“If Mike Trout walked into your neighborhood bar, would you recognize him?” The New Yorker’s Ben McGrath raised that question in a provocative essay last month.I’m reasonably certain that I would recognize the MLB outfielder if he walked into One Star. But McGrath’s point is well-taken. Despite being (as McGrath aptly calls him) a “once-in-a-generation talent,” Trout is relatively anonymous. Based on Google search traffic so far in 2014, Trout is only about as famous as Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers goaltender. He’s one-fifth as famous as Peyton Manning — and one-twentieth as famous as LeBron James or Lionel Messi.Trout’s also much less famous than Derek Jeter, a shortstop who hit .256, with four home runs, this year.That Jeter fellow, as you may have heard, played his last baseball games Sunday. Jeter’s case for being a once-in-a-generation talent is weaker than Trout’s. Jeter never won an MVP (although he probably should have won one in 1999). He rarely led his league in any offensive category. He was one of the best baseball players for a very long time — but he was not clearly the best player at any given time. In that respect, he’s more similar to Pete Rose or Nolan Ryan or Warren Moon or Patrick Ewing or Nicklas Lidstrom — great players all — than generational talents like Peyton Manning or LeBron James or Willie Mays or Ted Williams.Jeter, however, was probably the most famous baseball player of his generation.Google Trends maintains data on Google search traffic since 2004, a period that captures the second half of Jeter’s career. Google searches aren’t a perfect proxy for popularity — as you’ll see, infamy can also get you a lot of Google traffic — but they’re a reasonably objective approximation of it.I looked up the search traffic for Jeter, along with that for every other baseball player to post at least 30 wins above replacement (WAR) from 2004 through 2014. (Jeter’s WAR, controversially, was only 31.4 during this period; about 50 players rated ahead of him.) I also included every MLB MVP winner since 2004 — along with Trout, who might finally win an MVP this year. The chart below lists everyone else’s search traffic relative to Jeter’s.Jeter leads in Google traffic. The only players within 50 percent of him are Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Ichiro Suzuki.Rodriguez and Bonds, of course, have made news in recent years, mostly for their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Suzuki is a better comparison, but most of his search traffic is because of his extraordinary popularity in Japan. In the United States, Jeter generated five or six times as much Google interest as Suzuki did.Otherwise, Jeter laps the field. Based on the Google numbers, he’s been about nine times as famous as his Yankee contemporary Mariano Rivera. He’s been about five times as famous as David Ortiz, another legendarily “clutch” performer. He’s been about 30 times as famous as Jimmy Rollins, a fellow East Coast shortstop and one who did win an MVP award.Jeter’s also considerably more famous than today’s best-in-a-generation players. Even in 2013 — when he was hurt and played in only 17 games — Jeter was about as popular as Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen combined, at least according to Google.Playing in New York almost certainly had something to do with this. Lots of Yankees and Mets rank high on the Google list. Robinson Cano, the former Yankee, has gotten twice as much search traffic as the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley though the two are highly similar statistically.But I hope that Trout, Kershaw, McCutchen or Bryce Harper does something extraordinary this postseason and begins to build a legend of his own. It’s not healthy for a sport when its most popular player is 40 years old.
Dylan Moses, an eighth-grader from Baton Rouge, La., must be an amazing talent, for the middle-schooler received a scholarship offer from the No. 1 program in the country, Alabama.The 2017 running back prospect also was offered a scholarship by LSU last summer. He and his father, Edward Moses Jr., visited the Crimson Tide campus, and the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Moses was impressed.“For Dylan, excitement spilled over,” Moses Jr. said to ESPN. “When he heard those words from coach (Nick) Saban, ‘We’re offering you,’ you could see him light up. It was shocking because we were going in thinking we were just going to get a tour of what Alabama has to offer.“To hear, ‘You’re impressive, keep your grades up, we want you to come here, and we’re offering you a scholarship now,’ I can’t even put that into words.”It’s not the first time Alabama has offered a scholarship to a younger recruit, and it doesn’t happen very often.The Tide offered current 2013 signee Tim Williams as well as 2014 ESPN Watch List running back Leonard Fournette scholarships when they were both freshmen.Still, Moses might be the first eighth-grader to receive an Alabama offer. Other schools haven’t started showing interest yet, but his father anticipates things to pick up in the spring and summer. For now, Alabama and LSU have the early advantage.“The battle for Dylan internally is who would be the best fit,” Moses Jr. said. “Right now, he’s an eighth-grader, he doesn’t have to worry about that.“We have LSU right here. They have access to us. At Alabama, we know what they have over there with the great running backs and another first-rounder on the way. Those two schools are No. 1, and everybody else is 2, 3, 4 and 5.”The offer from the Tide and the earlier offer from LSU has the 2017 phenom on top of the world, but his father knows it’s his job to keep him grounded through the recruiting process. After all, he still has four years before he signs his national letter of intent.“The attention from those levels of institutions, No. 1 and No. 2 in the SEC and arguably in the country, he feels like a boss, like he’s untouchable,” Moses Jr. said. “We have to bring him back on down to earth, let him know that he still has to do his work down here to make sure that dream comes true.”
2011Charl Schwartzel+0.90190.0596 In the chart above, you can see that the same general pattern holds for every tier of the money list: Higher-earning players gain more strokes with their long games, while lower-earning ones lose more strokes the same way — and the impact of putting is relatively muted by comparison.This, of course, flies in the face of “drive for show, putt for dough.” Putts do constitute the plurality of shots on tour — they make up around 40 percent of all strokes — so in hindsight, it’s not surprising that the conventional wisdom says putting is the primary separator of wheat from chaff. But with the advent of modern analytics, we can see that the long game is more important on average.A good long game usually wins at AugustaUnfortunately, the Masters itself does not keep tournament-level strokes-gained statistics. But we can look at Masters winners’ stats from other PGA Tour events3Again, excluding tournaments for which ShotLink data was not available. during the same seasons, in search of patterns of play that may translate well at Augusta National.The course is famous for its slick, undulating greens, which might suggest that it rewards putting skill. But going back to 2004 again, only three of the past 13 Masters winners have ranked among the top 10 in putting strokes gained during the year they donned the green jacket — and two of those players (Spieth and Tiger Woods) were equally elite according to strokes gained: tee-to-green. Meanwhile, six of the 13 winners were actually below-average putters according to strokes gained. (Strokes gained measures everything relative to average, so negative totals mean a player was below-average.)On the other hand, eight of the 13 winners ranked among the top 10 in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and all 13 winners were above-average tee-to-green players in the seasons they won. TEE-TO-GREEN ENTIRE SEASONPUTTING ENTIRE SEASON 2006Phil Mickelson+1.6940.2740 2009Angel Cabrera+0.37630.1763 2005Tiger Woods+1.7440.665 2012Bubba Watson+1.813-0.28160 YEARMASTERS CHAMPIONSTROKES GAINED PER ROUNDRANKSTROKES GAINED PER ROUNDRANK Masters winners have better long games than putting strokes Statistics and rankings are for the PGA Tour season in which a player won the Masters (excluding tournaments where ShotLink data was unavailable). Willett did not play enough PGA Tour rounds in 2016 to have an official rank.Source: PGA Tour 2013Adam Scott+1.345-0.03108 2010Phil Mickelson+1.155-0.15133 2015Jordan Spieth+1.5840.579 2007Zach Johnson+0.42600.665 2008Trevor Immelman+0.6731-0.68191 2004Phil Mickelson+1.415-0.09128 Masters rookie Jon Rahm, 22, heads to Augusta this week with history decidedly not on his side: No player making his debut at the tournament has won it since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. But the Spanish golfer does have a secret weapon of sorts, one that might help him overcome the weight of history. So far this season, he ranks second on the PGA Tour — ahead of the likes of Jason Day and Jordan Spieth — in a statistical category called “strokes gained: tee-to-green” that measures how well a player hits the ball on all shots other than putts. And despite Augusta National’s longtime reputation as a putting test, it’s this ball-striking ability that will likely determine who wins this week — just like it does every other week on tour.How to gain (and lose) strokesBefore we can isolate the quality of a player’s long game, we need a framework for evaluating every single shot he takes. That’s where “strokes gained” comes in: Developed by Mark Broadie, a business professor at Columbia University,1Broadie formalized the concept in a 2010 paper called “Assessing Golfer Performance on the PGA TOUR.” the statistic uses data from ShotLink — a laser-tracking system that records the location of the ball on every shot — to estimate how many strokes a typical player would need to get the ball into the hole from any given spot on the course. In turn, those numbers can be used to evaluate every player on the PGA Tour, by comparing his performance on each incremental shot in a round to the average.Here’s an example: Let’s say a player tees off on a hole where the average is 4.2 strokes to hole out. He hits a great drive down the middle, his ball coming to rest in a spot on the fairway from which the average player would take an additional 2.8 strokes to hole out. In other words, that one shot essentially did the work of 1.4 shots by an average player — his drive “gained” him 0.4 strokes on the field.2Mathematically, a shot’s contribution to strokes gained equals the expected strokes to hole out before hitting the shot minus the expected strokes to hole out after hitting the shot, minus one (for the stroke the player actually took). Add up these marginal gains and losses, and you get a sense of not only who the best players are, but also why they’re so great — where on the course they gain their edge over the field.The PGA Tour breaks “strokes gained” down into four categories: off the tee, approaching the green, around the green and putting. There are also two aggregate categories: total strokes gained, which is the sum of all categories, and strokes gained: tee-to-green, which is the sum of the non-putting categories. Each stroke a player gains is important, but the driving and approach categories — the ones Rahm excels in — are where great players separate themselves the most from their peers.“Drive for show, putt for dough” is a mythThere’s an old golf adage, attributed to four-time major winner Bobby Locke (who was renowned for his putting ability), that you “drive for show and putt for dough.” In other words, even though long shots are flashy and crowd-pleasing, putting is what wins tournaments. But the data makes clear that the top players gain more strokes from their long games than from their short games.To investigate this, I gathered stats from every PGA Tour season (excluding the handful of tournaments where ShotLink data wasn’t tracked) since 2004 — the first season for which “strokes gained” was calculated — and separated players into groups based on their ranking on the tour’s money list for each season. By taking the average strokes gained for each group, I found that players who finish among the top 10 on the money list average about 1.5 strokes gained per round, which break down by category like this:0.4 strokes gained off the tee0.6, approaching the green0.2, around the green0.3, puttingMost great players gain the majority of their strokes with their full-swing shots. By comparison, putts and shots around the green make up a comparatively small amount of their strokes gained in a given round. Here’s the breakdown of where players gain and lose strokes based on how they rank on the money list: 2016Danny Willett+0.83—0.17— 2014Bubba Watson+1.407-0.05109 This doesn’t mean that the winners didn’t putt well during the Masters itself — the eventual champion usually finishes among the top 10 in the field (at worst) in terms of fewest putts — but it does mean that, for the most part, they weren’t consistently great putters.Just like in my earlier analysis of the top earners, players who finished in the top five at the Masters since 2004 gained the most strokes per round during the season as a whole from their approach shots (where they picked up a shade under half of their total strokes gained), followed by their tee shots, putts and chips or pitches around the green.All of this bodes well for Rahm and his fellow long hitters at Augusta. Although golf is a difficult sport to predict, recent Masters results suggest that players with great long games and middling short games are more likely to finish high on the leaderboard than players with great short games and unremarkable long games. In turn, that explains why Rahm belongs right in the conversation with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson as Masters favorites — especially since they also perform extremely well in strokes gained from tee to green.4Johnson leads the PGA Tour in the category, while McIlroy would be No. 1 if he’d played enough rounds to qualify. (Rahm’s countryman Sergio Garcia, who ranks third in the metric, isn’t a bad dark-horse pick either.)There is more than one way to be successful in a high-variance game like golf, and players such as Brandt Snedeker and Luke Donald have enjoyed success primarily because of stellar short-game skills, not powerful long games (as measured by strokes gained). But on average, the top PGA Tour players tend to gain many more strokes from their drives and approach shots than their chips and putts — even at a place like Augusta National, known for its lightning-fast greens. So the next time you hear somebody talk about driving for show and putting for dough, remember that the longest clubs in the bag are the ones that put the most money into the pros’ pockets.
2018St. John’sDuke1977Villanova2117Marquette17611511 2007AuburnArkansasAlabamaLSU1577 Win No. 1Win No. 2Win No. 3 2017NebraskaIndiana1910Maryland1840Iowa17671577 *Georgia had two qualifying streaks in 2007-08, which overlapped. We included only the streak with the lowest starting rating.Source: ESPN, Sports-Reference.com 1997MissouriNebraskaTexasOklahoma1619 SeasonTeamOpponentEloOpponentEloOpponentEloStarting Elo 2017NebraskaIndianaMarylandIowa1577 1997MissouriNebraska1764Texas1810Oklahoma18681619 1970W. ForestUNCDavidsonUNC1627 1977VirginiaMaryland1843W. Forest1828Clemson18901583 1985Miss. St.AlabamaLSUGeorgia1586 2008Georgia*Ole Miss1758Kentucky1788Miss. St.18931599 1985Miss. St.Alabama1827LSU1831Georgia17671586 The Johnnies’ win streak came out of nowhereLowest Elo ratings for teams just before starting a three-game win streak against opponents who each had at least a 1750 Elo rating, 1950-2018 *Georgia had two qualifying streaks in 2007-08, which overlapped. We included only the streak with the lowest starting rating.Source: ESPN, Sports-Reference.com 2008Okla. St.BaylorTex. A&MKansas1607 SeasonTeamNo. 1No. 2No. 3Starting Elo The 2018 St. John’s Red Storm might go down as the most erratic team in men’s college basketball history. When they were losing, they couldn’t do anything right. But now that they’re winning, they’re taking down some of the most feared programs in the country. No team has ever rattled off a more impressive series of victories from a less likely place than the Johnnies did over the past week and change.But let’s roll things back a bit. To start things off, coach Chris Mullin’s squad began the season 10-2 — tied for the program’s second-best start to a season in 32 years. Although most of those wins came against relatively weak opponents, the team was competitive late in each of its losses (to Missouri and Arizona State, both of whom rank among the top 40 in Ken Pomeroy’s power ratings). Coming off a season of progress in Mullin’s second year at the helm, things finally appeared to be looking up for the Storm in their quest to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.Then the wheels fell off. Starting with their first Big East game of the year, a loss to Providence three days after Christmas, the Johnnies proceeded to drop 11 straight games. Before the calendar could even flip to February, St. John’s had matched its in-conference loss total for all of last season. An early season-ending injury to sophomore guard Marcus LoVett, who’d finished second on the team in scoring last season, helped tank the offense,1It dropped from 120th nationally in KenPom’s rankings before the losing skid to 165th. and the defense collapsed from 13th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings to 41st over the span of a month.St. John’s found numerous ways to lose during the streak. For instance, there was the 25-point loss to Butler, in which the Storm almost instantly found themselves in a 19-2 hole and scored just 45 points all game (the school’s second-worst offensive output in a game since 2010-11). Then there was the marathon back-and-forth defeat against Georgetown that it took two overtimes to decide — and that the Johnnies led by 5 with 24 seconds left in the first overtime, only to watch Hoyas forward Marcus Derrickson tie the game with a personal 6-1 run.After their 11th straight loss, a hard-fought 73-68 defeat against sixth-ranked Xavier, the Johnnies’ future looked even more bleak. Games against Duke, Villanova and Marquette were coming up, so there was little to suggest that the Red Storm would be able to pull their season out of its death spiral.And that’s when one of the most absurd eight-day turnarounds in college history started: an upset win over the then-No. 4 Blue Devils to snap the losing streak. An even bigger upset at Villanova, which was No. 1 at the time. A relatively — dare I say it? — routine victory over a tough Golden Eagles squad, with the kind of second-half performance that good teams grind out. All the while, sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds has transformed into a superstar, averaging 34 points per game on 55 percent shooting during the shocking three-game winning streak. For a team that might not even make the NIT, they’ve looked like a tournament dark horse in recent days.How unexpected was this sudden reversal? Our Elo power-rating data goes back to the 1949-50 season, and over that span there have been 1,207 streaks where a team won three games in a row against opponents who each had Elo ratings over 1750 — the mark of a good team.2For reference’s sake, a 1750 Elo would be the equivalent of an Oregon or Maryland — the 57th-best team in the nation this season, according to Elo. Of those 1,207 teams, none had a lower Elo at the start of their streak than St. John’s, who’d dropped to a 1511 rating at its nadir (which was a low point since Dec. 2016, and the program’s fifth-lowest rating in a season since 1964). Statistically speaking, the Johnnies might have been the least likely team in history to rattle off those three particular wins at that particular moment in time. 1970W. ForestUNC1835Davidson1751UNC18271627 2000MarquetteDepaul1768Louisville1800Charlotte17671621 1977VirginiaMarylandW. ForestClemson1583 2018St. John’sDukeVillanovaMarquette1511 2007AuburnArkansas1770Alabama1761LSU17671577 2008Okla. St.Baylor1767Tex. A&M1928Kansas20511607 2008Georgia*Ole MissKentuckyMiss. St.1599 The Johnnies’ win streak came out of nowhereLowest Elo ratings for teams just before starting a three-game win streak against opponents who each had at least a 1750 Elo rating, 1950-2018 Win 2000MarquetteDepaulLouisvilleCharlotte1621 The victories over Duke and Villanova alone were historic. According to Elo, St. John’s was the lowest-rated team ever to knock off two teams with ratings over 1900 in back-to-back games, toppling a record that had previously been held by the 1957-58 Nebraska Cornhuskers (when the Huskers beat No. 4 Kansas and then No. 1 Kansas State). But unlike that Nebraska team, which lost the following game, the Red Storm tacked on another impressive win to bring their streak up to three in a row.They’ll try to extend it to four straight on Wednesday night, against DePaul in Chicago — and according to Pomeroy’s projections, there’s a 49 percent chance that St. John’s will pull it off. If so, it would only add to one of the most up-and-down seasons the sport has ever seen. Even after three big wins, the Red Storm still aren’t on anybody’s NCAA tourney radar. In fact, with 13 losses already on the books, maybe the only sure way for St. John’s to get to the dance would be for them to win the Big East Tournament — possibly by knocking off Villanova again. But hey, stranger things have already happened.
JaVale McGee has gone a long way toward shedding the persona he got from “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” the TV blooper segment on which he held residency for years. Coming off consecutive NBA titles with Golden State, the 7-footer is currently logging career highs in points and blocks per game with the Lakers while serving as a full-time starter for the first time since 2011-12. Not bad considering the collective confusion when he agreed to a deal to join LeBron James in Los Angeles.But for all the improvement he’s shown as a mainstay in this lineup, the 30-year-old still has an Achilles’ heel when it comes to his defense: McGee remains the league’s supreme goaltender.As of Wednesday, McGee had been called for goaltending an NBA-high 13 times, nearly twice as many as Orlando rookie Mo Bamba, who ranks second in the league with seven violations. The Knicks, who also have 13 goaltending violations, are the only team that’s been called as many times as McGee himself, according to PBP Stats, which tracks a wide array of advanced NBA statistics. But this is nothing new for McGee: Since his rookie year, he has somehow managed to lead the NBA in goaltending violations per 100 possessions in each of the eight seasons in which he logged at least 400 minutes of playing time.With 214 goaltends in his career,1This includes 11 in the postseason. including one season when he logged a league-high 55, there have obviously been some true head-scratchers. One violation in 2012 was particularly egregious: The ball was in clear, undeniable descent before McGee launched it, volleyball-style, into the stands 25 or so feet in the air.Puzzling as they might be from time to time for his coaches, the goaltending calls probably aren’t that big of a deal. Getting called for something that costs his club 2 points — 2 points they might have surrendered anyway — is arguably small potatoes compared with the upside of blocking a shot. And that’s likely even more true of McGee, who this year has blocked 5.3 shots for every goaltending violation.But McGee’s willingness to lunge at nearly every shot attempt the way a cat flails at a laser pointer can cost his team in other ways. His block attempts often hurt the Laker defense more than if he had simply stayed on the ground. Take a late October game against the Spurs, when McGee committed three shooting fouls — resulting in seven San Antonio free throw attempts in a 1-point defeat — that stemmed from him ramming into jump-shooters. Twice, LaMarcus Aldridge pump-faked McGee into the air, knowing his constant tendency to go for blocks. (DeMar DeRozan did the same thing to McGee when the Lakers visited San Antonio.) Over the past two seasons, McGee has posted the second-highest foul rate when it comes to big men bumping into jump-shooters, according to data from Second Spectrum.2Among those with at least 10 such fouls. Only Portland’s Zach Collins has a higher foul rate in such scenarios.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/JaVale1.mp400:0000:0000:55Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.While McGee may not have the greatest on-court instincts, the reason he attempts to block so many shots is simple: He thinks he’s capable of cleanly blocking them all. He’s highly athletic — remember the dunk contest in which he jammed on two side-by-side rims at the same time? — and at one point McGee owned the largest wingspan in the entire league, at more than 7-foot-6.“That’s something [the referees are] not used to seeing,” McGee said of a particularly ridiculous block, when he caught the ball with one hand — and appeared to do so cleanly — but was whistled for goaltending anyway.“I think he tries to be spectacular,” then-Nuggets coach George Karl said in 2013 when asked about McGee’s game. “Basketball is a game of possession after possession of doing things the right way, doing your job and letting the spectacular come. I think JaVale tries to find the spectacular and forces the spectacular when if … you just let us orchestrate the game, something big-time will happen.”Another prolific rim protector, Tyson Chandler, sized up McGee’s game nearly eight years ago in a post from a Wizards blog. Chandler presciently said the then-Wizards center needed “to understand how he can be effective,” and that he would learn that by playing with more established veterans. McGee gained that experience with Golden State — and now Chandler is backing up McGee with the Lakers.McGee has been a force this season. He’s been a top-10 rim protector3Among players who’ve logged at least 15 games and who have defended five shots or more from inside of 6 feet per game. so far, holding opponents more than 10 points beneath their averages from inside of 6 feet, according to NBA Advanced Stats. In large part because of their play at center, the Lakers rank fifth in the league in opponent field-goal percentage inside 3 feet and ninth in overall defensive efficiency. And while there were once questions about McGee’s basic fundamentals, those concerns have largely evaporated. Just look at last year’s NBA Finals, when McGee played incredibly solid defense after being switched onto LeBron.What will be worth watching on Thursday, when the Lakers play foul-drawing maestro James Harden and the Rockets, and this postseason4If Los Angeles makes it. is whether McGee can avoid being baited by fakes. If savvy teams like the Spurs already know to test his ability to stay on the ground, it’s almost a given that other teams will try it in a series.In a way, the key to the Lakers rising to become true contenders could very well be based on McGee’s ability to stay grounded on defense.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) returns his second interception of the day during the second half of Buckeyes’ season opener on Sept. 3 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 77-10. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorListed as a starting safety for Ohio State on Saturday and donning a scarlet No. 24 jersey, redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker made his first impression in front of a crowd of 107,193 in Ohio Stadium.OSU coach Urban Meyer called him a “freakish” athlete, which showed on Saturday, midway through the first half.Hooker sprinted over to the opposing team’s sideline with redshirt freshman Damon Arnette defending Bowling Green senior wide receiver Ronnie Moore. Hooker jumped off of one foot, tipped the ball with his right hand and came down with the interception — which was one of the highlights of the first weekend of college football.Hooker displayed his “ball hawk” mentality again when he snatched his second interception of the day.But Hooker’s path to the centerfold of Meyer’s secondary was an unorthodox one filled with adversity, and he has his mom to thank for that.Hooker was a basketball star at New Castle High School in Pennsylvania where he was named to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Fabulous Five basketball team in 2012-2013. Hooker’s team was 54-2 combined in his sophomore and junior seasons in high school.He was a rising high school prospect sought by Division I schools, but when he entered his junior year, he returned to the game of football — one he had not played since suffering a shoulder injury in seventh grade.Hooker’s talent on the hardwood translated almost immediately to the gridiron as he was rated as a four-star prospect and the No. 26 athlete overall by 247Sports. Meyer said when he was recruiting him, Hooker scored 35 points in a basketball game his junior season.When Hooker arrived on campus in 2014, he had to take a redshirt and sit out a year. At the time, it wasn’t a situation Hooker was familiar with.“There were a couple times where I thought this wasn’t for me.” Hooker said. “I just started doubting myself because I felt like I didn’t fit in.”Hooker said he had several talks with his mom, Angela Dennis, while he was going through his redshirt season.“I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you’re not coming home,” Hooker said Dennis told him.Although Hooker said he was just blowing smoke at the time, in hindsight, he’s thankful for his mother’s advice.“My mom, she’s like my everything. Growing up, that’s all I had,” he said. “I learned a lot from my mom. Being a single parent, she taught me that no matter what you’re going through, just fight through what you’re doing, because there is going to be adversity.”Meyer estimates that between 95 and 99 percent of freshmen in college football experience what Hooker went through when redshirting. He said that Dennis is someone he should thank for encouraging Hooker to stay with the Buckeyes.Now, Meyer is reaping the rewards.Hooker said he gained his confidence when he saw results in the weight room. He said he began to see his body transform into the role he was expected to fill. He said he studied more film, learned the playbook and earned the trust of his teammates and his coaching staff.Hooker’s performance against the Falcons might have been the peak of a grind that started with doubt and culminated with his first two interceptions for the Scarlet and Gray.“I feel like my redshirt year definitely helped me fit into the environment more,” he said. “It definitely helped me bulk my body up and play out there with the Big Ten conference.”Hooker believes that a redshirt year can be taken one of two ways. The player can take it and get frustrated, or he can put the work into fine-tuning his game and benefit from a full year of development.Hooker will be asked to do more on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the ‘Shoe against a prolific passing team in Tulsa. However, Meyer believes in Hooker’s basketball and athletic background to lead the OSU defense.“He can do whatever he trains to do. He’s talented. He’s fast. He has great ball skills,” Meyer said following the team’s 77-10 victory over Bowling Green. “His commitment to our program now is over the top.”
It might have taken 10 years, 474 losses and millions of dollars lost, but one thing should be very clear to everyone by now: Professional hockey was not meant to be played in Columbus. At least not at the NHL level, where in their first decade of existence, the Columbus Blue Jackets have provided Ohio’s capital with little more than one season of winning hockey, enormous revenue losses and an ever-diminishing fan base. Since joining the NHL in 2000, the Blue Jackets have compiled a combined record of 313-474-33 (the NHL eliminated ties before the start of the 2005–06 season). The Jackets’ best year came during the 2008–09 season, in which the team posted a 41-41 record (10 of those losses came in overtime) and was rewarded with the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, in which the Detroit Red Wings promptly swept them. But, unlike the other NHL cellar dwellers, who can at least point to the future as a reason for hope, the Blue Jackets are more than likely headed toward their third major roster overhaul in 10 years. The Jackets are currently constructed around forward Rick Nash, which is the equivalent of building an NBA team around Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala or Chris Bosh. Nash might put up some nice numbers and make a few All-Star teams, but you’re not getting past the first round of the playoffs with him as your best player. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson has also committed $5.8 million over the next two seasons to goaltender Steve Mason, who in the 2010–11 season allowed the ninth-most goals in the league and ranked outside the top 50 in save percentage. The losses, particularly the 66-98 record the Blue Jackets have owned since the 2008–09 season, also have taken a toll on the team’s once-excited-and-optimistic fan base. This past season, the Jackets averaged 13,659 fans per home game — the fewest in franchise history. Just six games sold out at Nationwide Arena this season, and on Oct. 20, a record-low 9,802 fans showed up to watch the Blue Jackets play the Anaheim Ducks, a record that was broken eight days later, when 9,128 fans — 49.3 percent of Nationwide Arena’s capacity — witnessed the Blue Jackets beat the Edmonton Oilers. The most enthusiastic the hockey fans got in Nationwide Arena this season was Dec. 4, when the Blue Jackets played the Pittsburgh Penguins, and jerseys supporting Penguins center Sidney Crosby outnumbered those for the hometown team. Chants of “We want 10” were audible throughout the arena that night, as the Jackets fell to the Penguins, 7-2. Not surprisingly, the lack of fan support has hurt the Jackets’ bottom line, as The Columbus Dispatch reported last week that the team lost $25 million over the course of last season, bringing the Jackets’ total revenue losses since the 2004–05 NHL lockout to $80 million. The financial forecast for the Blue Jackets isn’t looking any brighter either, as the franchise’s dim future isn’t likely to bring any closet Columbus hockey fans out of hiding. One of the reasons for the aforementioned NHL lockout was the overexpansion that the league experienced in the early 2000s, and putting a team in college-crazed Columbus was a part of that problem. Does it really surprise anyone that a city that had trouble selling out games for the No. 1 basketball team in the country this past season isn’t supportive of an irrelevant team in the least popular of the four major sports leagues? As cities like Winnipeg and Kansas City long for a professional hockey team, there’s one in Columbus wasting away. Ten years ago, both the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus were full of hope and optimism, but as neither the organization nor the city has proven capable of fully committing to the other, it’d be best for both to go their separate ways, because things just aren’t working out.
After another 100-yard rushing performance, sophomore running back Carlos Hyde has proven that he should be the undisputed No. 2 running back for the Ohio State offense. I’m not someone who enjoys controversy or likes to stir it up, but in my mind, there should be no controversy. The numbers speak for themselves. With just eight more carries than junior running back Jordan Hall, Hyde has compiled 183 more yards with a team-high of 513. Hyde also has four more touchdowns than junior running back Jordan Hall. How can the coaches argue with that production? One common argument for Hall is his “big play ability.” Hall’s biggest play against Wisconsin, the last game in which he played, was a fumbled punt return that gave Wisconsin momentum and a chance to get back in the game. Maybe that is a little cynical, as he did score a touchdown in the third quarter and his final kickoff return gave the Buckeyes great field position to retake the lead for the eventual victory. However, Hall’s touchdown was from two yards out. With three inches of height and 43 more pounds packed on his frame than Hall, I would be willing to bet that Hyde could have punched it in just as easily. Also worth noting is that Hall’s longest rush of the year is 20 yards, compared to Hyde’s long of 63 yards. Is Hall really a bigger play threat than Hyde? Hyde voiced his displeasure with his spotty playing time after the Buckeyes’ victory against Illinois on Oct. 15 on Twitter saying, “Guess I’m not good enough. Take myself elsewhere.” He later (wisely) deleted the tweet and said he wasn’t going anywhere. The damage had been done, though, and his displeasure is evident. But can you blame him? Hyde is only a sophomore and would be in the Buckeye backfield for another two years. Hall, a junior, only has one more year at OSU. If Hyde were to become disgruntled and transfer elsewhere, the Buckeyes would be missing out on at least one, if not two years, of solid backfield play from the runner. Senior running back Daniel ‘Boom’ Herron voiced similar confidence in Hyde following the victory against Indiana. “(Hyde’s) got a great future ahead of him. It was really nice to see him do a great job,” Herron said. “It was great to see him take advantage of the opportunities given to him today.” Keywords: “great future” and “opportunities given to him today.” Coach Luke Fickell and the coaching staff would be wise to keep Hyde as involved in the game plan as possible this week and throughout the season to prepare for the future, as well as get the greater production. With Hall coming off of an ankle injury, Fickell said at his Tuesday press conference that “hopefully (Hall) will be able to go” but “he’ll be a little bit hesitant.” He also said that Hall will retake his position as punt and kickoff returner while the coaches find a way to move the ball around and give all the running backs opportunities to touch the football. I guarantee that given an opportunity to touch the football, Hyde will not be hesitant to take it to the Purdue defense. Put him in, coach.
The Ohio State wrestling team suffered its first two losses of the season to the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Minnesota Golden Gophers this weekend. The Buckeyes, who entered Friday night’s contest against Nebraska undefeated, were beaten, 18-16, in Lincoln, Neb., and again defeated, 24-13, at Minnesota Sunday afternoon. Minnesota seized control of the dual early by winning the first six matches, which left the Buckeyes down, 18-0, at intermission. It wasn’t until freshman Hunter Stieber scored an 11-8 decision against Minnesota redshirt freshman Nick Dardanes in the 141-pound match up that the Buckeyes finally got on the board. OSU mounted a comeback behind victories from freshman Cam Tessari, who pinned Minnesota redshirt freshman Dylan Ness in the 149-pound match, and freshman Josh Demas scored a 13-5 major decision at 157-pounds. In the final match of the afternoon, OSU freshman Derek Garcia dropped a 5-3 decision to the Golden Gopher’s redshirt junior Cody Yohn at 165-pounds, sealing a 24-13 win for Minnesota. The Buckeyes dropped to 7-2 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten while Minnesota improved to 5-2 and 2-0. OSU was able to split the victories in the dual, 5-5, but was edged as Nebraska managed to outscore the Buckeyes, 3-1, in major decisions. Freshman Johnni Dijulius, redshirt freshman Logan Stieber, Tessari, redshirt sophomore Nick Heflin and freshman Andrew Campolattano all collected wins for OSU. While the Buckeyes trailed the Cornhuskers early, 3-0, Dijulius, a true freshman, was able to score a major decision, 11-3, against Nebraska’s Shawn Nagel at 125-pounds to put OSU up, 4-3. At 133-pounds, redshirt freshman Logan Stieber helped the Buckeyes build a slim 7-3 lead with an 8-2 decision against Ridge Kiley. Up next at 141-pounds, freshman Hunter Stieber surrendered a major decision to Nebraska’s Jake Sueflohn which left the Buckeyes tied, 7-7, before OSU redshirt freshman Tessari scored a takedown in overtime which again gave OSU the lead, 10-7. OSU would only manage to win one of the next four matches, which gave Nebraska an 18-13 lead with only the Buckeyes’ redshirt sophomore Heflin defeating Nebraska’s Tyler Koehn, 6-2, at the 174-pound weight class. Campolattano finished the dual in the 197-pound weight class with a 5-3 decision against James Nakashima. OSU will look to redeem itself and continue its march toward a Big Ten title against fellow Big Ten member Purdue this Thursday at 7 p.m. at St. John Arena. The Boilermakers, also coming off a loss, are 6-5 overall with a 1-1 record in the Big Ten. Purdue managed only three wins out of 10 matches in their previous dual at home against Illinois.
With the Ohio State women’s basketball team on the verge of missing its first NCAA tournament berth since coach Jim Foster’s arrival in 2002, the possibility of coming up short is starting to sink in for the Buckeyes. However, it’s not the possible absence from the tourney that has shaken the team most, but rather the coming to terms with losing its star senior guard, Tayler Hill, at the conclusion of this season. Hill is averaging 21.1 points per game, which leads all scorers in the Big Ten. “I think (Hill) deserves to be one of the best players in the country despite the team’s record this year,” said Ohio State redshirt senior guard Amber Stokes. The Buckeyes (14-10, 4-7 Big Ten) have been plagued by illnesses and injuries all season long, which are partly to blame for the 4-7 record in conference play. Yet even in times of trial, Hill’s performance on the court has rarely faltered. Following a 68-45 win against Indiana on Jan. 17, Foster said “Hill didn’t have her legs,” from being ill in the days before the game. Hill, though, still managed to keep Hoosiers’ standout senior forward Aulani Sinclair to five points on 2-for-15 shooting. “She is a hard worker and will do anything it takes to help this team to be successful,” Stokes said. Hill’s hard work and dedication to the game can be traced back to her basketball days at South High School in Minneapolis, Minn. Hill ended her four-year varsity career as Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer (boy or girl) with 3,888 points. After graduating from OSU, Hill said she wants to play in the WNBA and play basketball overseas. Foster said he believes Hill is going to be a high draft choice. “She’s a very good defensive player,” Foster said. “I think her versatility really makes her a valuable attribute. She can score, she can play the point, and she can play from the perimeter … All those things are a big deal to a coach.” While Hill said she would love to play on any team in the WNBA, she would prefer to play in Minnesota. “Playing at home would be great because of family,” Hill said. Hill’s native WNBA team, the Minnesota Lynx, are regarded as one of the top teams in the league, especially with the recent addition of former Connecticut standout Maya Moore. The Buckeyes, though, will likely have big shoes to fill with the loss of Hill. But Foster is assured that the offseason will serve as an opportunity to get better. “There are a number of candidates that are going to play for that position,” Foster said. After losing to Nebraska, 58-39, Thursday night in Lincoln, Neb., the Buckeyes are set to play Minnesota Feb. 21 at the Schottenstein Center.