Day 3 SEC Media Days: Alabama dominates and Les Miles says goofy things

HOOVER, Ala. – The third, and final, quarter of SEC Media Days began with LSU coach Les Miles speaking of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and concussions – no one saw that coming – and also included Miles talking about the language barrier with his Australian punter.

“You can’t just speak to those guys,” Miles said. “You have to know how to speak Australian.”

No, you could never script Les Miles. Nor tame him. He finished his opening remarks by saying, in so many words, they had as good a chance to win the SEC championship – and perhaps the one over the next horizon – as anybody else.

“Our culture, bring it on,” the Mad Hatter said. “It’s what we do … I like us in any game.”

So, well, game on.

But the featured attraction on Thursday was two-time defending national champion Alabama, coach Nick Saban, and quarterback A.J. McCarron. Hours before the Crimson Tide’s scheduled appearance at the Hyatt Regency Winfrey Hotel, Bama fans packed out the lobby. Held back a black stretch rope – that’s about the only thing that apparently can hold back Bama – they were hoping for autographs, high-fives, or maybe just a little eye contact with their heroes.

Shannon Villa, 23, was there decked out in a Bama jersey and a gold foam replica of the 2009 national championship ring perched atop his head, an item for which he said he paid $300 on eBay. He wore a Big Al elephant necklace and buttons that read “Roll Tide” and “Beat LSU” and carried a football he was hoping to get signed. But autographs or no, Villa said the day would be worthwhile.

“Just hoping for anything,” he said. “Just enjoying the experience.”

Saint Nick, that jolly old elf, does not suffer these experiences well. Dressed in suit and tie, he marched past his throng of admirers and accepted a young boy’s high-five. Once on the stage in the main ballroom before hundreds of credentialed media members, Saban said he had a great summer vacation but that he was happy to be here to see “1,200 of my very closest friends.”

Who says the man doesn’t have a sense of humor?

More seriously, looking toward to this season and seven returning defensive starters, he said, “One of the concerns is who will step up on the defensive side of the field and provide the leadership? That’s going to be very critical how players respond and come together on defense.”

Given that Alabama has won three of the last four national titles, the “D” word – Dynasty – is being thrown around. The quarterback threw it back.

“Coach Saban doesn’t say it’s a dynasty so I’m not going to say it’s a dynasty,” McCarron said.

Asked about scheduling and Miles’ comment that not every team has an equal path to the championship, Saban said he believed it important that a player have an opportunity to play every SEC team at least once in his career. He also said rivalries with teams in the East are important, noting, “Our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans.” Also a game Tennessee hasn’t won since 2006.

Saban deflected a question about comparisons to Bear Bryant now that Saban has won three national titles at Alabama (plus one at LSU), saying Bryant is the greatest coach in college football history. Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith might disagree, considering his answer to a question about the difference between the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide in the SEC title game boiled down to two words: “Nick Saban.”

Oh yeah, Saban also reminded media of their record in correctly picking the winner of the SEC championship over the last two decades.

“Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach I’d be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy’s gas station, which we don’t really want to go there,” Saban said, a rare smile following his words.

 

Day 2 SEC Media Days: Johnny Football, Vols, Bulldogs and John Calipari

Scatter shooting from Day 2 of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama:

Texas A & M quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel was the day’s focal point because of his widely reported dismissal from the Manning Passing Academy last weekend for missing meetings and his growing list of off-the-field issues. He said he was “absolutely not” hung over and that he missed the meetings because he “overslept.” I’ll dig into the Johnny Football saga in more detail in my column that will be posted on Thursday afternoon. Meantime, coach Kevin Sumlin said: “Is he perfect? No. I think he has done some things that he is not very proud of, has made some poor decisions. Unfortunately, the poor decisions are the ones that are publicized.”

First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones took football metrics a different direction when he tossed out this stat in his opening remarks: “Our football team has lost over 260 pounds of fat and regained about 230 pounds of muscle mass. That led me to believe right away these players are hungry and that they want to win.”

The Vols have lost eight straight to Florida. “I hear it all the time (from fans),” Jones said. “Obviously, being at Tennessee, we have a lot of rivalry games. I’ve heard that about Florida. I’ve heard that about Alabama. In order for us to make those rivalry games, we have to get back to being relevant and winning those football games.”

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell on the urgency from coach Dan Mullen for the Bulldogs to go higher and farther: “Going 8-5, going to a bowl game isn’t good enough anymore. A few years ago, you win five games and that was a pretty good year. Now, we’ve changed everything, we continually get better. Our goal is to go 7-0, to continue the season undefeated and ultimately make it to the championship. If you don’t have those goals, you shouldn’t be playing football.”

Mullen said Russell is maturing, but added, “He’s a little goofy at times, does some funny, goofy things, tells a lot of jokes. Most of his jokes are bad jokes too, which makes him even goofier. But he comes in and understands what has to get accomplished.”

First-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, when asked about life at a “basketball school,” said: “It’s been great so far. Coach (John) Calipari could not be any better … he takes time. We bring recruits in, he visits with them. He’s really embracing myself and the staff so I love it.”

 

Highlights from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s address at Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference Football Media Days kicked off Tuesday – and yes, I’m required to say they “kicked off” – with an address from Commissioner Mike Slive.

Here are a few highlights:

On football’s success: “The SEC won its seventh straight BCS national championship, finished the regular season with six teams ranked in the top 10, the first conference to accomplish such a feat in the history of college football; set a record with 63 NFL Draft picks … and an SEC player was awarded the Heisman Trophy for the fourth time in the last six years.”

On the off-the-field behavior of current and former SEC players: “We are not naïve enough to think we can put an end to all unacceptable behavior. But that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to try, try, try.”

On Scheduling: Slive said a change in format would not come before the 2016 season when it’s possible the league will switch from eight conference games to nine.

On the NCAA: While Slive pledged “support” for the NCAA, he also seemed to take it to task. “Moving forward, there are important questions that need to be answered. For example, what changes need to be made to the NCAA structure to provide significant roles for the stakeholders, the presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, institutional administrators, conference administrators and coaches? What is the proper role, function and composition of the NCAA board of directors? Do we need all of the services provided by the NCAA’s national office, its many committees and task forces, or are some of these services better provided elsewhere.”

In other words, Slive seems to favor the NCAA having less power over the most powerful conference in the land.

 

 

Post-game from Grizzlies’ 104-83 win over Clippers

Scatter-shooting after the Grizzlies’ 104-83 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday at FedExForum evened their first-round playoff series at 2-2:

  • Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. In the two games in Memphis (both wins), the Grizzlies out-rebounded L.A. 90-61. It’s no surprise, then, the Griz also own a 44-6 advantage in second-chance points over the last two games. “They beat us up on the glass again,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
  • Center Marc Gasol’s refrain for the Griz is “We have to be who we are.” They were again in Game 4 as he went for 24 points (18 in the second half) and 13 rebounds. Zach Randolph had 24 and 9. Asked about point guard Mike Conley, who had 13 assists (plus 15 points) getting the bigs the ball, Gasol said: “That’s what he’s supposed to do. We expect him to be the playmaker that he is.”
  • The Griz starters beat the Clippers starters 88-40 in Game 4 (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin each had 19 points). So it didn’t matter that the Clippers’ bench had 43-16 edge on the Grizzlies. As in Game 3, reserve Quincy Pondexter provided a spark for Memphis; he scored 10 in Game 4 and was hustling all over the court and logged time at the 1, 2 and 3 spots.
  • Griz coach Lionel Hollins rejected the idea they did much of anything different in terms of strategy these last two games. “We took away a lot of stuff (L.A. wanted to do offensively), but not by any scheme, but by hard play.”
  • Big Z-Bo, small Z-Bo. After averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds in the Game 1 and 2 losses, Randolph is averaging 25.5 points and 10 boards in the two victories. “Just getting the ball in the right spots, picking and choosing, being aggressive instead of holding and waiting for a double-team to come,” Randolph said of why the last two games have been better.
  • Someone please stop the tennis madness. Phrases like “holding serve” and “breaking serve” are being thrown around by everyone when talking about how the series “doesn’t really start” until a road time wins. Only one problem, besides how annoying the tennis lingo is, the series could go 7 games without a road team ever winning. That event would be unhappy for the Grizzlies, because Games 5 and 7 are in L.A. Game 5 is Tuesday; Game 6 is next Friday in Memphis.
  • A reporter noted that Gasol seemed a little ill at ease this week when he received his Defensive Player of the Year award while the Griz were 0-2 in the series. He agreed, but when asked if he felt more deserving of the award after evening the series, Gasol, true to form, said, “It doesn’t feel deserved now. We’re 2-2. We’re not 4-2. We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve still got to go out there and win a game.”
  • Chris Paul on the road ahead, with Game 5 and potentially Game 7 in L.A., “That’s why you work so hard for homecourt.”

Which Z-Bo Shows Up in the Playoffs?

As the Grizzlies start their first-round playoff series in L.A. Saturday night against the Clippers it is fair to wonder which version of Zach Randolph the Grizzlies will get. They don’t have to have the monster who at times carried them in the 2011 playoffs, though that would be nice. And he doesn’t figure to be the compromised player who was coming off a knee injury last season and was nowhere near himself.

But will he be more the double-double machine from the first half of this season who earned a second career All-Star Game selection or the inconsistent player we have seen for much of the second half of this season?

To be fair, Z-Bo has battled an ankle injury since early March and even missed a few games. But apart from that, he has had more than a few moments where he looked tired or disinterested. He finished off the regular season with his 45th double-double in scoring 25 points with 19 rebounds in a victory over Utah.

But before that, he had failed to score in double-figures three times in recent games. He had looked slow, out of it, searching.

In a recent home game he became frustrated by the officiating — that’s happened more down the stretch — and he accidentally hit a female fan with the ball and received a technical. He apologized and hugged her, but throwing that ball in anger was symbolic of how much he feels the game has been out of his control.

Veteran Tayshaun Prince said Randolph is in a “tough” spot, trying to figure who he can be now. He’s not the player that could be dominant, but he also has more freedom in the post-Rudy Gay Era. Yet, Randolph also has to understand that others players, such as Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless, are more crucial to the offense now than ever before.

“He has to be aggressive, he’s a scorer for us,” Prince said. “The most important thing is, when he’s not making shots to try and stay on the offensive glass and get some easy opportunities.”

Conley was happy to see Z-Bo put up big numbers in the regular-season finale, but the numbers were not what mattered most.

“It was fun to watch him play like that,” Conley said. “He could have missed every shot and I wouldn’t have cared. I enjoyed seeing him energized and engaged.”

Which he will have to be in this series or the Grizzlies’ stay in the postseason will be a short one.

Dansette

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