, Ontario, who grew up idolizing the Avalanche's

glory years teams and especially the stars, including Joe Sakic. He had a

framed and signed Sakic jersey hanging in his basement. 



and during Colorado's development camp attended Sakic's retirement news

conference. He didn't get to play with Sakic, but eventually under him

when Sakic moved to the top of the hockey front office hierarchy in 2013.

And his coach was another of his heroes, Patrick Roy. 



Matt Duchene and Jared Bednar 


 So what went wrong?


Among other things involving dressing room and organizational

politics, Duchene didn't like playing wing and preferred

center, a problem given the emergance of Nathan MacKinnon. As

tempting as it is to think of MacKinnon on the wing and Duchene

centering the top line ... the issue is whether that would have slowed

or even halted MacKinnon's development, and the question is whether

the other wing is Gabe Landeskog or Mikko Rantanen. Or even whether

it could have been anywere close to as effective and electrifying as the

Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is now. Or whether Duchene could have

accepted long-term centering the second line, for a team with scoring depth,

or playing on MacKinnon's wing long-term. What's forgotten is something 

MacKinnon himself repeatedly pointed out when he went on a tear after 

the trade and he was asked if Duchene's departure had been a part of that.

He and Duchene by that time weren't on the same line, anyway, and the

top line had been seeing the opposing top defensive parirings. So

nothing had changed there.


Also, with Duchene's "bridge" contract and then a long-term deal

that set the bencharks and a so-called Duchene ceiling for a team that

touted its "structure," Duchene had been a good soldier there.


So the Avalanche first was open to listening to offers for Duchene before

he made the request himself,  ultimately leading to the bizarre 15-second

statement he made to the media after reporting to training a year ago,

and then the Nov. 5 three-way trade that sent him to the Senators and

brought the Avalanche so much, Herschel Walker could have called

into a talk show and claim he no longer was the standard for a single

player bringing a haul in return.



A year ago, after the trade was announced during the Avalanche's

game against the Islanders in Brooklyn, Duchene mused as he walked

and the media followed, that there was a story to be told here and maybe

some day it would come out.

I asked him about that.


"I don't remember saying that," he said, matter-of-factly. "But what's

in the past is in the past. I've moved on. I don't think I've ever

been happier playing the game and happier with my personal

life, obviously. I've got a a little guy on the way and I'm

happy. That's what I was searching for, and that's what I found.

We'll see what my future holds. I've really enjoyed playing here in



Aw, you know what he meant.  




Stories in October Mile High Sports Magazine*:

*With an Avalanche on-the-glass season-ticket holder on the cover.

  • Joe Sakic feature
  • A look at Eagles' move to AHL: Could it screw up a good thing?


Stories in September Mile High Sports Magazine: 

  • Catching up with Joel Klatt
  • The life and times of Mike Bobo


Harris.jpg Story.jpeg

July Mile High Sports Magazine: Can the Avalanche Chase Down Lord Stanley's Cup?


Beginning in July, Mile High Sports duty switched from web site to magazine.



Mile High Sports, July 2

Staying the course banks on improvement




Mile High Sports, June 30 

Cam Morrison, Avs' No. pick in 2016,  on remaining at Notre Dame for junior season





 Mile High Sports, June 14

How dare you go to Coors Field for fun! 


Mile High Sports, June 12

Shouldn't football be the last resort for good athletes?  


Mile High Sports, June 7

Like sands in the hourglass, so are the days of the Avalanche offseason  


Mile High Sports, June 5

The Big Stiff gets his due 



 Mile High Sports, May 31

Bring back baseball to CU, CSU





Mile High Sports, May 24

It's impossible to make too much of the Golden Knights 



Mile High Sports, May 22

Colorado Eagles moving up 






Mile High Sports, May 15

Wanna bet?



Mile High Sports, May 8

Jim Montgomery leaving was a matter of when, not if  




Mile High Sports, May 3

You don't have to be a horse racing fan to love the Kentucky Derby 







Mile High Sports, April 25

Don't let Nuggets off the hook




Mile High Sports, April 22

Great Season? Yes, if... 



Mile High Sports, April 18

It ain't over 'til ... its over




Mile High Sports, April 17

Not up to Jonathan Bernier alone, but ...



Mile High Sports, April 14

Nashville hitting all the right notes 



Mile High Sports, April 7

Avs make the playoffs! Avs make the playoffs!




Mile High Sports, April 3

How's this for half-full?




 Mile High Sports, March 28

A playoff trip would be a flashback





Mile High Sports, March 23

Knights here and there




March 19, 2018

Mike Bobo was set on a QB,

but his name is Collin Hill ...

and he's injured again 




FORT COLLINS -- In his opening remarks at his Monday news

conference Monday, Colorado State coach Mike Bobo ran down the Rams'

injuries heading into spring ball and alluded to what was announced

last week: That presumptive starting quarterback Collin Hill for the

second time in his stay in Fort Collins suffered a torn ACL last week

and underwent surgery last Wednesday.


"He's doing good," Bobo said hours before the Rams' opened spring

ball with an evening practice. "He will not be at practice today but

will rejoin the meetings starting tomorrow."


When the floor was open for questions, I asked: Will Hill be able to play

this fall?


"I think that's too early to answer, Terry," Bobo said. "That's obviously 

the goal anytime a guy gets an injury, is to rehab him as fast as possible

where he's in good health and can play. If there is a silver lining, it

happened now, not a month from now or in fall camp. It happened

right now, so that puts us at about five and a half months, I think,

before the first game, with the first game being in Week Zero

(against Hawaii on August 25).


"It's not out of the question, but it's definitely a long rehab. I know his

mindset's right. But you can only go as fast as your knee will let you



That's two ACL surgeries on the same knee in a year in a half for

Hill, potentially a redshirt sophomore in 2018. 


He isn't playing. 


OK, maybe that's too strong.


It would be a major surprise if he does, and Bobo knows it. That means

he's operating on the assumption he has to find a capable starter from

among redshirt junior J.C. Robles, redshirt freshman Justice McCoy

and walk-on redshirt freshman Judd Erickson.


Or bring in a graduate transfer.




 At Monday's opening workout of spring drills: Mike Bobo, J.C. Robles (10),

Justice McCoy (2), Judd Erickson (12), new walk-on Salvetti D'Ascoli (13).


"It was going to be a big spring for that position, anyway," Bobo 

said of spring ball. "Collin hadn't played since his first year in game

form. He obviously practiced some, but he was a little bit rusty and

now it's going to be a big development for those two guys behind him.

making sure they get a ton or reps ... The spotlight will be on them and

we'll see how they handle a little bit of pressure."

But then Bobo acknowledged the 2018 starter might not even be on
campus yet.

"We're actively recruiting, as I said I believe after our first signing day,

(when) we did not sign a quarterback in this class, that we would

actively recruit a quarterback in this offseason, and we're still doing

it," Bobo said. 


 Neither Dormady nor anyone else would be promised the starting

job, of course. And it's probably unfair to hold the Bauta failure against

anyone else, but another shot for a washout SEC quarterback 

isn't the way to go. The best hope is that Robles, at least 

established in and familiar with the program, steps up. Or

that McCoy is a star waiting to happen to happen. The other

issue here is that there is no guarantee that Hill can ever

completely recover from a second ACL surgery this young

and remain resilient even if he makes if back on the field.    


As a true freshman, Hill had beaten out holdover starter Stevens

and Bauta in 2016 before his knee injury against Utah State at

midseason, on October 8. He redshirted last season as Stevens

had a stong senior year. Then last week, Hill suffered the torn ACL

the same knee playing basketball.


"I was just heartbroken for that kid, how hard he's worked," Bobo

said. "He's really had a great offseason in our fourth quarter program.

He's stepped up as far as being a vocal leader on and off the field. . .

You can say, 'Hey, he shouldn't have played basketball, live in a bubble,'

but I don't have that policy. Guys can get hurt walking down the street.


"It's unfortunate. He has a long rehab ahead of him, but I know 

if anyone can come back from it, it's Collin Hill."  


Bobo conceded that the Rams' offense might have to be tweeked -- 

not overhauled, but tweeked -- depending on who emerges as the



"We'll have to do things around that quarterback, of what he can

do and what he can handle," Bobo said. "There are a lot of offenses

we've run here, there are a lot of offenses I've ran at (Georgia). We have

to figure out what we can do as an offense, and we were going to have

to do that anyway. We lost three offensive linemen, we lost some guys

at the outside receiver. We were going to have to figure out who we

were and spring practice will be part of that."   


Bobo said that Robles "has got to be a more accurate passer to play in this

system. He's got to be better fundamentally with his feet. And he's got to

play confident. Part of that is as coaches getting him more opportunities

and not necessarily how he plays, but how he projects his voice, how he

talks to the teammates, how he leads."


Justice McCoy is from New Orleans, and Bobo said he is a better

pure passer -- and less of a multiple threat -- than he was portrayed

to be in recruiting. "I would say J.C.'s probably more of a dual threat

than Justice McCoy," Bobo said. He said McCoy "has put on about 20

pounds since he got here last fall," Bobo said. "I like the way he looks

physically right now. It's going out and putting it together, processing

information for Justice, taking it from the meeting room to the drills,

to the team situations, to the scrimmages, how fast can he process it.

And then Judd, he has gotten a lot of reps in individual and hasn't

had a lot of team situations, and that's usually the case with a kid

that gets redshirted his freshman year. Judd and Justice are pretty

much the same, how do they process. And then it's going to be

taking care of the football." 


CSU's new coordinators also met with the media Monday. At left, offensive

line coach-offensive coordinator Dave Johnson; at right, defensive coordinator

John Jancek. Bobo will remain his own de facto offensive coordinator. Johnson

replaces Will Friend, who left to join the Tennessee staff. Jancek replaces Marty

English, the Colorado native who initially announced his retirement, but Monday

was named to the staff at his alma mater, Northern Colorado.





 Mile High Sports, March 18

"MVP, MVP..." 

March 11, 2018

Meanwhile, in Greeley, a legend

in women's hoops has UNC 

in March Madness  




With all the considerable respect due Becky Hammon -- the most

accomplished basketball player in Colorado State University history

who deserves an interview and full consideration for the men's

program head-coaching position at her alma mater -- there already

is a women's game legend coaching in this state.

Kamie Ethridge, now 53, was a two-time All-American at Texas

and won the Wade Trophy as the nation's top collegiate player

in 1986.


As a 5-foot-5 senior point guard, she led the Longhorns to an

undefeated season and an NCAA championship.

She has an Olympic gold medal.


She was inducted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.


She is one of the true trailblazers in the women's game.

And now, in her four season as the head coach at Northern Colorado,

Ethridge has been instrumental in transforming the Bears into a nationally

prominent program. UNC won the Big Sky Conference regular season

title, then on Saturday routed Idaho 91-69 in the championship game

of the league tournament at Reno.


It all means that on Monday at 5 p.m.,

Ethridge and the Bears (26-6) will gather at Cables Pub and Grill,

1923 59th Avenue in Greeley, to watch the NCAA Women's Basketball 

Tournament Selection Show and find out where they're headed for

their first game.        


Ethridge and the Bears are one of the most underplayed sports stories

in the state, and that was true before they earned their way into the

NCAA tournament -- a tournament the Pac-12 Colorado Buffaloes 

and Mountain West Rams will be watching from the outside. CSU

beat UNC 55-44 in Greeley in December, but the Bears' non-conference

wins include those over Louisiana State, DePaul, Denver, San Francisco,

Pacific, Missouri-Kansas City and Liberty.   


Ethridge came to Greeley in April 2014. She had been the

long-time associate coach at Kansas State, working for Deb Patterson,

who now is the UNC program's director of basketball operations. 


Ethridge has hoops in her DNA. Her father, John, was a star at Texas

Christian and her mother, Mitzi, was a high school standout in Dimmitt,

Texas. The couple settled in Lubbock. The youngest Ethridge girls,

Kriss and Kamie, went to play at Texas for renowned coach Jody Conradt.


As the Longhorns' wizard point guard, Kamie controlled games while

rarely shooting. "Team-wise, it was the most fulfilling experience of my

career, winning that national championship on an undefeated team with

those people you've grown up with," Kamie told me. 


Donna Lopiano, later the president of Sports Management Resources

in Connecticut, was the women's AD at Texas.


"I always had a list of all the Texas athletes I would want to be on my

side if I ever got into a fight," Lopiano told me. "Kamie and (star swimmer)

Jill Sterkel were right at the top. They were the definition of the will to

compete. Kamie ran the team, and how Kamie went, the team went."


Conradt coached the Longhorns from 1976-2007.


"I like to tell a story, but I make sure Kamie isn't there when I tell it,"

Conradt told me. "She was not very tall, not particularly quick, not

a great shooter, but she won the Wade Trophy her senior year -- and

won it averaging five points a game. There was something special

about her. We all look to those players who make everyone else

better, and that is the perfect description of Kamie. She demanded

that her teammates play at a high level."


Ethridge was Team USA's point guard for the 1985 World University

Games, for the 1986 world championships in Moscow, for the 1986

Goodwill Games and for the outset of the 1987 Pan American Games.

Each of those American teams won a gold medal. But she suffered

an anterior cruciate ligament injury at the Pan Am Games and was

less than 100 percent for the 1988 Olympics, where she accepted a

backup role.


"Kay Yow had been our world championships coach and she was picked

again to be the Olympic coach," Ethridge said. "I was part of that group

that had built that, and Kay Yow was very loyal. ... I tell people all the

time, if you can think of anything you want to do as an athlete, standing

on top of the podium with the national anthem going and a gold medal

hanging around your neck, that is the ultimate."


Deciding that a European pro career -- all that was available at the time;

the WNBA didn't begin play until 1997 -- wasn't for her after playing

one year in Italy, she spent two seasons as an assistant at Northern

Illinois and five at Vanderbilt.


When Patterson, also a Vanderbilt assistant, got the head coaching job

at Kansas State in 1996, Ethridge went with her. "I just got to do so

much, it felt like it was my program too as much as anything," Ethridge



Despite a largely successful tenure at KSU, Patterson, who had

been under fire for a variety of reasons, including

what many perceived to be mandatory attendance at chapel before

games, was fired after an 11-19 season in 2013-14. The Wildcats

went to the NCAA Tournament nine times in her 18 seasons.


"I understand it's a business and understand an AD thinking that if he

wants to make a change, he probably has to do it then because the team

is set to be really good this next year," Ethridge told me after she

moved to UNC. "But it's a stab in your heart."


After UNC's Jaime White was hired at Fresno State, Bears AD Darren

Dunn called Ethridge and interviewed her in Denver. Twenty-eight

years after finishing her college career, she was a college head coach.


"When she first graduated, I thought, no, I don't think she can be a

coach," Conradt told me. "The reason had nothing to do with her

knowledge of the game or how she could relate to players. I thought

she would be intolerant of people who weren't at her level, it was

going to drive her crazy. But when I saw what a tremendous teacher

she became, yes, I thought it was past time for her to have her own

program and put her own stamp on a program. I'm so excited for

her to finally have that opportunity."


Lopiano, who after leaving Texas in 1992 was the CEO of the

Women's Sports Foundation for 15 years, said of Ethridge 

becoming a head coach: "I've been bugging her for the past two decades --

'be your own boss!' Every time I'd see her, I'd ask when she was going

to do that."


She did it at UNC, and she and the Bears are thriving. UNC is

83-43 under Ethridge. This season, her two guards named Savannah --

senior Savannah Scott, from Campbell, California; and junior

Savannah Smith, from Fort Collins -- combine to average 35

points a game. And the Bears will go into the NCAA tournament

riding a 13-game winning streak.  


Read about the Bears' Big Sky tournament title here



Mile High Sports, March 10

Uh, Nathan ... bad idea




March 9, 2018

Paul Millsap is back

and adapting to young

Nuggets cast around him    



Veteran forward Paul Millsap played his sixth game for the Nuggets

Friday night since returning after missing 44 in a row with a wrist

ligament injury.


His return wasn't completely seamless.

The team Millsap rejoined on the floor was different than the one he

played with in the first 16 games of the season.

Nikola Jokic, 23, while still agonizingly inconsistent, has looked on many

nights like a star waiting to happen. 


Jamal Murray, still only 20, and Gary Harris, 23, are breaking out.


Emmanuel Mudiay, 20, was written off as a washout as popular

choice at the seventh overall choice in the 2015 draft and sent to the



So now the mandate for the returned Millsap isn't so much to lead as it

is to facilitate the progress of the remaining young core. And also for

that young core to take advantage of Millsap's leadership aura and his

game -- without excessively deferring to him, either.  


That doesn't mean that the veteran forward is free of the obligation to

be the best player on the floor some nights. That's not too

much to expect for $90 million spread over three seasons. But for the

Nuggets to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013,

and more important, come out of this season with restoked and 

justfiable hopes for the near future, Millsap must be both that 

complementary piece and star -- depending on the night.


On Friday against the Lakers, Millsap had 21 points and 6

rebounds as the Nuggets won 125-116 and by the end of the night were

percentage points behind the Clippers and tied with the Jazz in the

battle for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference. Murray

had 22 and Jokic 21, and one of Jokic's seeing-eye passes set up

Millsap for a key three-point play down the stretch.


That's the formula that can land the Nuggets in the postseason.

"No matter who else is on the floor, Nikola has to play his game," said

Nuggets coach Michael Malone. "And understand that he is our guy,

he's our go-to guy, we're going to play through him. Paul is a hell of a

player and once he gets his rhythm back, now we can even become

that more dangerous in our frontcourt with those two guys playing at

a high level. But their rhythm tonight was great, and they played off

each other very well."


I asked Malone how Millsap was molding to this roster of

evolving expectations and roles -- and vice versa -- since

his return.

"The great thing about Paul Millsap, and here's a player, a veteran player,

who has 87 playoff games, four All-Stars (games) and he just wants to fit

in," Malone said. "He's not asking for touches, he's not saying give me the

damn ball. He's just out there trying to find ways to fit in and help this

team win. He knew when he came back this team was playing at a high

level. Not many vets would do that, who have accomplished as much as

Paul Millsap has. He's just going out there and molding, to your point,

just playing with our guys and helping Jamal and Gary and Will 

Barton, and Nikola, all young players in their own right who play

withthe veteran to learn and make his points whenever he can.

I think Paul's done a good job with his play, but also with his

mindset and his professionalism." 


Millsap now is averaging 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds.  


"I'm trying to help these guys along the way as much as possible,"

Millsap said. "Prepare them for what's next. They're also helping

me, I get out there and have fun and run and gun with them."


He said it was his and Jokic's best game together since his return.


"For sure," he said. "We're starting to get a feel for each other. He's

got to be him. Don't worry about me. I'm going to fit in. We run

through him. He's the engine that goes. We're feeding off him and 

playing off him and that's when we're at our best."


They're figuring it out. 





Mile High Sports, March 6

14 years ago, Steve Moore played his final game for Avalanche




Mile High Sports, March 4

With month to go, Avalanche controls own destiny




March 3, 2018

 Question: Would Eustachy's

methods have been OK

if Rams won more games?



CSU's Larry Eustachy during the Rams' Dec. 2 win over the Buffs in Moby Arena.


Answer to the headline: Of course they would. 


This is college basketball, the pastime in which "legendary" coaches field

questions from fawning national commentators -- many of them ex-coaches

themselves -- who have a pretty good idea what it usually takes to build

and maintain perennially winning programs. The rest of us don blinkers,

taking note of when the March Madness contest entry has to be in or of

the Final Four credential application deadline.       


Short of the FBI getting involved, winning answers everything. Vacate a

title later? Who cares? Whine about it, of course, say it isn't fair to "the

kids," but that championship celebration isn't erased from the memory bank.      


On Friday in Fort Collins, CSU athletic director Joe Parker met with invited

members of the media to discuss the process that led to the ouster of CSU

coach Larry Eustachy -- via the $750,000 settlement on the $3.12 million

remaining on his contract. Eustachy was placed on leave on February 3, and

a few weeks later, he was effectively history, despite the small print that

ties him to the athletic department through June.

Parker made it clear that the examination of the program's "climate" didn't

begin -- or restart -- until this calendar year. It (and Eustachy's apparent

conduct) "saved" CSU $2.37 million.


It doesn't take a sleuth to infer that the university at least could make a

credible case that Eustachy had violated the zero-tolerance restructions he

was operating under since president Tony Frank in 2014 rejected then-AD

Jack Graham's recommendation to fire the Rams' coach. And that because

of that, this was a negotiated compromise heavily weighted in CSU's


Reading between the lines, or even taking the honorable Parker at his word,

then, this was all sudden. Suddenly, after the Rams' season headed into the


The tricky part there is that reacting to adversity is one of the tests of a

coach. By saying that this came up once the Rams seemed destined for a

disappointing year, I'm not arguing Eustachy was maltreated or he

shouldn't have been held to the zero-tolerance standards he knew were

in force. 


What I'm saying is, if the Rams got off to a 6-1 start in the Mountain West,

this wouldn't have happened. I'm not going to go over the same ground I

did in the February 21 commentary below after attending the Rams' loss

to Boise State at home, an embarrassing combination of a horrible crowd

and a checked-out effort from the Rams with young interim coach Jase

Herl in charge. Reading that would provide more context for what I'm

adding here after additional developments. The major point I would

re-emphasize here is that my I've expressed my respect for Frank and

his accomplishments about a gazillion times in covering and opining

about them over the years. My outlook hasn't changed, and I've been

impressed with Parker since his arrival as Graham's replacement.  


In the end, it truly was about not winning enough games. It's impossible

to believe that Eustachy's practice attitude, treatment of players and staff,

or in-game demeanor were that much different in January than in November. 


Clearly, in more ways than one, the painful upset loss to Air Force at home 

was a major impetus, beginning the season's competitive death spiral and

helping cause Parker to conclude it was time to aggressively check into

what else was out there, curiously in a program with closed, but always

video recorded, practices as part of the watchdog process. The loss dropped

the Rams below .500 in the Mountain West for good, at 3-4, and to 10-10

overall. Until then, a first-division league finish seemed possible and the

Rams seemed at least capable of playing entertaining basketball at home. 

The Coloradoan reported that Eustachy's obscene tirade at a player during

that game drew the ire of fans behind the bench, among others, and that it was

audible in the streamed (outside-the-region) version of the AT&T SportsNet

Rocky Mountain broadcast.

That was January 17.

It took six weeks for that to come out?


I was there that night. The press rows at Moby now are on the concourse

level, at the corners, so it's not as if we were sitting next to the bench, but

the truth is, so much of this could have -- and arguably should have --

come out sooner and we in the media were, if not asleep, at least lacking

vigilance. Former Collegian sports editor Justin Michael broke the story of the 

"climate assessment." 

Granted, the circumstances of the results of the 2014 investigation into

Eustachy's conduct not being leaked and disclosed until 2017 were complicated

for many reasons, but that material was there for three years.  


But after Frank stuck with Eustachy, zero-tolerance was the official standard.


Eustachy didn't live up to it -- in part, or even mainly, because winning

would have trumped all. 



February 25, 2018

Up and down Buffaloes

are up on Senior Day



          Dominique Collier in the post-game senior ceremonies 



         Then it was George King's turn 



BOULDER -- If you've got this Colorado Buffaloes team figured out ... let me know.

When CU completed a Pac-12 sweep of UCLA Sunday at the Coors Events Center, beating the Bruins 80-76 four days after a devastating loss to USC at home, it enabled the Buffs to write an upbeat ending for the regular-season home careers of seniors Dominique Collier, George King, Josh Repine and the injured Tory Miller-Stewart. 

With a road game remaining at Utah in advance of the league tournament, CU now is 16-13 overall and 8-9 in the Pac-12. There still is an impression of underachievement, because the good nights -- most notably the home wins over Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford and now the pair of wins over UCLA -- have been tantalizing indications of what this team could (or should) be.

The Buffs shouldn't be in position to need to storm through and win the Pac-12 tournament to get an NCAA berth, but that's the reality. (I threw in "regular-season" in the above in case the CU ends up with a home game in the NIT or anything else.)  

Fittingly, the two CU seniors who play appreciable minutes had big games Sunday. Collier got his first start of the Pac-12 season and had 19 points, his most productive home game in his four-season career, and King pitched in with 16.


It was an emotional afternoon for both, but perhaps more so for Colllier, the former Denver East High star who was a highly-sought recruit but has had a mercurial run with the Buffs.

I suppose you could say "disappointing," because he didn't become what was projected for him, but he has hung in there, accepted the downgrading of his role after the arrival this season of freshman McKenzie Wright IV, and ultimately will exit the program with head held high. His successful recruitment was considered an important coup for Tad Boyle's program as it attempted to strengthen the relationship with Colorado's high school coaching fraternity, and the way it played out shouldn't change that part of the dynamic. Collier's final prep game came at the Coors Events Center in 2014, when he had 18 points as the Angels beat Fossil Ridge to claim the 5A state title.


"It was really emotional," Collier said of the final home game. "Coming in this morning for pregame, and through warmups, I didn't think I'd get really emotional. But when my family stood around me and I walked out there, I got real emotional. That's when it really hit me that it's the last time playing in his building. I just wanted to come out here and play well and come out with a victory." 

Collier came about 30 miles to get to CU.

King came a little farther. Raised in Fayetteville, N.C., he attended high school in San Antonio. His mother, Tresse, is an Air Force master sergeant.         

"I got extremely emotional," King said. "It was an emotional game, especially in the beginning. But when tipoff started, that was all behind me. Leaving Coors in your last game with a loss when you're a senior would have been really tough to swallow."  


 Boyle opened his news conference with a salute to the seniors and then eventually noted that they "played like seniors."

"Today's a special day," Boyle said, "not only because we beat UCLA, a good team, but we had four really special seniors we wanted to send out on the right note, on a high note. And we did that. Our players played with great passion and pride, toughness and energy, and I know they did it for those four guys. . . You couldn't ask for more solid students, athletes, representatives of our program and university."  


Barring shocking developments from here -- hey, 10 more wins in a row and the Buffs will be the national champions -- the season will go down as a disappointment. But one of the high points will be being able to send the seniors out as winners at home. 








Senior Day: Dominique Collier (15) watches his 3-pointer go in with 7:23

remaining, giving CU a 62-56 lead over UCLA. Next, George King (24) knocks

down another 3-pointer, putting the Buffs up 71-57 with 4:49 left. 




Mile High Sports, February 24

If Avalanche stands pat ...





 February 21, 2018

It's Moby Madness,

all right: CSU's season

has become a nightmare


By late in the game, as CSU interim coach Jase Herl (light blue sport jacket) continued to

work the sideline, the band had the end-zone student section to itself.   


FORT COLLINS -- What a mess. 

And it keeps getting worse.

To think that 12 weeks ago, CSU knocked off CU in a raucous

atmosphere in Moby Arena. While nobody pretended that the

Buffs were Final Four-bound or anything close, it still seemed to

herald that the Larry Eustachy-coached Rams at the very least

could recover from a rough start to the season and be competitive

in the Mountain West. Boy, was that ever wrong.


Wrong wrong, wrong.  


The Rams had lost five in a row when Eustachy was placed on

administrative leave on February 3. The slide now is nine losses

in the  past 10 games, with Eustachy lieutenant Steve Barnes taking

over for two games before being placed on leave, too, for being too

much like Eustachy; and then with Jase Herl -- who is greener than

the Rams' road uniforms -- coaching the last three.

The third was the biggest embarrassment of all, the dreadful 87-54

loss to Boise State Wednesday night that came in front of an

announced Moby Arena crowd of 2,850 that was down to an

intimate gathering by the closing seconds. BSU led by 21 (50-29) at

halftime and by 42 (77-35) with a little over seven minutes left

before BSU coach Leon Rice sent in two student managers, a

student trainer, and two of standout Broncos guard Justinian

Jessup's buddies from down the road at Longmont High for

the remainder of the game.

(OK, I made that up. But Rice might as well have.)


The Rams aren't this bad. 


This is a demoralized, downtrodden bunch that, with confidence

destroyed, has been able to beat only conference doormat San Jose

State in the past five weeks. 

They boycotted a practice; at times, it looks as if that carried

over into games.   

The emotionally devastated Rams have fallen apart as fast and

completely as five mismatched guys who missed free throws

and wound up on the same team during the noon hour at the

rec center.

In a revolving-door Eustachy program in which showing up

and staying for four or five seasons was a rarity -- and that's being

charitable -- unity and cohesion are fragile, if ever attained at all.

The instability of the modern college game is infamous and

seemingly universal, most often rooted in disatisfaction over

playing time, but it often has seemed that tolerance of playing

for Eustachy at CSU came with an expiration date.  


If you're reading this, you know the history. The 2014 evaluation

and investigation of Eustachy's methods led to athletic director

Jack Graham's recommendation to fire the coach he hired before

president Tony Frank overruled him. Frank went to bat for

Eustachy; and one of the realities at CSU is that it is best not

to cross the popular president and chancellor, especially after he

has gone to bat for you. Eustachy stayed, with zero-tolerance

standards and strictly defined parameters. He again was

supposed to have cleaned up his act, learned lessons, mellowed

out. Then there was the leaking of that report last year, albeit

with extensive acompanying reporting, leading to the questions:

Why did it take so long to become public in a college town of few

secrets ... and why then? 

And then Graham's successor, Joe Parker, was looking into

the cultureof the program, with extensive and numerous interviews,

before Eustachy was placed on leave. It didn't help Eustachy's cause

that he apparently told the players Frank had given him a vote of

confidence. Not so. That didn't go over well with Frank, either. 

The Rams were 10-14 overall and 3-8 in the Mountain West

at the time of Eustachy's ouster.  

It is not out of line to at least wonder if this latest assessment of

Eustachy's methods would have been undertaken if the Rams

got out of the gate well in the Mountain West. Abominable,

unacceptable methods should be abominable and unacceptable

regardless of the record. Guess what? College basketball coaches

frequently yell, offer pointed criticism, and occasionally use

words -- especially behind closed gym doors -- that would

be bleeped on a broadcast network. Eustachy, with other issues

also coming into play over the years, was a known commodity.      

If this is more a means of getting rid of a coach for not winning

enough games, and finding a way to avoid buying out his

contract and saving $3 million, that's shameful. Regardless of how

unsympathetic of a figure is, that's not right. The aversion to

his methods shouldn't be in direct proportion to the numbers of

games his team loses.  

I threw that out there because it has to be asked. It has to be the

standard of honor.

That said, I respect both Frank and Parker too much to be

accusatory. It's something that CSU needs to be conscious of as it

proceeds in what undoubtedly will be Eustachy's firing. The

stunning progress CSU has made in recent years, all across

the campus and on the nationwide image front, can't be undone.

I wasn't even talking about sports there. And when you throw

in the ambitious on-campus stadium project, it adds to the

momentum. This is just a basketball program and a quirky coach,

which should -- but realistically doesn't -- get overwhelmed

by all the more important issues and projects from College

Avenue to Shields Street.            

In that sense, simply announcing, either now or after the season,

that it was time to make a change -- for a combination of reasons --

and ponying up the $3 million would have been a better way to go. 

You're playing with the big boys in a college sports landscape

that included a big-money Florida payoff to CSU to free up football

coach Jim McElwain, enabling him to make the ill-fated move to

Gainesville, and sometimes you should just take the dose of horrible

tasting medicine and move on.

As it stands now, the drama is dragging down the program.     

Junior guard J.D. Paige, from Aurora and Rangeview High,

called the Wednesday night embarrassment "by far" CSU's

worst performance of the season. "We just didn't bring it tonight,"

he added. "There's no excuse for that."   

He went on to say the turmoil wasn't an issue. "I don't think it's

(any) of that," he said. "I'm simply telling you we didn't bring it

tonight. I didn't know what it was. As a while team, we ddn't

bring enough energy."

The Rams close out the regular season at Nevada Sunday and

at home against New Mexico Wednesday.

"We just have to show more heart," Paige said. "That's what it

comes down to. That's all it is. It's heart. We didn't show (any)

heart,  no competitiveness tonight. And it's just baffling."

The Rams haven't just been beaten.

They've been beaten down. 


"I think we just keep talking with them, keep trying to find ways

to motivate them individually that will benefit the team," said Herl.

"Talk about playing for Colorado State, playing for the name on the

jersey. Either that, or play for the name on the beck of the jersey." 


You do that, though, you're going solo.



Part of the Wednesday night "crowd," announced as 2,850.



Mile High Sports, February 21

If NHL stays away next time, too, USA should go all college




 February 17, 2018

DU goalie Tanner Jaillet

has kicked it up a notch

in his senior season 



Tanner Jaillet in the Pioneers' net against CC Friday night. DU defenseman 

Adam Plant (28) and CC winger Branden Makara (18) are in front of him.


Tanner Jaillet already has raised his arms in his crease at the final

buzzer, then joined in an NCAA championship celebration. Now,

as he winds down his four-season career with the Denver Pioneers,

his statistics are in the same stingy range as a year ago. Beyond that,

the eye test result is that he has taken his game to another level as

the Pioneers begin the regular-season stretch run and prepare to

shoot for a second straight national title. 



















Jaillet stopped 21 of 22 shots Friday night against Colorado College,

allowing only Nick Halloran's power play goal at 19:31 of the first

period. That wasn't enough. Colorado College claimed a 1-0 win

at Magness Arena in the fourth and final matchup in the Gold Pan

rivalry this season when the Tigers' Alex Leclerc made 40 saves

and shut out the Pioneers.   

That came the night after the Pioneers clinched the Gold Pan

with a 5-1 win over the Tigers in Colorado Springs, extending

their unbeaten streak to eight games.


DU was without Troy Terry, off in PyeongChang and playing for

the USA in the Winter Olympics, but that hadn't slowed down the

Pioneers Friday.

The third-ranked Pioneers fell to 17-7-6 for the season and 11-5-4-3

in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, where they're in

second place and trailing first-place St. Cloud State by five points.

So it was a lost opportunity to get within three points of first place.


"For the last month or so, we've been playing some good hockey,

we've been getter each weekend," Jaillet said. "This is a good

learning lesson for when we're playing elimination games. All it

takes is a hot goalie, me looking at a wrong angle, guys miss

a rebound. One thing can end your season. We'll learn from this

and move forward."  

At the end of the night, Jaillet's 1.88 goals-against average and

his save percentage of .928 both were seventh-best in the country. 

"I've been OK," Jaillet said. "At the beginning of the year, it was

a little tough. I've been better as of late." 


The bearded and unflappable -- they seem to go together -- seems

so calm at times, you wouldn't be shocked to see him with eyes

closed for a brief catnap when the puck is in the other end.  


 DU coach Jim Montgomery said Jaillet has been "exceptional," then

added: "He's been great. We're pressing tonight, and they get a

couple of breakaways and 2-on-1s and he just makes the saves

and gives us an opportunity. . . He's just been incredible."


Jaillet, from Red Deer, Alberta -- the mid-point stop on the drive

from Edmonton to Calgary -- already is 24. Although that might

dampen some of the enthusiasm, as an undrafted free agent

he likely will have mutiple offers from NHL organizations after

the season. The NHL's salary cap allows for minimum flexibility,

so it won't be even anything approaching a bidding war, but he

likely will be able to assess were he might fit in with various



"I'll worry about that once this year is over," he said. "I live in the

present and just take it a day at a time. Obviously, it's coming to

an end here, but that's part of life and you move forward."  



The Pioneers' onslaught in the final seconds was unsuccessful, and CC

goaltender Alex Leclerc finished with the 40-save shutout, leading to

the celebration below. 





Mile High Sports, February 14

Kerfoot continues to show (Ivy League) worth





Mile High Sports, February 13

As MacKinnon skates closer to return...




 February 10, 2018

Brazilian Lucas Siewert

coming into his own

as Buffs' sophomore




BOULDER -- When Lucas Siewert arrived in Southern California

from his native Brazil to enroll as a freshman at Cathedral High

School, virtually across the Harbor Freeway from Dodger Stadium,

his basketball ambitions were limited.


"I came to the United States, focusing on high school," he said

Sunday at the Coors Events Center. "I didn't really know what

college basketball was when I moved here, and that just kind of

happened with the flow of me doing good in high school."

Tad Boyle and his staff noticed him as he quickly emerged as a

star for the Phantoms and ultimately averaged 23 points as a senior

for a team that reached the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A



"I actually ended up committed to Arizona State, but the (Herb

Sendek) staff got fired and I decommitted," Siewert said. "They

(the Boyle staff) recruited me again and they were my first option." 


That's how the 6-foot-10 sophomore from Joinville, Santa Catarina

in Brazil came to CU.

On Sunday, in a 64-56 win over Stanford, he came off the bench to

lead the Buffs with 17 points, hitting 4 of 6 three-pointers, and

adding 7 rebounds. His three-pointer with 3:00 left -- pictured

above -- gave the Buff breathing room, opening up a 59-52 lead.

From there, they went on to the win that made them 7-6 in the

Pac-12 and 15-10 overall, preserving the hope that winning out

in the regular season and picking up a couple of victories in the

conference tournament might be good enough to sneak the Buffs

in to the NCAA tournament. Otherwise, of course, CU would

have to duplicate the unlikely run of the 2012 team to the Pac-12

tourney title to make the NCAA field.   


The strange thing now is that only the league leader, Arizona (10-3)

has fewer than five conference losses, and the Buffs are part of an

eight-team pack with five (UCLA, USC, Washington, Oregon) or six

(Arizona State, Utah, Colorado and Stanford) defeats. So it's not as

outlandish as it might seem at first glance to say the Buffs have a

legitimate chance to finish third or fourth in the regular season.      


The resurgence against the Cardinal came after the Buffs were

dreadful, passive and unenergetic in a 68-64 win over California

Wednesday and Boyle spent the three off days letting his team

know how unhappy he was about that.


"Coach challenged me on the glass after the Cal game, so I tried to

meet his challenge," Siewert said. "Then the shots were just falling

for me."


Siewert's previous career high was 14 points, and -- curiously -- that

came against Stanford in Boulder last season. He was 4-for-5 on

three-pointers in that game, meaning he has been 8-for-11 against

the Cardinal behind the arc in the Coors Events Center in two



"I know last year, I had my career high against them too," he

said. "I thought about that, so that kind of gave me some confidence

as well."

In 23 games this season -- he missed two games in November

because of injury -- he is averaging 17 minutes, 2.6 rebounds

and 5.3 points. He spent much of Sunday setting picks for McKinley

Wright IV and the other Buffs' guards on the perimeter, but also

went to the boards and popped out to receive a pass and take the



And four of them, including the crucial one down the stretch,

went in.


"I'm trying to make this, how do you say, not a rare thing, but

to be a standard thing," he said. "That's the player I'm trying

to be. In past games, I've been doing really good and that's what

I'm trying to become every game."

Boyle noted, "Obviously he shot the ball well from three today.

He really gives defenses problems because in screens are you

going to guard McKinley or Dom (Collier) or one of those guys

coming downhill or are you going to guard him on the pick and pop.

But I'm more proud of Lucas' seven rebounds than I am the 17 points.

Obviously I like him shooting the ball the way he is and he gives us a

shot in the arm offensively, but when he defends and he rebounds

like he did tonight, he really helps this team."

Wright had an off shooting afternoon, going 4-for-15 from the floor,

and finished with 10 points, and fellow guard George King was

the other Buff in double figures with 11. Forward Tyler Bey,

limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble, added 10 points

and 6 rebounds.


So now it's off to Washington State and Washington for the Buffs.




Left, Lucas Siewert setting a screen for McKinley Wright IV. Right,

Siewert and Tyler Bey (1) at the offensive board. 



Tyler Bey follows through on the shot that went in, putting CU up 52-49 with 5:36 left.




Mile High Sports, February 9

Bowman Brothers Reunion in Eagles' final ECHL season 




February 8, 2018

My Mile High Magazine 

stories on Coloradans heading

to 2018 Games at PyeongChang


The final count, barring injuries or other adustments, of

Colorado-connected athletes on the Team USA rosters for

the Winter Olympics was 31. 

I did stories on six of them for the February edition of

Mile High Sports Magazine, now out and available. 

Here the online versions of those stories, each with links

to the digital edition of the magazine: 



Interview: Troy Terry, hockey



Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine skiing


Lindsey Vonn, Alpine skiing



Chris Corning, snowboarding 


Bryan Fletcher, Nordic Combined



Nicole Hensley, hockey 





 February 8, 2018

With McKinley Wright 

leading, can Buffs get act 

together for stretch run?


McKinley Wright IV 


BOULDER -- What a great idea. Give Colorado a Wednesday

conference home game against California and for  the benefit of

ESPNU and schedule it for 9 p.m. Yes, do that for a network

offshoot that doesn't even consider it important enough to have

its announcers on site, but instead has them calling the game

off monitors two time zones away.


The announced crowd of 6,385 for the Buffaloes' 68-64 win over

the Golden Bears mainly indicated there were a lot of unused

tickets, and also that Tad Boyle's program isn't enough of an

automatic draw to overcome the ridiculous slotting and fill the

Coors Events Center under any circumstances. 


Boyle even went out of his way to open his near-midnight news

conference by thanking the fans who did show up -- and

apologizing to them for the Buffaloes' play as they got back

to 6-6 in Pac 12 play.

"I've never, in my time here, and I can't remember another time

in my coaching career when I've been this disappointed after

a win in terms of our performance and the way we approached

this game," he said. "Especially after we really did a great job

against Utah in terms of our effort, our energy, our toughness.

Tonight, we turned the ball over 19 times and we give them 18

offensive rebounds. Thank god we won. And we won for one

reason -- and that's No. 25 for the Buffs. Thank god we

had him. . . I'm disgusted with our performance."

That's McKinley Wright IV, the freshman guard from North

Robbinsdale, Minnesota. He didn't have a  great night shooting,

going only 3-for-7 from the floor, but finished with 17 points,

5 assists and 6 rebounds while taking control and hitting clutch

free throws down the stretch as the Pac 12's 11th-place team

hung with the Buffs. Wright has been the bright spot in a

mediocre and up-and-down season for the Buffs, and now the

charge will be to lead a closing rush through the final six

conference games and the Pac 12 tournament.

Now 14-10 overall, the Buffs' only shot at making the NCAA

tournament likely would be winning the league tournament --

or maybe winning out until the title game. Otherwise, the

NIT beckons.   


So how has Wright, the former Minnesota Mr. Basketball listed

at a charitable 6-0, carried this team?

"Toughness, heart, will, grit," Boyle said. "It's all the intangibles

that make McKinley Wright who he is. There are point guards

who are better shooters. There are point guards who are better

passers. I'm not sure there's any point guards who are better

rebounders. But the intangibles that he brings to the game and the

team, you just can't put a value on them.

"And I said this before the season. I said, 'McKinley Wright

will will this team -- will them -- to four or five victories this year.

Well, you just saw one tonight. He willed us to a victory tonight ...

If we didn't have him, we'd be leaving here with a loss and Cal

would be feeling real good about themselves." 


The game was tied 28-28 at halftime, and the Buffs were playing

as if it was past their bedtime.


"I just called the guys together and told them us younger guys

are playing for the seniors," Wright said. "We're trying to do our

best to get them to the tournament. We know is we had lost

this game, there'd have been a slim chance for that. This was

a huge game for us."

Expectedly and understandably, Wright is clinging to high-

ambition hopes that likely are out of reach.

"We have a very good chance toreach our goal, to play in the

tournament and win the Pac-12 championship," he said. "Postseason

is our goal. I'm trying to get the guys like George (King), Dom

(Collier), Josh Repine and Tory (Miller-Stewart), our four

seniors, to play in the tournament. They didn't make it last year." 


The Buffs next play Stanford Sunday afternoon at home.

Trust me, Boyle was genuinely perturbed, but he also clearly

had started lobbying for a better effort against the Cardinal.


"If we play Sunday like we played tonight, we have no chance,

zero chance," Boyle said. "If we play the way we played against

Utah in terms of our energy, effort and toughness, we give

ourselves a chance. Our players have to understand that." 




 February 7, 2018

From a quiet second

NLI Signing Day at CU




BOULDER -- A college football coach -- head coach or assistant --

is sitting in your living room, offering your son a lucrative full

scholarship plus stipends to a major university.

To have that happen, you will have had to embrace your son's

participation in the sport, most likely from youth on up, and he's

at least a pretty good high school player who enjoys it.

No, you're not likely to be sweating the potential negative

long-term physical effects of the sport.

Or, in 2018, are you?


I couldn't resist asking Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre

Wednesday if, on the recruiting trail, he's getting more questions

from parents about whether the sport is safe ... enough.


The question is premature in the sense that the real effect on the

talent pool might be coming in a few years. That will be when it's

more frequent for talented athletes, with input or mandates from

adults in their lives, to reach their final years of high school without

ever playing tackle football in the first place. That happens now,

of course, but it's usually about early specialization; in the future

it also and even mainly could be about an aversion for football

as a participatory sport. 


Yes, that's coming in the wake of all the attention paid on the

physical toll the game can take, especially in the realm of concussions

and CTE. 

It will be difficult to document the effects of doubts about the

game, and to identify the athletes who in another time would

be football recruits, but only the most blinkered of the sport's

proponents will deny it all has become a factor.  


But I asked, anyway, knowing that MacIntyre is the highest-paid

man on campus, a former player himself at Vanderbilt and Georgia

Tech. He also is the son of a college football coach, the father of a

CU wide receiver, and a man committed to the sport in a coaching

career that has taken him through the ranks, including NFL stints

with the Cowboys and Jets.   


Is he hearing those questions?


"A little bit," MacIntyre said at the news conference called to discuss

the Buffs' additions to its recruiting class on the second national

letter of intent day. "Of course, it's all over the media. The things

that I would say, it's safer than it has ever been, as you all know

the stats and different things. There's more concussions and that

type of things in women's soccer. There's all the other things.

"I always tell them when they ask me that, and I'm being serious,

we can all sit in front of the television and play X-Box. Now we're

going to be obese, we're going to die of heart disease, there's all

those different things you have going on. I believe in the game

tremendously, but at the same time, I only ask, 'Does your son

ride a bicylcle?' And they go, 'Yeah.' I say, 'He's a lot more in

trouble riding that bicycle than he is playing football.' It's

a proven fact. 'Does he ride skateboards?' 'Oh, yeah he skateboards

all the time near my house.'


"I go by a place all the time near my house there's kids

skateboarding all the time, flipping and doing (tricks). That's a

lot more dangerous than football. It's statistically proven and it

all weighs out. I think that's just a thing at the forefront right now,

and yes, we've gotten a lot better at the game, we've helped change

the rules. The helmets have gotten better and how we teach tackling,

all that type of stuff. I still think it's a phenomenal sport, but I do

get asked about it some. 


"Those are some things where they go, 'Yeah, that's right. He does

ride the bicycle, he does skateboard. 'Yeah, we've taken him to the

hospital for those things.' I think there's a lot of issues out there that

attack football, but I still think it's a phenomenal game."  


He's right: Other sports, including hockey, lacrosse and soccer,

have concussion issues, too. Absolutely, heightened awareness

and concussion protocol -- quantum leaps from the "you-got-your-

bell-rung" traditions -- come into play in producing the scary data.

Yet it's also not ridiculous to wonder if at some time in the not-too-

distant future insurance and liability issues could kill the game

at the scholastic level.         

MacIntyre was talking after the Buffs added two players to their

recruiting class Wednesday -- linebacker Alex Tchangam of De Anza

College in California, and running back Travon MacMillian, a graduate

transfer from Virginia Tech who has signed a financial aid agreement.

That leaves a class of 23, including 20 who signed in the new early

NLI period in December and offensive lineman Kanan Ray,

who signed a financial aid agreement in January after originally

planning to attend UCLA.

The entire proceedings Wednesday seemed a bit strange, more

of a P.S. than an annoucement, given the imbalance in the two

groups and the rush to sign in the first year of the early period. 

But that was fine with MacIntyre, who argues that the early

signing date should be even earlier. A lot earlier.

"You weren't sitting on pins and needles that a kid was going

to go somewhere else," he said. "I was just as busy or busier

this January as I've ever been because I was kind of going out

to high schools all over the country, to watch 2019 guys play

basketball, work out in the weight room, all of that, so it gives

us an advantage. . . In the past, I wouldn't be able to do that.

I would be going to all the houses and all the homes, going to

the certain schools where we had commitments. 


"December was really hectic because after the Utah game to

December, I went in 21 homes, visiting with parents and making

sure those young men signed on December 20. So that was hectic.

But I liked the early signing date. I'm still a proponent. I'm going

to keep pushing it. Some people are still going to get mad at me.

Now that we're having official visits in April, May and June,

if they take a few visits and they decide, 'Hey this is where I want

to go to school,' let's have a signing date in July, over the dead period.

They sign and then you have another signing date in February.


"Do just like basketball does. They have a signing date in

November, then they have a signing date in April. Why don't we

do the same thing? That's what I keep proposing to do. I think

eventually that's going to happen."

I can't go along with going that far, and for this reason: The

numbers are so different, the situations aren't directly

comparable. Plus, I'm convinced the remorse factor would

be far greater in football than basketball. Even now, the new

signing date at least still is late enough to allow new coaching

staffs hired in time to attempt to hold on to "commits" and add

others in a system in which there isn't a commitment before

an NLI signing.


With "commit," "de-commit," "re-commit" and anything-else-

commit" part of the lexicon, I'm surprised there hasn't been more

talk of those who signed in December having second thoughts.

If anything close to half the prospects sign on or briefly after a July

signing date, so much could happen in the next six months --

coaching changes, whether the departure of an assistant coach

who was the pointman, a head coach of an entire staff.

Yes, you sign with the school, not the coach ... but that's the

ideal, often not the reality. The only way a signing date that early

could work -- and be fair -- would be for it to come with an

official window, say in early January, to renounce the NLI.

It should be that way for all, not just for those headed for

programs that just changed coaches. That makes the early

signing more of a flimsy "commitment" than a contract, but if 

that's not deemed feasible, then don't make the early date any

earlier than it is now.


Actually, the new system -- with the signing dates in December

and February -- seems to be working.  






Mile High Sports, February 6

It's Jonathan Bernier's net ... the longer, the better  





Mile High Sports, February 2

Avs should stay the course post-MacKinnon injury





Mile High Sports, January 28

Avs, NHL going back to work, not to Olympics




Mile High Sports, January 26

A tale of Avalanche all-stars, past and present






Mile High Sports, January 21

All Aboard the Avalanche Bandwagon!





 January 18, 2018

Dom Collier living with 

coming off Buffs' bench



BOULDER -- Dominique Collier hasn't started in any of Colorado's

seven Pac 12 Conference games, but he played Thursday night as if

he considers it more of a relief than a miscarriage of justice.

The senior guard from Denver East High had 13 points -- all but

one in the first half -- in the Buffs' 82-73 win over Washington State

at the Coors Events Center Thursday night.   

He started the first seven games of the season, and only one, 

against South Dakota State on December 15, since.

That's not the way the much-touted recruit from the Rudy

Carey-coached powerhouse program at East was supposed to go

out as a CU senior. He's playing his home games in the arena

where the Angels won the 5A state championship game in 2014,

and his college career has been comparatively lackluster when

measured against expectations. In four seasons, while

fighting through foot and ankle injuries, he has started 66 of 108

games and averaged 6.3 points. 

Yet with Collier coming off the bench, the young Buffs are winning,

going 3-0 at home in the Pac 12 heading into a crucial matchup with

Washington Saturday afternoon. And while Collier's minutes and

numbers coming off the bench have been up-and-down -- he had

only three points as the Buffs split in Los Angeles last weekend -- 

it seems to be working. The weekend before that, he had 25 points

in the big wins over Arizona State and Arizona at home, going

5-for-8 from 3-point range. 

And he's OK with it. 

Freshman guard McKinley Wright IV, who had 17 points against

WSU, has been a season-long starter and was the Pac 12 player of

the week two weeks ago after the Buffs beat Arizona and Arizona

State at home. And he has earned Collier's respect.

"He's been great the whole year," Collier said. "He's our leader,

our point guard out there, he makes our team run. As you guys

saw, when(WSU) went on that run, he just put his head down

and was getting to the rack and doing whatever he had to do

get that lead back to where it was. Yeah, he's been really good

for us this year. He's just a beast."

Collier stayed hot at home, making two of his three 3-point

attempts against the Cougars and got all 12 of his first-half points

in a 12-minute span as the Buffs took control.    

"The guys just told me to come in and be aggressive," he said.

"That's why I really took an emphasis on just being ready when ...

whoever is driving, have my feet ready and be ready to shoot

the ball. And then when I have the opportunity to drive, just

attack. It's just being ready when they call my name."

CU is 12-7 overall and 4-3 in the Pac 12. If the Buffs can continue

to hold serve at home in the conference and steal a few more wins,

an NCAA berth isn't an outlandish goal. And this with a team that

has only two seniors -- Collier and George King -- playing significant


"I love these guys," Collier said. "I love the fight of these guys and I

will go to war with every last single one of them. I go against them

every day in practice, so I know firsthand how these guys work,

day in and day out."

He took note of the Buffs' response after a WSU second-half

rally got the Cougars within five, at 63-58, with 8:15 left.

"This team just has a lot of fight," Collier said. "I really noticed

that when they came in, when we first started practicing. They

just have a lot of fight. We overcame a lot this year with blown


CU coach Tad Boyle likes what he has seen of Collier coming

off the bench.


"Dom was terrific in the first half," Boyle said. "It's awesome. Dom

is like a starter, he really is. The whole key with Dom is he's quit

putting pressure on himself and balling. You can see in his body

language. Even if he misses a shot now, it's not head down and

pressing. It's just play. I'm really proud of Dominique Collier,

because he's an important part of our team and I consider him

a starter even though he's not introduced with the starting five.

He's a senior, he's played a lot of minutes and he's a critical,

]critical part of this team coming off the bench.

"There's a thought out there that you don't ever start your five

best players. You ant to bring strength in off the bench. Certainly,

recently we've been bringing strength in off the bench with

Dominique Collier." 





 January 17, 2018

Falcons' Ryan Swan, from Overland, 

determined to stick with it at AFA



































FORT COLLINS -- This seemed almost eerily like Air Force's

football win over Colorado State in the fall.

It came in Fort Collins, the Falcons celebrated raucously, and it

was thunderously disappointing for the Rams. 


This time, in basketball, the Falcons pulled off the 76-71 shocker 

Wednesday night at Moby Arena, coach Dave Pilipovic got a 

drenching in the visiting locker room, and the experience perhaps 

was the most satisfying for AFA sophomore forward Ryan Swan, 

from Aurora and Overland High, where he was among the

suppporting cast for phenom De'Ron Davis on a 5A state

championship team.


Swan had 12 points and 6 rebounds as the Falcons came away

with only their second Mountain West Conference win, sending

the intimate gathering of 3,216 out of the arena grumbling. This

Larry Eustachy-coached CSU team continues to be an enigma

after knocking off CU at home in the non-conference schedule

and now falling to 10-10 overall and 3-4 in league play.


"It means the world to me," Swan said in the hallway outside

the locker room. "I'm just glad for the team that we got a win

because we've been working hard. I guess I don't know how

I feel. Being a kid they (CSU) didn't recruit, it's a nice little,

sweet victory for me when we get to beat them."

















 Jamee Swan as a CU Buffalo 


Earlier in the season, the Falcons fell 81-69 at Colorado, where

Swan's older sister, Jamee, was a standout forward for the Buffaloes

for four seasons, from 2012-13 through 2015-16.


"I still want to get Colorado one time before I graduate," Ryan

said with a smile. "Just one time, that's all I need."

Swan attended the Air Force Prep School for a year as an

intermediate step after leaving Overland.

"It was definitely tough," he said. "I felt like I was ready right

away and felt like I could make an impact. But the prep school

year was probably the best thing for me because it made me

stronger. I lost some fat. I got stronger, it just let me develop and

make the next four years count." 

Then he played sparingly as a freshman last season as he dealt

with academic issues. "I just let too many things get to me," he

said. "My mom kind of took me and slapped me around a little

bit." (He was smiling when he said that.) "So I definitely felt that

year helped me. Over this past summer, I got my school right,

got my body right and now we're here." 

He came off the bench this season until a single start at California-

Riverside on Dec. 8, and now has started the last five games for the

Falcons. In that stretch, he has averaged 15.0 points and 6.2


"Ryan's just been getting better and better," Pilipovich said. "I was

going to choke him when he missed that (late) layup there, that dunk,

but I hugged him afterwards. He's just getting better and better. He's



Swan said the Falcons "are meshing together as a team. I feel

like of all the teams, this is probably the closest team because of all

we go through, the academy life.  Coming from Overland, where

we won, winning is in my blood. That's all I want to do. Playing

now is cool, but we're winning now and that's all I care about."


That life, of course, isn't for everyone, and Swan and his classmates

still have the option of leaving the academy after his sophomore

season. Basketball players have done that when it seems they

might have other D-I options or higher aspirations, such as

playing in Europe, but Swan is adamant that he's going to stick

with it.


"Everyone's going to have those days where they're like, 'Is this

really me?'" he said. "The end goal is what you have to look

forward to. It sucks some days, but I don't know, I'm a 20-year-old

kid getting a free education, getting paid. It's all good. I'm getting

a free education, probably one of the best educations I can get,

plus I have a guaranteed job. Plus, it makes my mom so happy.

That's the greatest part. . . I'm going to stay for sure. I mean, I don't

have any NBA people calling me right now, so I'm not going to put

all my eggs in that basket."

His mother, Diane, who played at Arvada West and coached Jamee

in high school, now is a special education teacher at Overland.

"She's a saint, let me tell you," Ryan said. "I cannot do her job,

for sure."

Ryan was born in Tucson and raised in nearby Marana, before he

and his mother moved back to Colorado in 2013, when Jamee

was about to begin her sophomore year at CU. "Her freshman year,

we were flying up to Colorado like once a month, and we were

like, 'We night as well move up,'" Ryan said. "Growing up in

Arizona was really different. The part I was in was really slow,

I was going to Marana, in the middle of nowhere. I felt like a

deer in the headlights when I stepped into Overland.

I was shell-shocked at first."

It helped that De'Ron Davis, now at Indiana, noticed that. "He

was the first person that befriended me at Overand," Swan said.

"I miss playing with that guy. I talked with him recently to make

sure he was doing well." 

So is Swan. 





January 16, 2018

On Nikola Jokic: Why can't he do

that every night? (The sequel)



























That image of the Nikola Jokic is from the same digital board in the

Pepsi Center arena level hallway that displays pictures of five

Avalanche players on hockey nights.

Yes, one of the Avs shown is Nathan MacKinnon.

The Serbian basketball center and the Canadian hockey center both

are 22.

Their situations have more differences than similarities, of course,

but what strikes me is that for several years, I've been writing about

MacKinnon's obvious talent -- yet his mercurial play.

One night, whether with the Avalanche or for Canada or Team North

America in international play, he would tantalize, flashily producing

goals and making plays, leading to the reflexive question: Why can't he

do that every night? Then the next game, he would revert to more flash

than substance. And at the end of the season, his numbers would add

up to underachievement, as when he had 16 goals in the Avalanche's

horrific 2016-17 season.


















Now, one of the major reasons for the Avalanche's stunning

improvement is that since November 1, MacKinnon -- the NHL's

No. 1 overall draft choice in 2013 now in his fifth season --has 

done it, loosely speaking, every night. He has been the NHL's

best player in the stretch. Will it last? That's open to debate and

subject to realism, but my point here is that I've found myself 

wondering the same thing about Jokic, who on some nights has

been dominant, stunningly impressive as an all-around, skilled

center with an uncanny passing ability for a big man.

Why can't he do that every night?

That question is raised, for both Jokic and MacKinnon, with the

concession that it's a standard, a lofty goal that never will be

attained. Not in basketball and not in hockey. But it is the expectation

of greatness, and now the issue is when it more ruthlessly will be a

challenge thrown at Jokic, and when he won't be babied because,

among other things, he's only a second-round draft choice and

already a "find" in this league.

Jokic had one of those eye-popping nights Tuesday, when he had

29 points, 18 rebounds and 7 assists in the Nuggets' 105-102 win

over Dallas. One of his assists was a blind behind-the-back setup

pass to Wilson Chandler. The Nuggets relinquished most of a

23-point lead before hanging on.

Why can't he do that every night?

"Nikola's a good player," said Denver coach Michael Malone.

"Obviously, he's not going to be great every night. I know

everybody expects that from him, but I think we have to get off

his back a little bit and give him a break. At San Antonio, he was

terrific and tonight, I thought we featured him early, played

through him extensively. We knew that their starting five, with

Dirk Nowitzki, and our starting five, that we could look to go

at him a little bit and make Dirk have to defend and make him

play both ends of the floor. Our guys kept finding him all night

long, so Nikola took it upon himself just to be aggressive, 

and be very confident and efficient."

At that point, I asked Malone about those expectations he had just

mentioned, whether there would be a point we could expect Jokic

to meet those standards night in, night out.

"It's a process," Malone said. "This is his third year in the NBA and

he was a second-round pick. Now all of a sudden people want him

to be Superman. Very, very few players in NBA history come in,

first, second or third year and put a franchise on their back. But

what you love about Nikola, he doesn't shy from it. It's not easy 

at times for him. But right now we're just focusing on one game

at a time, forgetting about all the other stuff."  

One step in Jokic's maturation would be getting away from his

aggravating and seemingly incessant whining about the officiating,

which distracts him.   

A little later, I mentioned to Jokic that his coach had just talked

about avoiding placing unrealistic expectations on Jokic at this

point of his career and then asked him what expectations he was

putting on himself now.

"To win as much games as possible," he said. "I just want to win

the games. Today was kind of my night, whatever, I had to score

a lot and I was aggressive, not just scoring, but as a rebounder.

So just to win as much as possible."

Jokic has shown the flashes. In 37 games this season, he is averaging

16.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists.


As was the case with Nathan MacKinnon until the switch went on,

it's a compliment to Jokic to expect more, to make the standard

sustained stardom.   



Mile High Sports, January 15

Matt Nieto: A Long Beach kid, a mini-stick and ...






Mile High Sports, January 14

Jonathan Bernier on holding down the Avalanche crease



Mile High Sports, January 12

Nathan MacKinnon on celebrity



Mile High Sports, January 7

Milan Hejduk and Glory Days




Mile High Sports, January 4

Eerie parallels: Bednar/Sakic and Joseph/Elway




Mile High Sports, January 1

Carl Soderberg: From albatross to asset