NASCAR’s Road To Homestead Begins This Weekend On ESPN, ESPN2

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

This weekend is going to be a busy one for ESPN.

The schedule is jam packed this weekend for The Worldwide Leader in Sports and its family of networks. The biggest of this weekend’s events across the ESPN family of networks is the annual running of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400. ESPN takes over coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from TNT this weekend and carries it straight through to the series’ season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This weekend’s coverage of the Brickyard 400 events begins Saturday morning at 9am with the broadcast of Sprint Cup Series practice on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. This is the only coverage that will be carried on ESPN2. All other coverage throughout the weekend will be carried on ESPN and WatchESPN.

Qualifying for the Brickyard 400 will be broadcast at 2pm ET followed by ESPN’s weekly broadcast of NASCAR Countdown at 4pm ET and the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Lilly Diabetes 250 at 4:30pm ET. The green flag for that race is expected to drop at 4:49 pm ET.

Sunday’s coverage of the Brickyard 400 begins with NASCAR Countdown at high noon. The green flag for the Brickyard 400 is expected to fly at 1:19pm ET weather permitting. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will serve as in-race reporter for the Brickyard 400. He will discuss all of the latest in-race happenings with ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett during the race’s pace and caution laps.

More information on this weekend’s coverage of the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races is available online now at http://espn.go.com/racing/nascar. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Tirico, Others Talk Golf Ahead Of PGA Open Championship

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN will carry full coverage of golf’s oldest major next week. In anticipation of next week’s coverage (Thursday, July 17th – Sunday, July 20th), ESPN VP of Production Mike McQuade joined host Mike Tirico and ESPN golf analysts Andy North, Curtis Strange, and Paul Azinger for a conference call with members of the media. The group discusses their own memories of past Open Championships, fan devotion to the game and so much more through their conference call. The following is the full transcript of their discussion with the media. More information on ESPN’s coverage of the Open Championship is available online at http://espn.go.com/golf.

MIKE McQUADE:  This is the one event that we produce, first of all, that lasts all day every day, and it is an extraordinary effort for our group.  We are fortunate that we are able to get a great group of people together from all different facets of production to come together for this one week.  I like to call it the all‑star team of not only production but of also on‑air hosts, from Scott Van Pelt to Sean McDonough to Mike Tirico, and then a great group of analysts that we have.

I think it’s an extraordinary accomplishment that each and every year we’re able to put on such a big show for viewers.  As usual, we are excited about doing it.

This year is no different.  Coverage this year will be similar to what you’ve seen in years past with an extra emphasis this year placed on our camera positions and camera locations.  Trying to capture more x‑motion, if you will, slow motion, replays and images, as well as continue our technology with the flight of the ball and the distance of the ball and the distance the balls can roll, something that we’ve dabbled with in the past that we’re continuing to expand on.

Beyond that, I think one of the things we’re trying to do is trying to tell the stories of folks that are not as familiar to the viewers back home, whether it’s the forklift driver who lives a half hour from the golf course who qualified, or it’s Rory McIlroy trying to make his return to form.  I think we’ll have a good deal of stories to go on.

MIKE TIRICO:  This is my 18th year of doing the Open Championship, and it’s the second time that I am coming right off the World Cup and going right over there.  It’s a little bit tighter travel for me this year.  I’ll be staying for the World Cup final and host that on Sunday and then headed with some bizarre connections to get to Liverpool hopefully by Tuesday and get ready for the event Thursday.

It’s a phenomenal event, and I’d echo what Mike said.  We don’t do this together for 20 weeks a year, but we bring the band together for one week, and we kind of know all the songs that we play together.  Having worked individually with everyone in this group in a variety of roles and in a variety of places, it’s a selfless, talented, smart group, and they really help us bring American golf fans.

I think it’s something to look forward to.  I know every time that I travel somewhere and we talk about the Open Championship, fans talk about their ritual, whether they get up in the middle of the night, they stay up late on the West Coast, they play their golf on Sunday morning and then make sure that they’re around their 19th hole to watch the last couple of hours of The Open.  It’s the oldest championship in the sport.  We take great pride in being a part of it, and cannot wait to see who will hold the Claret Jug this year, and maybe it’ll be another guy in his 40s, as it has been the last three years.

CURTIS STRANGE:  Well, first off, I’m going to be happy to get into a little cooler weather.  I don’t know which is hotter, Oklahoma City or Manaus in Brazil.  I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in TV for a while now, since 1997, and I look forward to the Open Championship.  Granted, we look forward to the U.S. Open, there’s no doubt, because it’s our national championship, but the Open Championship is our production, and it’s our tournament.  As Mike said, we take great pride in putting on the show, and we work very hard at it, and I think we do a good job.

It’s something we all look forward to very, very much.  It’s been on our radar screen for a good month now, and as we get into our TV segment, part of the summer, and it’s really, really fun from an analyst’s point of view, and I think my two colleagues would say the same thing, that it’s such a fun tournament to bring back to America because it is different.  We have the elements of weather, conditions, links golf, all of the above, and to bring that back to our viewers back home at such an early hour in the morning, it’s great to lay in bed and watch Open Championship golf, it’s fun to do.  It’s a lot of things to talk about.  It’s different players to talk about, and there’s an incredible amount of story lines every time we do it, and that’s part of our preparation.

But we really enjoy doing it and look forward to doing it.

PAUL AZINGER:  Hi, everyone.  I’m excited.  Curtis hit the nail on the head.  There are a lot of story lines and probably none as appealing or attractive as the Tiger Woods story line coming back to play again for the second time since back surgery.

This is a Ryder Cup year.  There’s been a lot of questions asked of Tom Watson, and by the way, Andy North, who’s on our broadcast team is one of Tom Watson’s assistants.  A lot of speculation circling around whether or not Tiger will be a pick.  Every other year we get this story line.  The British Open will be double value in points.  Mickelson is not on the team yet, either.  There are a lot of story lines.

I was at Hoylake right after the U.S. Open.  I went over there to do an outing, and it was lush and green, a different Hoylake than what we saw in 2006 when Tiger won.

But they told me while I was over there that it was lush and green on the Sunday of the U.S. Open the last time, and it just dried out and baked out, so we’ll see what the golf course has in store.  Often times the golf course is much the story and the conditions, and I think that’s what makes the Open Championship so appealing, and the uniqueness of links golf is another thing that our network has been able to bring to the American viewer.

I love the ‑‑ we get to see for the first time when someone does a read, like when we had Mother Nature several years ago doing the read, don’t make Mother Nature mad or whatever.  We don’t get to see any of that until we come on air, so as analysts we actually look forward to seeing what we’ve come up with next.

I’m looking forward to the event.  I can’t wait to get there.  I have butterflies of anticipation waiting to see what Tiger and Phil can do, and again, like Mike said, who will hold the Claret Jug at the end of the week.

ANDY NORTH:  Well, I’d pick up what Paul was saying, that it was a very lush spring.  There’s a lot of that undergrowth and that wispy rough that we always see, but there’s a really good undergrowth in it, so that will be thick, but it has dried up dramatically the last two or three weeks.

Royal Birkdale was really lush two weeks ago, and it’s fast now.  In talking to some R&A folks, they are very happy where the golf course is right now at Hoylake, that it’s firmed up, it’s gotten faster.  I think by the end of next week, we will see a golf course that’s going to be very firm and very fast.  Maybe not what we saw last year at Muirfield where it was almost out of control it was so fast, but it’s a great championship, and we really look forward to it, and we take a lot of pride in bringing a different kind of golf back to America.

As Paul mentioned, there’s so many stories, and we’re going to do our best to get that out in front of the public.

Q.  We’ll get right to the Tiger question.  What do you expect from him coming off his performance at Congressional where he kind of had short game problems and just the whole back surgery issue?  What do you expect from him next week?

PAUL AZINGER:  Yeah, I think Tiger is always going to be compared to Jack, and there’s a big difference in where these two players are at this age, or were, at the age of 38.  I think one of the big differences that’s very rarely articulated is the fact that while Tiger in his dominance always, for whatever reason, was in this quest to get better, I don’t remember Jack ever saying that.  Nicklaus always was ‑‑ I mean, Jack might have made some tweaks and twerks here and there, minor tweaks and twerks, but Tiger has made astronomical changes in a quest to get better, and as a result Tiger has actually gotten a little bit worse.  I think we can all pretty much see that.

I think where Tiger has made his mistake is he’s dabbled with the fingerprints of his golf swing, not necessarily the fundamentals.  Tiger remains fundamentally fairly sound in his lower body, but the changes ‑‑ I think he’s probably the only person that’s ever played well who’s looked radically different throughout his career.  Even the layman golfer can see the difference in Tiger Woods’ golf swing.  So that’s one thing.

And Tiger’s quest to get better, I think he’s actually gotten a little bit worse.  Jack never had the severity of injuries, the career‑threatening injuries that Tigers has had, and now that’s the big question.  To speculate on what do we expect out of Tiger Woods at this point, I think, shoot, we don’t know either.  How fit is he?  How much is he still dabbling with changing what is so obvious to the eye that are just unique to the individual?  I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.

But I think that most golfers have made the same mistakes in some weird way about changing their golf swing, about changing fingerprints, if you will, for fundamentals, and I think Tiger has done that to his detriment, and Jack never made those mistakes.  Jack understood that if he could stay the same, he would still dominate.  Tiger didn’t need to get better.  He just didn’t need to get worse.  He needed to stay the same and he could still dominate, and in his quest to get better, it’s kind of backfired on him.

CURTIS STRANGE:  Yeah, I kind of tend to agree with everything Paul says.  I’ll go back to the basic question of what do we expect over there.  I think it will be very difficult to expect a lot of him.  A couple things:  One, he’s had back surgery.  He says he’s pain‑free, which it looks like he is, but your body doesn’t recover that quickly, so even though he’s pain‑free, he’s not 100 percent.  Can’t be 100 percent golf‑wise because of conditioning.  He hasn’t played but one tournament.  So when you look at it like that, how do you expect your body to swing and be as accurate and consistent as it is when you’re doing it every day and you’re perfectly healthy?  That’s number one.

Before he had the back surgery, he didn’t play well.  Now, some of that was from the injury, but he really didn’t play very well at all.  I don’t have the stats right in front of me, but he was at the bottom of the list in driving accuracy, greens in regulation and putting, the bottom of the Tour.

Again, you have to take that with a grain of salt because he was injured a little bit, but he just didn’t play well.  He hasn’t played well.  We haven’t seen Tiger really, really play well in a while now, so back injury, not playing well, hasn’t played any competitive golf in over three months now, pushing four months, it’s hard to expect anything out of anybody, and I don’t expect him to be ‑‑ I hope he makes the cut.  I hope he hits solid shots.  He hope he progresses.  But I don’t think you could ever expect him to be on the first page of the leaderboard come the weekend.  And that’s just from a player common sense.  That’s talking about the great Tiger Woods.  If it was Paul, Andy or I, normal people, I’m not even sure we would go over there.

ANDY NORTH:  Yeah, I look at this maybe a little bit different than Curtis in the fact that I thought that he went and played in his tournament in Washington, D.C., was very, very important for the Open Championship, because he had to get on the golf course.  He had to put himself under tournament conditions.  Even though he wasn’t as prepared as he wanted to, it was very still very important because he found out where he had to work, what things he had to do over the next couple of weeks to get better, and the most importantly, after coming off of a surgery, which I’ve had a couple of back surgeries, that you trust that it’s going to work.  That’s the hardest thing is mentally to believe that everything is going to be okay and you can make a swing and it’s not going to be a problem.

I thought that in that week where he didn’t play very well, there were still some glimpses of things that probably made him very encouraged when he went home.  He had a stretch of holes where he made some birdies.  He hit some good shots.  That’s really important for a player’s psyche, and I don’t care how good you are, you have to have some of those small steps along the way before you can take big steps again.

What to expect out of him next week?  We all hope he plays well.  We all hope that he’s there.  But if he does have some success next week, I think it’s really huge that it started all a couple of weeks ago when he didn’t play very well, so he actually got out there under the heat of battle a little bit.

PAUL AZINGER:  Let me add real quick, too, the greens at Hoylake are actually very easy.  There’s only a couple greens that are difficult.  Tiger’s strength ‑‑ of course there’s a mountain of things that separate him from everybody else, but not the least of which is the putter, and Tiger has not been the great putter, but he’s not coming to Augusta where he’s got to make these swinging five‑footers and seven‑footers.  These greens are reasonably flat, and I think ‑‑ let’s just face it:  The guy went a year and a half without missing a putt inside three and a half feet.  We haven’t seen that Tiger lately, and he’s going to have to hit those smaller putts like his life depended on it, like he used to hit them.  Whether it’s concentration or technique or whatever, I’m not sure, but at least at Hoylake, the greens are manageable.

CURTIS STRANGE:  One thing I want to add, I didn’t mean Washington was a big step to go out and see if your body actually can hold up, to see if the pain is there at all, to see what the body does swinging the golf club, I agree with all that stuff.  But with that said, he hasn’t played well.  He didn’t play well there, and there might have been some positive things happen to him at Congressional, but when you look at him and can he play well and will he play well at Hoylake, it’s asking a lot of even Tiger Woods to go and really expect him to play well.

Yes, we all want him to play well for obvious reasons, but I just don’t see it as a golfer to come play a different type of golf against the best players in the world.

Q.  Andy, what do you think Tiger needs to show the rest of the season in order to be considered as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup?

ANDY NORTH:  Well, I think this is obviously Captain Watson’s decision, but I think it’s going to be very important that he shows that he’s healthy, and I think it’s going to be important to show that his game is in good form.  What does that mean?  I think there’s a lot of different ways you can look at that, but I think he’s got it looks like three starts probably before the FedExCup starts.  I think that he probably needs to play well those three weeks.

Now, what playing well means is different for everybody, but I think he’s got to go out there and ‑‑ I think it would be important for him to contend one of those three weeks.

Q.  I’m not sure who can answer this, but has ESPN done any studies on this or have the announcers had any feedback about this:  Do people watch the British Open live or do you think they watch it more on the replays because it’s so early in the day?

MIKE McQUADE:  I have not done any ‑‑ I’ve done my own research on it.  I don’t get many comments about it.  We air three majors.  We do re‑airs of them:  The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British, and the ratings are all fairly comparable.  I would say the Masters we are probably higher, but we are on so long for the Open that by the end of it, people have already ‑‑ there’s no reason to watch the re‑air because you’ve gotten most of what you needed to get by even watching three hours of it.  I feel it’s fairly comparable even if you just watch a different part of it.

MIKE TIRICO:  I can add just a couple of things to that real quick.  On Saturday and Sunday, we end at 2:30 eastern Saturday, 1:30 eastern on Sunday, so it’s not terribly early for people in terms of Saturday and Sunday when their real viewing window comes to the maximum.

Unlike the other majors for that obvious reason, though, three hours in the late afternoon, 3:00 to 6:00, that usual golf window, that airs on ABC, as well, over the years, so people have a chance to see it multiple times in addition to what Mike was just talking about, in primetime, at night.

I think there are more opportunities to see this, but television ratings are considered on live shows.  When you see a rating for a show, it’s not necessarily the people who DVR it and go back and watch it at a later time.  The ratings are the ratings.  It just accumulates differently because there are re‑airs of significant portions of the coverage in the middle of the afternoon and then, as Mike said, same as the other majors, later on in the evening.

Q.  What will that week be like for you doing the World Cup in Brazil, flying up to England and then doing the British Open?  What’s that week like?

MIKE TIRICO:  It’s a thrill.  I have always thrived on the more work, you better you work, and as long as the travel from Rio to Brasilia to Lisbon to Manchester and then the drive to the golf course goes okay, I’ll be absolutely thrilled.

I get to see Jim Nantz every year when we’re over at the Masters, and Jimmy goes from the finals on Monday of the college basketball to the Masters on Sunday.  The difference here is obviously we’re a continent away.  The World Cup final is the most watched sporting event in the world every four years, so to be a part of that as the host and then to be a part of this golf championship just four days later is a pretty cool experience to be honest with you.  I’m pinching myself at the opportunity.  I’m enjoying every second of it.  Airline permitting, it’s going to be one heck of a week for me.

Q.  How do you stay fresh, though, with all the travel?

MIKE TIRICO:  We sit on our butts and talk.  People make a lot of what we do, and I appreciate that, and you want to stay as mentally fresh as you can because you’re talking for several hours a day, but sleep on planes is one of the big things, and I plan on not being awake for much of the flight from Brasilia to Lisbon, hit the golf course running on Tuesday afternoon, and the adrenaline of the Open Championship always gets you going.  You see the yellow scoreboards there, and all you have to do is sit in our spot where Zinger and I get to sit for four days, you turn around, and if you like golf, you would give up a lot to have the seat that we’ve been lucky to have for the last 17 years there looking down the 18th hole at the Open.

We’ll make it through just fine.  I really truly mean that when I say it.  I am energized and get great adrenaline out of the opportunity to be a part of a difficult set of logistics to be on the air for things like this.  It makes it fun, it really does.

Q.  Question for Mike McQuade on the production side.  You talked about how the Open is really strictly an ESPN show, at least for the U.S. rights, and then I also know that you guys work mostly out of cabins rather than trucks in terms of the actual operations.  Can you kind of talk about what makes this show unique from the other majors and how you try to add a different kind of spin on it?

MIKE McQUADE:  Well, besides just the sheer volume of coverage, from a production standpoint, really the most unique thing is what we’ve been talking about since the outset, is that we’re never together.  Maybe that’s why we get along so well.  All the production people, they come from ‑‑ a lot are coming from Wimbledon, working at Wimbledon, a lot of them are coming off their vacation because they’re getting ready for college football.  So I would say the greatest behind‑the‑scenes challenge and the difference is that we don’t do golf.  We love golf, but we don’t produce golf every week.

As far as when we’re over here and what we’re doing, after the first hour, you could be in a truck, you could be in a cabin, you could be on the moon.  It doesn’t matter, it’s still television, and the level of execution and the expectation is still the same.

It does help to be in cabins, we believe, when we’re doing it for 11 or 12 hours a day and you have actual room to move around as opposed to being confined to the truck.  The cabins also allow us just the sheer space and/or monitor walls; it allows hole monitors, if you will, to be bigger and not limited to the space within a truck.

Q.  And just a quick follow‑up, the virtual aerial technology has been around for a couple years now, and obviously with these kind of courses, it’s integral to the coverage with the winds and everything.  How has that kind of evolved, and how is how you guys use it within the show evolved over the last couple years?

MIKE McQUADE:  Well, I mean, the evolution for us had always been that it needed to be a live function.  We did not want to take the time for it to be something we would put on tape and play back after the shot, so once we figured out how to make it a live function, then the possibilities became really much more open to us, so we were able then to take it out to the fairway as opposed to just on the tee, and now we have it positioned so it can track the distance once a ball lands and the run‑out from that.

I think really the next step, I think it would be great to have the ability to do it really on every single hole for every single shot.  Not necessarily saying that we would do it, but just knowing that you have the ability to do it if you wanted to, and then on top of that, having the data to be able to show the trajectory of 156 tee shots on a particular day (inaudible) how the hole is played.  Unlike some other majors, the variance in shots from the time of day to the player is really different, and I think that would be fascinating for people to see.

Q.  Your comments regarding Tiger’s swing changes, fingerprints versus fundamentals, could you elaborate on that and how maybe that’s been detrimental?

PAUL AZINGER:  Yeah, I think that every golfer that’s played golf for any great length of time has tried to make some kind of swing improvements or changes to get better, and in the last six or ten months or so, I’ve looked at a million pictures and I believe there’s only three things that everybody in the Hall of Fame does, and two of them relate to the lower body and the other is shaft lean or I guess face and path awareness.  I think Tiger is playing more golf swing and he’s not quite as face and path aware as he used to be.  For example, if I handed you a long‑handled ax randomly and said hit that tree, I don’t believe the flat side of the ax would ever hit that tree.  I think you’d hit it with the sharp edge of the ax.

I just get the feelings that golfers when they try to change their fingerprints, I think some of them do it under the guise that it’s fundamentals.  I’ve always been taught that the fundamentals were grip, stance and position at the top, and the variance in positions at the top that are in the Hall of Fame are as unique as the fingerprints on your hand, as are swing plane, as are stance.  Bubba Watson shatters the mold.  He’s won two majors.  You wouldn’t teach putting it at the top of that backswing, across the line, past parallel, and his feet are flying all over the place, yet he’s a major champion two times over.

Everybody looks different.  Everybody in the world looks different.  I believe fundamentals are really lost in today’s instruction to the point where ‑‑ I’m not saying it’s a crisis, but it’s pretty bad.  I think a lot of instructors are treating their students like a chiropractor would treat a patient.  You need to come back for six straight ‑‑ if somebody tells Tiger Woods it’s going to take six weeks or six months, it would shock me.  I think if you don’t have Tiger hitting it better in the first 10 or 15 minutes, then you’re probably giving him bad information.  If you told Curtis Strange that he is, and he didn’t hit it better in the first five or ten minutes, I’m guessing you’re telling him wrong, and that’s the position I’m coming from.

I’m looking at Tiger Woods as somebody who in his quest to improve and get better, I think he’s mistaken, just like I did and hundreds of guys that have played the Tour at a high level, mistaking the uniqueness or the fingerprint, if you will, as a fundamental.  I don’t believe Jack ever made that mistake.  I just don’t.

Q.  If Tiger doesn’t get to 18 and you look back, would you say the swing was the larger factor than the injuries, or how would you view why he didn’t get there?

PAUL AZINGER:  Like I say, I think he’s the only guy who has dramatically changed the way his swing looks and has still been able to play at an extremely high level.  I mean, when he went from Butch to Hank, even a lay golfer could tell that Tiger’s swing had changed, and he won five or six majors doing that.  Nobody else ‑‑ you could argue maybe Hogan changed the uniqueness of his look or maybe Faldo or today maybe Matt Kuchar, but nothing like what Tiger did.  Matt Kuchar has gone back to what he used to do.  I guess Faldo shortened his swing a little bit, and Hogan, I don’t know.  I don’t know of anybody who’s changed the way they look more than Tiger Woods with respect to his golf swing and still played great.  Most people just go away.  They disappear trying to do what he’s done.

It just is a real example of what a great player he has been.  Now that he doesn’t putt as well, it’s hard to be as great as you once were if you don’t make putts, and I just think unnecessarily, Tiger has, for whatever reason, whether it was an effort ‑‑ sometimes a change is as good as a rest, and it gets you out the door.  Maybe that’s why Tiger made the changes.  Maybe he was bored.  Maybe he did it because his left knee was snapping and that’s something he tried to fix.  But the reality is the left leg should straighten through the hit a little bit as one of the things I feel are the three fundamentals.

I don’t know, I mean, he may look back and have regrets.  I know that he’s only worked with one guy that’s played golf at a really high level, and that’s Butch Harmon, and for him to just turn it all over to two guys that have never played on a high level is a bit of a mystery considering how great Tiger was when he did it.  I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m just trying to be ‑‑ I guess it’s more blunt than harsh.

I hope he plays great.  I mean, I hope he’s recovered from injury.  Sometimes you make these changes and it creates injury, as well.

Q. Martin Kaymer’s rise, did any of you see this building, and what was the final piece that put him back among the elite?

CURTIS STRANGE:  Well, you saw him playing better, but you certainly didn’t see what he did, how well he played at Pinehurst.  But I go back to where when he got to No. 1 in the world when he won the PGA Championship and was going to be really kind of one of the next future superstars, true superstars, and he went down the toilet just a bit for the same reason Paul just talked about.  He went to change his swing a little bit, and you go away from your natural ability to swing a stick in the golf club.

I question why did he do that.  He was trying to get better.  Trying to get better and better and better and compete with Tiger at the time.  I marvel at his golf swing.  I think his golf swing is unbelievable.  He swings the club in an aggressive fashion but under control.  He hits down and through the ball as well as anybody out there in the game today, and I marvel at the ability to ‑‑ the speed that he has and as well as he played at Pinehurst.

Pinehurst was not near as easy as he made it look the first two days, and that’s what happens, I guess, when some of the best players in the world get on top of their game.

I expect nothing but great things out of him in the future.  Can he hold it together?  Can he stay focused?  Can he stay driven?  We’ll wait and see.  But I think he’s fantastic.  You know what; if I was a young kid now, I’d want to emulate Martin Kaymer’s swing, I know that.

PAUL AZINGER:  One of the things that stands out to me about Kaymer was at the U.S. Open he made the comment that he had cleared his mind.  I’ve said this repeatedly, a golf swing only takes about a second and a half, and any one of us on this phone right now that have played this game know a lot can jump it your head in that second and a half, and when he said he cleared his mind, I was thinking, watch out, and he we did the Thursday‑Friday telecast there, and I loved it when he said that and continued to hit on that fact, and when a golfer at that level can play with a clear head, hang on, buddy, because he’s got something going on.

The very thing that may be clouding Tiger, all the conscious thought, all the thoughts and swing keys that sabotaged Martin Kaymer after he won the PGA, he got rid of them, and I think a lot of times that swing thoughts will sabotage good players.  You’ve got to have a key here and there.  You have to be able to eliminate one side the golf course.  That’s probably the greatest key to every great player’s success, but when you can get swing thoughts out of your head, that’s a major step.

CURTIS STRANGE:  But when he said that, Paul, that shows me he’s swinging well and his long game is confident, because when you’re swinging well and you know you’re going to hit the ball pretty solidly and straight day‑to‑day, then your mind does clear.  I actually think that comes before ‑‑ you can’t clear your head if you’re hitting skankers out there every day.  That comes from I’m not scoring real well but I know I’m swinging well.  I know my ball is in the middle of the club face, and I know it’s starting out on the trajectory I want it, and I’ve been doing it for a month.  It’s going to come around when I start making a few putts.  That’s the way I look at it.

Sports psychologists say you’ve got to go out there with a positive attitude every day, and I agree with that.  But that positive attitude is tough to stick in there with when you start skanking it on the second tee, and you say, son of a (expletive), I’m doing this again.

You know, what comes first, the chicken or the egg.  It’s as simple as that.  But when you see a player like Kaymer who says my mind is clear, that shows me he feels pretty damned good about his golf game.

ANDY NORTH:  Well, I think it’s always fun to be the last in this group.  Martin Kaymer got messed up.  He’s a guy who naturally cut the ball his entire life, and he tried to learn to hook the ball better to play Augusta National, and you’ve heard that story a million times.  When you’ve been a player who’s cut the ball and now you’re trying to draw it, it’s not just the technical stuff, it’s the look that you have, too, is that you start having to see things totally different.

This is usually the other direction, and it’s so easy to lose your confidence when you’re trying to make that kind of change.  And for him to fight his way back and go back to the putt he made at the Ryder Cup, that was a monster putt that helped his confidence a lot.  They sat him out most of that Ryder Cup because he was playing poorly, then to put him under pressure and have him perform under pressure, that can change an awful lot about how a player looks at himself and feels about what he’s doing, and I think that was the start of him coming back.

You have to play well.  Byron Nelson told me a long, long time ago, that to be a great player at this game you have to be brilliant or stupid, and if you’re in the middle, you’ve got no chance.  And I think that’s a lot of clearing your mind.  There’s some people that are not the sharpest knives in the drawer that have done great playing this game because they don’t think about anything.  That’s a beautiful thing.  If you could figure out a way not to think about anything for four hours, you’d be great.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN’s College Football Live Returns July 14th

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

The countdown is on!

College football season is mere weeks away. And in celebration, ESPN’s College Football Live returns next Monday, July 14th with all of the latest college football news and headlines. Chris Cotter will host. He will be joined by a rotating group of analysts that includes: Joey Galloway, Brian Griese, Desmond Howard, Danny Kanell, Trevor Matich, and Robert Smith in a half-hour round table setting.

Once football season is officially under way, College Football Live will broadcast live each Friday from the site of ESPN’s College GameDay Built by the Home Depot. And beginning next Monday, July 14th, football fans will get two and a half hours of football programming each day on ESPN Monday – Friday. That programming will come courtesy of College Football Live, NFL Insiders and NFL Live. The full schedule is listed below.

Show

Time (ET) Host/Analysts
College Football Live 2:30-3 p.m. Chris Cotter / Joey Galloway, Brian Griese, Desmond Howard, Danny Kanell, Trevor Matich, David Pollack & Robert Smith
NFL Insiders 3-4 p.m. Robert Flores / Chris Mortensen, Louis Riddick & Adam Schefter 
NFL Live 4-5 p.m. Suzy Kolber & Wendi Nix / Chris Mortensen, Bill Polian & Adam Schefter

 

More information on ESPN’s football programming is available online at http://espn.go.com/college-football, http://espn.go.com/nfl, http://www.facebook.com/NFLonESPN, and http://www.facebook.com/CFBonESPN. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN Releases Preliminary Big Ten Football Schedule For SNF Broadcasts

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN has released the current 2014 Big Ten Football schedule for its weekly Saturday Night Football schedule.

This season’s Big Ten Saturday Night Football schedule opens with a matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday, September 6th. The game is scheduled for an 8pm ET start time. The Buckeyes were ranked number seven overall in an ESPN pre-season poll. The current schedule has one of the biggest matches in college football on Saturday, November 8th with Ohio State facing off against The Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes last year 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship. That game is schedule for an 8pm ET start time.

Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will have the call for the matchup between the Hokies and Buckeyes on September 6th. The current schedule of games includes coverage across the ESPN family of networks each week. It is listed below.

2014 Big Ten Schedule on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 (as of July 10)

Date Time (ET) Game Network
Sat, Sep 6 8 p.m. Virginia Tech at No. 7 Ohio State ESPN
Sat, Sep 20 8 p.m. Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
Sat, Oct 4 8 p.m. Nebraska at No. 4 Michigan State ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
Sat, Oct 11 7 p.m. Penn State at No. 21 Michigan ESPN or ESPN2
Sat, Oct 25 8 p.m. No. 7 Ohio State at Penn State ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
Sat, Nov 1 8 p.m. Illinois at No. 7 Ohio State ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
Sat, Nov 8 8 p.m. No. 7 Ohio State at No. 4 Michigan State ABC

More additions to this schedule are expected. Fans can keep up with the latest updates on ESPN’s Big Ten Football coverage schedule online at http://www.facebook.com/CFBonESPN, http://twitter.com/espncfb, and http://espn.go.com/ncf/index. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

John Kruk, Ozzie Guillen Discuss 2014 MLB All-Star game, Personal Baseball Pasts, More With Media

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN MLB analysts John Kruk and Ozzie Guillen spoke with members of the media yesterday ahead of next week’s Gillette Home Run Derby and MLB All-Star Game Monday and Tuesday, July 14th and 15th. Kruk will join host Chris Berman and reporters Buster Olney and Pedro Gomez for coverage of the game. Guillen will join Ernesto Jerez, Luis Alfredo Alvarez, and Guillermo Celis on ESPN Deportes’ coverage of the All-Star Game. The following is the transcript of Thursday’s conference call held with the media in which Kruk and Guillen discussed a number of topics. Those topics included the pair’s own thoughts on the game, their former MLB careers and more. More information on the ESPN family of networks’ coverage of this year’s Gillette Home Run Derby and MLB All-Star Game is available online now at http://espn.go.com/mlb.

Q. You both were All-Stars as players.  What are your earliest memories of the Home Run Derby, what’s the first one you can remember watching?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Mine was in Toronto and Cecil Fielder – seeing him hit that jumbotron.  In that time, not that many people were hitting balls that far. I think that’s my earliest memory.

JOHN KRUK:  Mine was the same.  That was 1991, I believe, in Toronto.  And I think Cal Ripken, Jr. hit like nine million home runs that day, from what I remember.  It seemed like he just got on a groove and rode it.

Q. How has it grown since then, in your eyes, compared to what it was 25 years ago?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Well, to me I think the coverage is a lot better now.  There’s more promotion and more marketing.  And I think the players pick their own – you know, the players that want to be with the team.  They have enough time to pick the guys.  In the past, we just picked guys out of the clubhouse and said do you want to be in it.  They say yes and they go for it.  I think now it’s a bigger deal and better deal than it was in the past.

JOHN KRUK:  I agree with Ozzie, because I think now with the captains, it’s harder to say no to Jose Bautista or Troy Tulowitzki who call you and say:  ‘Hey, do you want to be part of this Home Run Derby?’  It’s hard to tell a fellow player no.

And I remember in 1991, like Cal and Ozzie mentioned Cecil Fielder – two big guys.  And you look at these guys now, these guys are huge.

I mean, Cespedes and Stanton – you’re talking about Mark Trumbo last year.  I don’t think people understand because everyone’s big now.  I don’t think they understand just how huge these guys are.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I feel right now it’s easier, too, because people don’t realize how tired you can get with that many swings.  And I think the competition – people are more into it.

I think the players are more into it.  A lot of players like to be involved.  In the past, you’d see a lot of I don’t know if I can do it because I’m going to lose my swing or I don’t like it because I don’t know how my swing is going to be for the start of the second half.

But right now, it’s a big deal.  And I think when you compete, now with interleague games, now you compete against the American League and National League, I think it’s more interesting for fans and everybody, period.

Q. One of the guys who is not so hugely built in this competition is the hometown guy, Brian Dozier.  How does a guy like that hit 16 home runs this year?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Well, it’s very impressive and I’m very surprised.  I think they are built around pitching and manufacturing runs.  Now how does this kid hit that many home runs in that park? It’s not easy to hit that many home runs in that park.

That’s pretty impressive.  And very pleasing.  I think this kid brings a lot to the team because they don’t have that much power because Morneau is out of there.  Mauer is not hitting that many home runs.

Q John, any thoughts on Dozier, probably one of the littlest guys you’ll see in the Derby Monday night?

JOHN KRUK:  Trust me, I think it’s smart for Jose Bautista to have a Twin.  I think you remember a couple of years ago in Arizona when Prince Fielder didn’t pick Justin Upton to be in it and Prince got booed.  Every time he stepped up to the plate he got booed.

And in Kansas City, I don’t think there was a Royal. He didn’t pick a Royals player and Robinson Cano got booed two years ago in Kansas City, I guess it was.  And he got booed because he didn’t pick – I think Billy Butler was the All-Star that year and he didn’t pick Billy Butler to be in the Home Run Derby.  Jose Bautista has been around long enough.  He understands.

Dozier is the type of guy, he’s smaller, and I think what’s going to make it tough for him is, like Ozzie said, it’s a big ballpark and he doesn’t have just the pure power that guys like Cespedes and Bautista and Stanton and Tulowitzki have.  To me, it seems like he’ll exert more energy to hit home runs.

If he gets in the second round, you might see him tire out a little bit.  But, believe me, he’s going to be the fans’ favorite, of course, and I would love to see him get as deep as he can and even win it if he can.

Q. Ozzie, you managed a lot of games at Target Field.  I’m just wondering if a part of you wonders how this is going to play out given that it’s such a pitchers’ ballpark?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I expect a very good game.  I know the offense is very strong but I believe both sides have great pitching staffs.  Both sides are playing pretty big and I expect a pretty close game.  And I expect the managers will make a lot of little plays, bunting and hit-and-run, because this ballpark is very tough to score some runs.  And on top of that you put the pitching staff in both leagues together, expect a pretty close game.

Q. I should have clarified.  How do you think the Derby is going to play out there?  Seems like it’s especially hard to hit home runs between the alleys. 

OZZIE GUILLEN:  When you see Stanton and Cespedes, they could hit it out to the moon, if they have to.  Like Kruk said, those guys are so big and so strong right now – any ballpark, those guys are going to put on a show.  They’re strong enough.

I think it’s going to be a good show for the fans because that’s what the fans and everybody wants to see – a lot of home runs, and I don’t think the ballpark, no matter how big or how the ball carries [matters]. I think they’re going to put on an unbelievable show.

JOHN KRUK:  These guys hit the ball so far. Is it a little tougher to hit it there than it would be, say, in Arizona a couple of years ago or some other ballparks that are smaller?  But these guys, at batting practice they make most ballparks look like a Little League field.  Ozzie was a witness to Giancarlo Stanton taking batting practice.  It’s one of the most impressive things you’ll ever see.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Remember the Home Run Derby in [Citi Field] in New York.  That ballpark is a pretty decent size.  And Cespedes just put on a show there. I expect the same way this year.  I think the Mets ballpark last year was bigger, and obviously this year they shrink a little bit.  But you hit it in the Mets ballpark, you can hit it anywhere because that ball does not carry at all in New York.

Q. Ozzie, you obviously got a chance to manage Giancarlo [Stanton] in the 2012 season the first time he made the All-Star team and you got to watch him every single day hit those home runs.  I remember you telling us you thought that one day one of those balls he hit might kill somebody.  What’s impressed you the most about him over the last two years and this season in particular as you’ve seen him grow as a player?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  First of all, he’s matured a lot.  He’s learning how to hit. And besides that, I think it’s not that he’s better, I think he has a little bit more potential now than when I was managing him.

This kid is still learning the process about strike zone and all that.  But this kid is so powerful.  Even when he make a mistake hitting, he still hits it hard and that’s all that counts.  He’s just a pure strong hitter.  One of my favorite guys.

And when you see this kid take batting practice, he takes his bat.  He goes about the game the right way.  You’re pretty pleased with the way he plays the game and the way he goes about his business.

And I said it before, I keep saying it, I didn’t see anybody in the game when I was playing, coaching or managing hit the ball harder than Giancarlo.  And when I say he will kill a third baseman, a coach, you can add a shortstop there too because this man is very dangerous.  Giancarlo’s bat is very, very fast.

JOHN KRUK:  He might not kill a left fielder but he’s liable to hurt one pretty good.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I’ve seen him hit the ball in Cleveland, when I was managing and  Asdrubal Cabrera was playing shortstop. He almost put him out in Lake Erie with how hard he hit it.  He tried to catch it.  He couldn’t even jump – the ball was hitting the wall before he was landing down on his feet.

And I love this kid.  But meanwhile, he’s an amazing power hitter.  He learned how to strike out a lot less. He’s not chasing that many bad pitches like he used to.  And little by little, he’s going to become one of the superstars in the game.

Q. John, you obviously played this game, been around it so long.  Who does he remind you most of and what do you think, he’s only a couple of years away from becoming a free agent.  If the Marlins don’t trade him first.  What do you think teams would give up to have Giancarlo Stanton? 

JOHN KRUK:  Wow.  First of all, he reminds me of no one.  I’ve never seen anyone hit – the only one who comes close as a right-handed hitter in my time – Gary Sheffield comes to mind, the guy who just would – he hit the ball so hard.  But he’s not as big as Giancarlo.

I mean Giancarlo, he’s a tight end.  He looks like Tony Gonzalez.  He’s built like Tony Gonzalez.  He’s just a huge man.  And what it would take to get him – I mean, well, what it’s going to take probably would be a number one starter and I don’t think teams are willing to give up a number one starter for a right fielder.

But that’s what it would take.  It’s not going to take someone’s number three and a Minor League prospect.  It’s going to take a number one. Hypothetically, if the Dodgers called and said all their outfielders got hurt again and we need an outfielder and they wanted to trade Giancarlo, it would have to take someone like a Greinke, not a Kershaw, but a Greinke and a top prospect or two to get someone like him.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I think whoever it is that is going to make a trade, I think whoever gets traded to the Marlins has to play in the Big Leagues right away. They have to be on the Big League roster helping the team play every day.

And I just imagine that kid – I’m not saying they shouldn’t trade him to New York or whatever, just making a point.  If this kid played in New York or Boston or Texas, I mean, he will be healthier and he will produce more because you aren’t  chasing balls in Marlins Park, which is so huge. Obviously you get tired and sore.

He can make a mistake and still hit the ball 500 feet.  To make, like John said, to make a trade, I don’t think right now anybody is prepared to offer any trade to the Marlins because the management, they can get a lot of good things for him.

I don’t know.  I just saw the Marlins’ front office talk about that. They’re not going to move them.  But I think Giancarlo is going to be a very, very good product to make a good trade.

Q. I’m curious about the players who weren’t voted in.  Are there names that jump out at you immediately and specifically in the National League, the storyline for Justin Morneau going back to Minnesota would be a fun one.  But do you think he’s actually deserving of going?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Of course, yes.  I was checking his numbers, and if I was the manager, I would have taken him.  I thought he looked good.  I think the numbers are there.  I think he’d be awesome and great for baseball.

I think Minnesota fans, they are very grateful and very pleased with what Morneau did there.  I’m surprised they didn’t take him.  But that’s a part of the game, every year somebody is out there not playing that should be playing, because it’s hard to make the All-Star team.  But I know we won’t hesitate to pick this kid and go there because I know it’s going to be fun for everybody around Major League Baseball.

JOHN KRUK:  I agree.  Even though the All-Star Game is for home field advantage in the World Series, it’s still to me a game for the fans.

And I think having Justin Morneau – look, if he had 30 RBIs was hitting .240, sentiment goes out the window, he doesn’t deserve it.  But he deserves to be there.  And the fact it’s going to be, like Ozzie said, back in Minnesota where he was beloved, it’s just a great story.

And how great would it be if he came up in a key situation in the 8th or 9th inning and got a big hit or hit a home run to help win the game?  The fans, even though most of them are probably going to be rooting for the American League because it’s an American League city, I can’t imagine him not getting a standing ovation and being adored like he should be because of the great things he did in Minnesota.

Q. Ozzie, quick question.  As a Chicago guy, what do you think of where the Cubs are at in their rebuilding process, given that you have Samardzija traded away, but you have Starling back in All-Star form and Rizzo possibly joining him as another 24-year old All-Star.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Well, I hope Rizzo makes it. I think Rizzo has unbelievable numbers.  He deserves to be there.  He’s hitting .280 with 20 home runs and 49 RBIs with a team that doesn’t produce that much.  That’s the key.

I think the Cubs are doing the right thing right now.  This trade has been great for everyone, especially for Samardzija.  Samardzija, every day when he pitches, all of the media in Chicago ask: When do you think you are going to get traded?  How are you going to get traded?

I think all the draining and all the stuff out of this kid’s mind now is he’s got to concentrate to help the Oakland A’s.  Now I think the Cubs are showing people they are trying to make a good young team for the future.  I think that was a big step for everyone.  And I think that they’re making the right steps.

Q. Who are you most looking forward to seeing hit in the Home Run Derby?

JOHN KRUK:  I believe we have the same answer:  Giancarlo Stanton.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I don’t want to know how many Giancarlo is going to hit, I want to know how far he’s going to hit one.  That’s what I’m waiting for.

JOHN KRUK:  I’d like to see Nelson Cruz jump in this thing, too, because I’ve had different managers around the American League tell me that at some point in his career he’s going to hit one of the farthest home runs – he’s going to hit the farthest home run in the history of baseball.  But have him and Stanton go at it, I think that would be just fun to watch.  But if he’s not in, it’s Stanton.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I’m not saying it’s great for baseball when Cruz is in the Home Run Derby after the issue he had in the past. He can show people he can do that when he is clean.  And I think it’s good for him and good for baseball to have that kid proving to people you don’t have to do stupid things or the things you’re not supposed to do to play well in this game.

Q. Both of you mentioned how tiring this event can be.  Just one of your thoughts on the new format this year, seven outs instead of ten, and the top home run hitters from each league, the first round get a bye until the semifinals.  How do you think that’s going to impact things? 

JOHN KRUK:  I think you’re going to have fresher guys, even though it’s only possibly three less swings.  But I think you’re going to have fresher guys going into the second and third rounds of this thing.

I mean, you saw last year a couple of guys, they just wore themselves out.  And I think the Home Run Derby that I remember the most, remember well is the Josh Hamilton in Yankee Stadium when he hit 9,000 home runs in the first round.

But Justin Morneau won the Home Run Derby and no one knows it or no one remembers that, but they just remember what Josh did, but Josh looked like to me got a little fatigued at the end.  And you have to remember, too, the more home runs you hit, the more the pitcher who you’re bringing in, he gets fatigued too.  And that could be an issue.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I think it’s great to cut it down, not just because a [swing] or two or like John said, I agree with John 100 percent, but for the fans, too.  I mean, the Home Run Derby, the fans get into it. I think in the past they made it too long and people just, I mean I know the kids are excited.  But I think for the fans and the media and everybody working the Home Run Derby and people watching on TV, it’s better because the quicker they do the stuff, the people get into it more and don’t just have to sit there, waiting, waiting, to see the same guys swing 30,000 times.  I think it was a brilliant idea for MLB to cut it down and make it quicker.

Q. I’m based here in Detroit where, of course, the big news this week was Miguel Cabrera pulling out of the Home Run Derby saying he didn’t want to mess with his swing anymore.  My question for both of you, and  I’ll ask Ozzie first because he’s the former manager here and John second, as he’s been around the event forever.  But, Ozzie, do you put any stock in the idea that a player can mess up their swing doing the Home Run Derby, was that something that you were really concerned about when you were managing? 

OZZIE GUILLEN:  Not really.  If my players want to do it, just do it.  I was concerned about my pitching, not the hitting.  But I hear about a lot of guys, they don’t like to do it.  And I heard from a good friend of mine Bobby Abreu, that was his excuse.

Bobby, he hit like 50 some home runs in Detroit.  All of a sudden after that he just went blank. He went down to the tank.  And maybe that can cause that.

I remember Frank Thomas told, a teammate, they went through the same stuff.  They don’t like to do it because they think about the swing.

But I think for the Home Run Derby to when the games start, it’s like three or four days.  I don’t know why it would screw up your swing.

But I respect it.  I think maybe Miggy just wanted to relax. He’s been through a lot of issues physically the last few years dealing with some injuries and I think that’s why Miggy said he wanted to kick back and watch.  I know he maybe wanted to be there.  But I think it’s not going to play with his swing, I think he’s just tired and deserves and needs a lot of rest.

JOHN KRUK:  And we were just in Detroit Sunday doing a game and Brad Ausmus said he’d love to find a day to give Miguel a day off to give him a rest.

But then when Victor [Martinez] got hurt he couldn’t give Miguel the time off because Victor. He needed that bat in the middle of the lineup without Victor there.

And so he had to continue playing him.  And so I think this is more, believe me, when you participate in the workout, you seem to get a lot of swings.  And you don’t take batting practice too often when there’s 40, 50,000 people in the stands.  So it’s a different form of batting practice.  You’re oohing and ahhing the fans with hitting the balls as far as you can hit them.

I remember the ’93 All-Star Game, the left-handed hitters, Bonds and all that, they were trying to hit it off the warehouse outside of Camden Yards.  That’s not your normal batting practice.

I think what Miguel is doing is coming off the abdominal surgery or groin surgery, whatever, I think taking away from the Home Run Derby, he’s basically going to get two or three days of rest before they have to play on Friday and it’s going to help him the second half.

Q. John, the Cincinnati Reds have a couple of guys making their All-Star debuts with Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier and Cueto Thinking back to your first time in a MLB All-Star Game, what’s your favorite memory from your first appearance there?

JOHN KRUK:  Man, well, the first one I made was in Toronto in ’91 and I didn’t play.  Scheduling snafu or something.  But I mean what I remember is walking in the clubhouse the first time.  And you see the Bonds of the world and Tony Gwynn, who I played with. It wasn’t that big a deal to see Tony, but you see Tony Gwynn who has won nine million batting titles and Barry Bonds, the best all-around player in baseball – just thinking how do I fit in with this group?

And that was what was the most impressive thing to me was just walking in that clubhouse for the first time and thinking what the heck am I doing here.  And then some guy came around, they roped it off, and the guy came around and shook everyone’s hands and I said who in the heck is this guy. I didn’t understand it was the Prime Minister of Canada.  So that was embarrassing.

But that’s what I remember is the clubhouse, just walking in there thinking I shouldn’t be here.  But then I made a couple more and I thought, well, maybe I do.  I don’t know.  But it was impressive to see all those guys in one clubhouse.

Q. Anytime you have an All-Star Game, there’s always the debate of who were the snubs from each team.  But the Cincinnati Reds have a guy in Alfredo Simon, who was originally supposed to be a reliever for the Reds coming in but he’s been beyond impressive at this point.  He ended up starting at the beginning of the season replacing Latos.  But heading into the All-Star Game, he’s not on the roster. He’s leading NL in wins, tied for the best record in baseball right now.  Should he be on the National League roster? 

JOHN KRUK:  Yeah, I was surprised he was left off.  When you’re watching, he’s impressive.  When you have Cueto doing such a great job, you know, and making the All-Star team, and then of course you’ve got Frazier and Mesoraco.  That’s the issue.  Rick Porcello on Sunday wasn’t named to the team and he pitched Sunday night.

He had a chance to have 13 wins before the All-Star break.  And on his way to 20-plus wins.  And of course he’s in the Fifth Man vote thing.

But it’s so difficult.  And Ozzie had to manage one of these.  I can’t imagine having to go down a roster and saying, okay, we need this guy, this guy, and this guy.  It’s tough.  I think it shows you just how great the pitching is in baseball now, when you have a guy who is leading the league in wins who can’t make the All-Star team.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I think just, I’m sure fans know about it, but when you make the All-Star team there are so many issues.  You’re not talking about in one month.  That takes almost all half of the season to figure out how you’re going to make it. You have phone calls from Major League Baseball, phone calls from the league, phone calls from all kinds of people on how to make the All-Star team.

You’ve got to go with the fans voting.  Then you have to pick one in each team and then you have to all of a sudden manage it.

It’s not fun to be the manager on the All-Star Game.  It’s not fun because you have so much stuff during the game, before the game, after the game.  You don’t really enjoy it.

And on top of that, you have to win.  And I think when you pick – I remember not picking one of the pitchers, Curt Schilling. I didn’t pick him.  Curt was supposed to be on the team.  But I had to pick somebody from Kansas City.  I don’t remember the pitcher’s name.

And I had to show up for the pitching.  The pitcher was a guy with like five wins and his ERA was like 4.9, and I was criticized about it.  But I don’t have anything to do – we had to pick the best team. So many second basemen that year and we had to let Curt Schilling out because so many guys deserved to be there and not too many people make it.

Q. Last year we had that very memorable moment, being able to see Mariano Rivera in his final appearance in the MLB All-Star Game.  We’ll get a similar opportunity here with Derek Jeter making his final appearance in the game.  Comment a little on what you think his legacy will be, not just with the Yankees, but with baseball as a whole?

OZZIE GUILLEN:  It’s my opinion, I don’t think any All-Star Game is going to be like last year about saying bye to a player.

But I think with Mariano, it was in New York.  Mariano was perfect because they were winning the game, it was like they planned for that to happen.  We don’t know when Derek Jeter is going to come out.  We don’t know how many innings he’s going to play.  Can he receive a standing ovation after he comes out of the field, after they take him out? Yes.

But I think Mariano Rivera, I don’t think it will happen again in baseball.  The legacy, oh, wow, he’s one of my favorite players on the field and off the field.  He’s a good looking man.  Got a lot of girlfriends.  Plays for the right team.  Got a lot of money and he’s the captain of the New York Yankees.  Almost never got in trouble for anything.

In baseball, you look at the big picture, that’s the real Mr. Perfect in the game.  And from the day one to the last game this kid played the game right and people are going to miss him.

But I think the legacy is going to be there just because it’s the rings and he plays for New York.  And I think off the field to me, it’s more important because all those girls dream about going out with him.  (Chuckling).

JOHN KRUK:  Whew.  I can’t follow that.

I think that’s going to be the most interesting thing about this All-Star game.  We can beat to death the fact that the game means home field advantage in the World Series and things like that.  But I think that it is going to be the anticipation of people watching the All-Star game, when are they going to take him out and how are they going to go about doing it.

And I’ve had people in baseball say that, well, he should play the whole game.  But then there’s Joe Girardi. You’re in third place or whatever, you’re thinking wait a second, hold on. I don’t want my 40-year old shortstop playing nine innings in an All-Star game when he can get two at bats and get out of there in the 5th and finally get some rest.  It’s going to be interesting to see.

I think depending on the score, if it was me, I would take him out in like the 5th or 6th inning after he gets two at bats and not have a shortstop for that inning or for one batter – Derek Jeter is irreplaceable.  So for one hitter, we’re not going to have anyone at shortstop and hope the guy is a left-handed pull hitter and doesn’t hit one that way.

OZZIE GUILLEN:  I think, too, if I was a manager for him, he’s my first at bat, get a base hit, out of the game, people can see me running on the field.

If I not, I wait for him to get on base.  If he’s not, I let him go to shortstop, then call timeout and bring the shortstop from the bench and have him leave the field even without a hit in the game.  I think that’s the way they should do it.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN Announces Coverage Details For 2014 MLB All-Star Game, Gillette Home Run Derby

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

Good news for baseball fans. Fans that won’t be able to catch next week’s MLB All-Star Game on television will still be able to catch the game on the radio thanks to ESPN.

ESPN Radio will carry this year’s MLB All-Star Game live next Tuesday, July 15th. This year’s broadcast marks the network’s seventeenth consecutive year of broadcasting Major League Baseball’s “Mid-Summer Classic.” ESPN Radio’s coverage of this year’s All-Star game begins Tuesday evening at 7pm ET. ESPN Radio’s Sunday Night Baseball duo of Jon Sciambi and analyst Chris Singleton will have the call. They will be joined by on-site studio host Marc Kestecher and reporters Peter Pascarelli and Tim Kurkjian.

Along with its broadcast on ESPN Radio, the MLB All-Star Game will also be broadcast live on ESPN Deportes Radio. Jose Francisco Rivera, Renato Bermudez, Armando Talavera, Marly Rivera, and Eduardo Ortega will be on hand for ESPN Deportes Radio’s coverage of the game.

ESPN Radio and ESPN Deportes Radio will simulcast the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby Monday, July 14th at 8pm ET. The Home Run Derby will be broadcast live from Target Field in Minneapolis. ESPN’s Chris Berman will anchor the broadcast. He will be joined by ESPN MLB analyst Jon Kruk, and reporters Buster Olney and Pedro Gomez. This year marks the twenty-second consecutive year that ESPN will have carried the MLB Home Run Derby.

ESPN Radio and ESPN Deportes Radio’s coverage of this year’s All-Star game festivities is just part of the networks’ coverage this year. ESPN recently announced that along with its networks’ coverage of the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby and the 2014 All-Star Game, the Worldwide Leader in Sports will also televise the 2014 Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game on Monday, July 14th immediately after the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby. Commentary for the game will be provided by SportsCenter’s John Anderson, analyst Aaron Boone, and reporter Tim Kurkjian. The full roster for both the Legends and Celebrities is available online now at http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/all_star/y2014/sunday_legends.jsp.

Mike & Mike in the Morning will carry bonus coverage of this year’s MLB All-Star festivities both Monday and Tuesday, July 14th and 15th live from Kieran’s in Minneapolis. “Greeny” and Golic will also call all of the action over the Target PA system for those in attendance Monday at the Gillette Home Run Derby.

More information on the ESPN family of networks’ of this year’s All-Star Game and Home Run Derby is available online at http://espn.go.com/mlb. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

NNS Going Night Racing At Kentucky Speedway Friday Night

Courtesy:  NASCAR/ESPN/ESPN2/ABC

Courtesy: NASCAR/ESPN/ESPN2/ABC

NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Brendan Gaughan scored a surprise win over the weekend as the Nationwide Series made its way to Road America. Gaughan, who drives for Richard Childress Racing in the Nationwide Series, currently sits in seventh place overall in the series’ driver standings after his win. And despite a thirteenth place finish in Saturday’s race, JR Motorsports driver Regan Smith still sits atop the Nationwide Series driver points standings. He leads JGR’s Elliot Sadler by ten points after leaving Road America. This Friday night, Gaughan will look to prove last week’s win was no fluke. And Smith will look to bounce back and open his lead even more over Sadler as the Nationwide Series hits the track at Kentucky Speedway.

Friday night’s race will be simulcast on ESPN and online via WatchESPN. Coverage of the 300-mile race starts at 7pm ET with ESPN’s weekly pre-race NASCAR Countdown broadcast. The green flag is expected to drop at 7:45pm ET. Allen Bestwick will anchor Friday night’s broadcast. He will be joined by analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the booth.

More information on ESPN’s Nationwide Series coverage is available online at http://espn.go.com/racing/nascar. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN To Broadcast NBA Draft For 12th Consecutive Year This Thursday

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

The NBA season is over. But that doesn’t mean that the NBA is completely done for the season. Officials with ESPN have announced that the Worldwide Leader in Sports will have exclusive coverage of the league’s annual draft this year.

The 2014 NBA Draft presented by State Farm will be broadcast live this Thursday, June 26th on ESPN. It marks the twelfth consecutive year that ESPN has broadcasted the annual draft event. It also marks the second consecutive year that the draft has come live from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Rece Davis will anchor the broadcast from ESPN’s main set. Davis will be joined by ESPN college basketball inside Jay Bilas and ESPN NBA analysts Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons.

Thursday’s live broadcast from the Barclays center will be preceded by ESPN’s NBA Draft Preview Show Wednesday, June 25th at 7pm on ESPN2. ESPNU will also broadcast the ESPNU Draft Special each day this week from 4 – 5 and the ESPNU Draft Recap at midnight Thursday after the draft.

Throughout Thursday’s broadcast of the 2014 NBA Draft presented by State Farm, audiences will get extra in-depth analysis from ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla and ESPN NBA analyst Tom Penn. Fran Fraschilla will offer insights on international prospects. Jeff Goodman, Heather Cox, Chris Broussard, Andy Katz and Jay Williams will each have reports and interviews. Marc Kestecher will anchor ESPN Radio’s simulcast of the 2014 NBA Draft presented by State Farm. Analysts P.J. Carlesimo and Ryen Rusillo will offer extra commentary for the broadcast.

More information on Thursday’s coverage of the 2014 NBA Draft presented by State Farm is available online at http://espn.go.com/nba and http://www.facebook.com/NBAonESPN. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ESPN Announces Latest Addition To Its Sunday Night Baseball Schedule

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN has added another game to the schedule of its 25th anniversary season of Sunday Night Baseball.

Officials with the network announced Thursday that the currently first-place San Francisco Giants will host the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday, July 27th on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell. Coverage of the game is scheduled to start at 8pm ET on ESPN. It will be preceded by ESPN’s weekly pre-game broadcast of Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown presented by Chevrolet at 7pm ET. Karl Ravech will host the pre-game broadcast. He will be joined by MLB Hall of Famer and former Cincinnati Red Barry Larkin, and John Kruk. Dan Shulman will anchor the broadcast of the game itself. He will be joined in the booth by analyst John Kruk and reporter Buster Olney.

The broadcast of the Giants/Dodgers July 27th game will be simulcast on ESPN Radio. Jon Sciambi and analyst Chris Singleton will have the call for the game. Spanish-speaking audiences can catch the game on ESPN Deportes and ESPN Deportes Radio. And all audiences can follow the game online via WatchESPN.

Next up on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell schedule, the Angels host the Rangers. The Rangers have proven so far this season to do better on the road than at home while the opposite has proven to be the case for the Angels. That means Sunday’s game is sure to be quite the interesting matchup for viewers.

Games selections for Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell broadcasts in August and September will be made two weeks in advance of their airings. The current schedule of games for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell is listed below.

Upcoming Sunday Night Baseball schedule:

Date Game
June 22 Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
June 29 Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
July 6 Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers
July 13 New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
July 20 Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals
July 27 Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants
Aug 3 New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

 

More information on all of ESPN’s upcoming slate of games and all of the latest MLB news is available online now at http://espn.go.com/mlb and http://www.facebook.com/ESPNBaseballTonight. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson Talk NBA Finals & More

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson talked to the media yesterday about today’s start of the NBA Finals. The duo discussed not only this year’s finals matchup between the Spurs and Heat, but also the impact of another championship on either team and the role of the Eastern Conference on the Heat’s place in the NBA Finals this year among much more. The following is the complete transcript from the conversation that the pair had with members of the media in anticipation of tonight’s opening game of the 2014 NBA Finals.  Game one tips off tonight at 9pm ET on ABC.  The game will be preceded by NBA Countdown at 8:30pm ET.

Q. Could you have thought that the Heat could have gotten back here without contributions from their two new guys Michael Beasley and Greg Oden? As you know they’ve gotten very little from either during this run. 

 

JACKSON:  I would say to that answer, yes, they certainly anticipated both of those guys playing some sort of role.  But at the end of the day, they brought back the nucleus, and when you bring back the big three in James and Wade and Bosh, and you bring back the same mentality, and obviously some of the guys off the bench that have proven, that are champions.  Erik Spoelstra has done an outstanding job.  I would say, yes, because at the end of the day they’re built defensively, and they’re built with some special talent that puts them in position to, in spite of who they rotate as far as role players, be in the mix year in and year out.

 

VAN GUNDY:  I concur with Mark.  I think there are a couple factors.  I think we have to change the big three moniker to the big four because I think Spoelstra definitely belongs in there.  They have four guys who could be going to the Hall of Fame as players, Ray Allen and Bosh and Wade and James.  But Spoelstra is absolutely vital and instrumental to their success and he’s going to be there as well.  You add to that the weakened state of the Eastern Conference. They really weren’t tested.  Throw out the playoffs and so they’re here once again.

 

You know, Beasley in particular I thought might find his way onto the court, but Rashard Lewis has given good minutes.  At times Battier has given them good minutes, but he hasn’t been able to find his way consistently on the floor.

 

Q. I was wondering if either of you have any interest in the Lakers head coaching position, and if they’ve reached out to you about it? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  I found that it’s in everybody’s best interest never to comment on jobs.  I don’t think it does the team any good or the individual coach.  If teams ever want to state what their plans are before they’ve named a coach, that’s up to them, but I think it’s best that I don’t get involved with that.

 

JACKSON:  I totally agree.  Obviously, it’s an incredible job, and I’m sure they’ll pick an outstanding coach to lead them forward.

 

Q. Could you look into your crystal balls and speculate on what might happen if the Spurs either win or don’t win this or the same question with the Heat.  How does the outcome impact how these things might be made up next year? 

 

JACKSON:  I’m tired of looking in the crystal ball when it comes to the Spurs.  Not just me, but we’ve all been wrong for quite a while now.  We had them dead a couple years ago.  We had them dead after The Finals last year.  Truth be told, they’re going to be relevant and be around for the foreseeable future because they’re playing the right way, led by an incredible coach, an all-time great coach – not just in basketball but in sports in general – a bunch of Hall of Famers, and they just find ways to win ballgames.  So they’ll be around.

 

I think when you talk about the Heat, I think it depends on those guys and the decision they’re going to make after the season.  When you talk about Pat Riley and that organization, when you talk about Erik Spoelstra, I’m sure they’re going to, whatever the decisions are by the players, find a way to regroup, come back, and be just as strong, if not stronger.

 

VAN GUNDY:  Yeah, I can’t envision going to four straight Finals and any of the better three players deciding that they’re better served someplace else.  The Eastern Conference is definitely the place to be right now if you’re a great player because the road is just a lot easier to navigate.  So I can’t see them willingly changing their path.  And San Antonio, I think the Kawhi Leonard-George Hill trade got them back to where they are now.  They’re a little small at that position.  Now not only did they have the courage to make that trade, then they picked the right guy, and he has performed fantastically over his short career, and along with the depth they’ve added, and the great, great coaching, they’ve been able to surround their three best players with terrific players, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

 

Q. I know the word legacy gets thrown around a lot.  But how do you view a third championship for LeBron James on an historical plane if the Heat end up winning the series?

 

VAN GUNDY:  I think it would be a terrific accomplishment.  Winning a championship is hard, being in The Finals is hard, but a lot about how much you win is who you play with and who you play against at any particular time in your career.  So I don’t look at his career in Miami as being any more successful than his time in Cleveland.  He’s just surrounded with better players, weaker conference.  I think this guy is an all-time great.  I think one of his greatest accomplishments is taking a very average to below-average Cleveland Cavaliers team to The Finals, I think, it was in 2007.  I think he won 66 games with a starting lineup in Cleveland that I’m not sure would have won 36 games without him.

 

So to me, both places have been ultra-successful. I don’t think a guy’s greatness is directly tied to his number of championships won because a lot of it comes down to circumstance.

 

JACKSON:  I totally agree.  I look at LeBron James, and he’s an all-time great basketball player.  I said it, and it’s documented that my opinion is he’s one of the best forwards that ever played the game.  I really am not a guy to look and see championships to find your greatness.  Because I, like Jeff, agree the fact is who you play with and who you play against. At the end of the day, the guy has played at an incredible level for a long time, and it does not seem the end is near anytime soon.

 

Q. Mark, can you comprehend what Jason Kidd and maybe Derek Fisher is pondering going straight from a playing career to a coach?  Would you have been able to do that a few years ago after you retired?  And are you sure – are you convinced you want to coach again, or are you good where you’re at?  What is your state right now, now that you’ve signed with ESPN? 

 

JACKSON:  Well, I do look forward to coaching one day if it presents itself again.  Right now I’m having a blast being back with my crew.  I’m fortunate and thrilled to death to be back.  If the opportunity presents itself, I look forward to coaching again.  If I end my career the way it ended and I continue to call games, I’m fine with that, just to clear that up also.  I’m having the time of my life calling these games and being back with this incredible group.

 

To answer the first part of the question, I believe I would have been able to do it. Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity.  But as far as players today, obviously Jason Kidd had success and continued to get better.  I think his future is extremely bright.  So I believe that the point is picking the right person. So I believe you can do it and you can be successful.  It’s important to make sure that you pick the right person.  I don’t think just anybody can do it, but the right person can be successful.

 

Q. Jeff, you’ve alluded to the weakened state of the Eastern Conference a couple times now.  I’m curious if either of you think that might affect the Heat’s standing when you look at that team and what they’ve accomplished among some of the all-time greats?  You know the Bulls dynasty very well.  Where does the Heat as a team and what they’ve accomplished kind of rank with some of the all-time great teams? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  I hate to compare because ultimately people will read into it that you’re diminishing one at the expense of the other.  I would just say the Bulls teams back in their heyday had to go through some monster teams to win it all, some really incredible teams.  I think it’s hard to compare teams from different eras.  But to me, Jordan’s Bulls could compete against any of the great teams that were ever put up.  I think they were that good, and they had to go through some great other teams to win those championships.

 

JACKSON:  For me watching Jordan’s Bulls, and obviously the Celtics with Bird and McHale and Parish, and those guys, D.J., watching Ainge and the great Showtime Lakers, those were incredible teams.  I look at this Heat team, and I, like Jeff, don’t diminish what they’ve been able to do.  Obviously, the competition is not the same as far as the teams that they’ve faced but you go through who you have to go through.  They’ve done it; they’ve done it with class, and at an incredible level, so I don’t think it diminishes their accomplishments at all.

 

Q. I saw a story on the website that refers to the 1994 NBA Finals 20 years ago as being sort of a forgotten Finals.  I presume part of that is because of the O.J. Chase, and part of it may be because of other factors.  Do you agree with that thinking that the Rockets Knicks series has been lost to history for circumstances that have nothing to do with basketball? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  Well, for me, it’s not lost on me.  I think about that, maybe not every day, but most days.  I’ve talked about this to Mark a lot because, to me, you’ll never convince me that those Knicks teams from when Pat Riley came to when he left to go to Miami – even though they didn’t accomplish winning a championship – that the players there weren’t champions, because they gave championship energy and effort and enthusiasm every day.  Unfortunately, they came up a few plays short.

 

But when you’re talking about Olajuwon in his prime, he’s as great to me as anybody that’s ever played.  Ewing didn’t match up a lot with Olajuwon in that series because we played him single coverage, and they doubled Ewing on every catch.  But it was still having two great, great competitors, players, humble people going at each other in that series.

 

I don’t remember anybody talking about O.J. in our locker room and those circumstances.  I think the nation was captivated by that.  I think the teams were locked in very much to that series.  It was hard fought.  Houston got home court.  They beat us both times in the regular season, and that gave them the advantage to have home court, and they made a couple more plays than we did, and I’m not bitter.

 

Q. Do you have any regrets about your stint with the Warriors?  Jeff, how does it feel having Mark back in the booth with you guys?  Obviously, it cuts into your time.

 

JACKSON:  Well, listen, there are no regrets.  I think about the three years there.  I think about the opportunity that was presented to me by the ownership, by management.  I think about the relationship with incredible players and what they were able to accomplish in three years and where that organization was and where it is today – you got a lot to be proud of.  Ownership, management, players, fans – it’s in a great place.  There are absolutely no regrets.

 

VAN GUNDY:  Before I get to what you were asking me, I would say the unfortunate thing when change comes about whether it’s players or coaches in the NBA, is more focus is given to how things ended than what was accomplished during their time together.  I think it speaks volumes that everybody wants to talk about how it ended between Mark and Golden State instead of taking a look at and examining Mark’s impact there in that he came into a team that, minus minor blips of success had been historically bad for two decades.  And he came in there and remade them.  Who would have thought Golden State would become an elite defensive team?

 

Defense in this league is about coaching and the ability to protect the basket, and I was utterly amazed how quickly Mark transformed them from a porous defense into an elite defense, and taking them to 47, 51 wins.  They hadn’t won 45-plus games in back-to-back years in forever.

 

So my focus when I look at that is what was accomplished versus how it ended.  Now, to get to your question about less air time, basketball fans in America are applauding the three-man booth so they don’t have to listen to my inane rants.  And believe me, no one is upset, myself included, that I do less talking.

 

Q. I know both of you have said that you don’t want to discuss any team’s interest in you or your interest in any job openings, and I definitely respect that.  But I did want to ask you, there’s been a groundswell from a vocal segment of Knicks fans that Phil Jackson reach out to you guys for the Knicks coaching vacancy, I just wanted to know if you had gotten wind of that at all, and how you react to that?

 

VAN GUNDY:  When you spend 13 years with an organization like I did, which gave you your first chance of being in the NBA, your first chance of being with a championship-caliber team, and your first chance to be a head coach, you’ll always be a Knick.

 

So there are a few box scores I check every morning right when I get up.  It’s obviously wherever my brother is coaching, Chicago, Charlotte, Golden State, the Rockets and the Knicks.  Those are my guys and those are my teams.  I’m always going to have great, great feelings for the Knicks, hoping that they have great success and really appreciate whenever I am back in New York, how positive the fans were to me when I was just getting started.  So I’ll always be so appreciative of how they treated me.

 

JACKSON:  Obviously, you hear the talk, even if it’s the New York Post reporting my inner circle made a statement, and I have no clue because my wife and kids have not spoken to the Post, so just to counter that.  It’s an incredible job.  It’s an incredible opportunity.  And I’m sure that Phil Jackson will do an outstanding job of finding the right coach to get that organization and that team headed back in the right situation.

 

Q. You guys mentioned some of those old Bulls teams.  It’s been 30 years since that ’84 draft that Michael Jordan came in.  Just wanted your thoughts and memories on facing him, and particularly at this time of year how good he could be.

 

JACKSON:  He’s the best I’ve ever faced, and he’s the best I’ve ever seen.  Flat out, there were times when Jeff can recall he single handedly beat us with the Knicks when other guys were not ready at that particular time.  He propelled them to be great and propelled them to championship level.  Absolutely incredible, fierce competitor.  Invited a winning spirit, and did everything on the floor to attempt to tear the heart out and put daggers into his opposition, and you can see the impact that he’s had not just in that time, but even in watching players after him, how they attempted to duplicate or put some of the things in their game that he had mastered.  But those were great Bulls teams.  Like I said, there are times when he single handedly put them in position to win it all.

 

VAN GUNDY:  Yeah, we used to kiddingly refer to as the triangle with the 23 in the triangle because that’s what made it run.  I just went back and looked at his numbers.  I think sometimes with great players you forget the longer they’re out how great they were.  I mean, this guy played huge minutes with the Washington Wizards when he was 39, and averaged over 20 points a game.  Played all 82 games, I think, when he was 38, averaged 22.6.  Then the run he had with the Bulls, I mean, this is legendary stuff.

 

But if you don’t take a peak back every once in a while, you can start to forget just how great he was.  To me, his post-up game and the triangle, how he got into the post, out of the triangle, to me was the hardest part to guard.  We didn’t have big two guards at that time in New York, but we did have big point guards.  We had Mark, we had Doc Rivers, and we had Derek Harper.  Starts with a great competitor, add the two, but we had no answer for him in the post.  Defensively it wasn’t an every play mentality, but he had the ability, along with Pippen and Grant and Rodman to turn it up such that it was    they could make it very difficult for you to find good shots.

 

So Jordan to me, it’s like Mark said, I don’t like to compare eras because I didn’t see some of the guys play live.  But with my own two eyes I loved going into Chicago Stadium, the old Chicago Stadium, because you came out of that tunnel three and a half or whatever it was, and you knew it was on.  In a great atmosphere against the greatest to ever play during my time in the NBA.  You know, it was an honor to be on the same floor.

 

Q. It’s been mentioned the East is much weaker than the West this year.  Do you think either team has an advantage?  The Heat have had a fairly easy pass through the playoffs so far versus the Spurs who have been much more tested in the regular season and the playoffs.  Do you think it gives either team an advantage?

 

JACKSON:  I think that’s a great question.  I think the Spurs being battle tested this year certainly puts them in position.  But I don’t look at it as just this year.  I think both teams are prepared for this moment because of their history, not just the history of 82 games and a playoff round, but the history – playoffs, battle-tested, championship.  So I don’t think it plays a role in who gets the advantage.  Both teams are prepared, both teams are ready, both teams are extremely well coached, and I think it sets up for an outstanding NBA Finals.

 

VAN GUNDY:  I would agree.  I think so much of it depends on Parker’s health.  If he’s healthy, obviously, the Spurs have a great opportunity.  If he’s hobbled, I think Miami has a better opportunity.  I think both teams are missing some people who had a major impact on last year’s series.  Gary Neal had some great moments for San Antonio.  Mike Miller, obviously, had some great moments, had a great run for Miami.

 

I think both teams are ready, like Mark said.  I don’t think either team has an advantage in that way.  I just think it’s going to be close, hard-fought, a tip of the ball here, a missed free throw there or an injury that crops up or doesn’t heal right could be the difference in who wins it.

 

Q. Do you think the Heat will have a problem with the Spurs bench with the way Diaw and Ginobili have been playing in the playoffs this year? 

 

JACKSON:  I believe that the Spurs bench creates match-up problems every single night the way that they’ve played all season long, the way that you cannot identify one guy that comes in and impacts a basketball game.  They do a great job of understanding their roles, being prepared and playing within a system.  I think the difference this year is Ginobili’s fresh body, the way he’s playing.  Diaw is certainly playing at a high level.  I think Patty Mills gives them a guy that can continue to play pick and roll off the bench, Belinelli’s ability to shoot the basketball.

 

But I think the Heat also have guys that are playing at a high level coming in off the bench.  It was amazing to watch Ray Allen this late in his career still playing with fresh, young legs and a live body.  So I think it’s going to be a chess match as far as both benches in the level that they play.  They very well could, when you talk about the benches, decide who wins this series.

 

VAN GUNDY:  I love how both teams are constructed.  They surround their best players with shooting and passing so that their best players have enough room to operate.  You look at San Antonio, the floor is spread and they may have weaknesses in some areas, but their guys can shoot and pass.  Same with Miami coming off the bench.  I love Norris Cole, his competitive streak.  I love how Battier comes off and can hit timely threes.  Ray Allen, Mark spoke about, one of the great shooters that’s ever played.

 

You need to have a team that fits together well, and both teams played beautiful offense because they have Hall of Fame, first-option players surrounded by skilled, smart shooting at the other positions.  I think that’s why this Finals is going to be absolutely beautiful basketball viewing for the fans.

 

Q. I wondered if you guys thought LeBron James was a better player this season than he was last season? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  I think you would actually have to coach him and watch every possession to really know that.  I think he’s been great from probably his second year on in this league, and he’s had incremental, steady improvement.  But at this date, I think it would be miniscule improvements and Erik Spoelstra would have to be the one to decide if he’s taken a dip in certain areas or he’s upgraded other areas.  That would be hard for me to be perceptive enough to see.

 

JACKSON:  I totally agree with Jeff.  He’s in rare air, and if you look at how great he’s been throughout the course of his career, to me it’s tough to say if he’s better this year than last year.  I just know he’s still great and he’s still playing at a level that we’ve only seen a couple of people play at in the history of this game.

 

Q. People always make a big deal with the idea of coaching in New York, and it takes a certain type of guy.  You guys worked at other places too.  And Steve Kerr came close to getting the job, a guy that got close to getting the job, a guy with no connection to New York other than Phil Jackson, and same thing with Derek Fisher.  Do we make too much of it?  Is it a little different in New York with all the demands, whether it’s from within the organization, with the media? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  I don’t know if too much is made about it, but I do believe that New York, their fan base, the media coverage helps a coach coach his team well.  I think there is a misnomer that New York demands someone famous.  I mean, I just don’t believe that.  I think they embrace – New York embraces, to me, everybody that works hard, competes, shows confidence in what they do and fights for their team, whether it’s player, coach, management person, owner, whatever it is.

 

So I think this idea to be a star before you come in there to either play or coach is wrong.  I think New York fans have a patience to allow someone to develop and get better.  I’ve always thought that the thinking of them having to win right away, and they wouldn’t undertake a rebuilding plan, New York fans – I’ve always disagreed with that as well.  I think they’re bright and they understand where a team is at at any particular time.  But they do want to see progress, and they want to see effort, and they want to see a combative spirit on the floor.  If you do that, I think you’ll be appreciated.

 

JACKSON:  Obviously, Jeff can answer the question better from a head coaching aspect in New York City, but as a kid that grew up in New York City and with the Knicks, everybody’s not made for New York City, whether you’re in management, whether you’re playing, whether you’re coaching.  I can remember as a kid watching very good to great players play other places, be traded to the Knicks and not be the same player, whereas some propelled when they got the opportunity to put on a Knicks uniform.  It’s something about the fans.  It’s something about the pressure.  It’s something about the media.

 

So to be quite honest, everybody is not built for it.  It’s a different animal.  It’s a different monster.  It takes special personality and a person understanding the things that come into play to a tee.  I thought, obviously I’m biased, but I thought Jeff did an incredible job juggling all of them during his time as head coach of the Knicks, but everybody’s not capable or qualified to do just that.

 

Q. You had a nice debate going about the Greg Oden, Kevin Durant draft class, do you think we’ll see more of that during The Finals?  And do you think you’ll fill in for Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on First Take

 

VAN GUNDY:  I can say that they broke the mold with those two guys, so there is no replacing those two.  But I would say this.  Mark and I agree on everything, basically, except what we don’t agree with which is about everything too.  I think we even agreed on that, but got bogged down in semantics.  I just, the idea that because everybody would have taken Oden first wouldn’t have made it the right selection.

 

Durant from his physical, to his great career, hey, you make mistakes in the Draft, and Oklahoma City was the beneficiary of a mistake by Portland.  You know, he’s proven out to be – I think he’s going to be one of the all-time, all-time greats.  I’m not sure what we were arguing about, but I remember Mark was wrong.

 

JACKSON:  Well, I will say that Stephen A. and Skip do an outstanding job, and they’re enjoyable to watch, but they do have substitutes so I think it would be a great opportunity.

 

What you see with Jeff and I, the thing I love about it is we don’t create the moment.  Sitting there talking with a mic, you get the same thing if you sat with us at a restaurant.  We’re going to grab different topics, we’re going to have different opinions, we’re going to honestly and respectfully agree or disagree, and it’s going to be entertaining.

 

So the thing I love about it is I was raised in a household that way, and Jeff is like family to me, so it’s something I truly enjoy doing.  I’m sure you’ll see – who knows what the topic will be, but you’ll certainly see plenty of that starting Game One.

 

Q. How useful a motivation is it to the Spurs to look back 12 months ago to what happened in The Finals?  As a coach, how would you channel that correctly to benefit the team? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  I think too much is made about last year and the motivation it provides for this year.  You don’t get to this point if you need some outside force to motivate you.  I also think Duncan’s quote about they’re going to,  I forget the exact words, but they’re going to do better and win this year, like that’s going to motivate LeBron James and Dwyane Wade like they were sitting there in the need of some motivation from the outside, external motivation.  I don’t think you need to channel anything.  I think both teams are ready.  Both teams are great, great teams.  I think the games and the script has yet to be written, but I think it’s going to be an interesting one.

 

JACKSON:  I believe your question was geared towards the Spurs, so that’s the way I’ll answer it.  But I believe that you don’t get caught up in what happened yesterday, meaning last year in The Finals, if you’re the Spurs.  They’ve already put together an incredible season post last year’s Finals experience.  So, my mindset would be don’t get caught up in yesterday and lose sight of the now.

 

The bottom line is they have an opportunity, and they are back in position to win a championship.  That’s old news and let’s move forward.  They’ve done an incredible job, and I think that’s been their mindset the entire season, and that’s why they’re in this position again.

 

Q. What do you both feel are the main differences between last year’s Heat and Spurs teams and this year’s and what do you think will be different in the series? 

 

VAN GUNDY:  I think Ginobili and Wade’s health are better, Parker’s health is not as good.  Both are missing shooting that had an impact on the series.  Neal for San Antonio, Miller for the Heat.  And I think to me the Kawhi Leonard-LeBron James match-up becomes even more fascinating the second time around because we know where James is at.  We don’t know where Leonard is going to reach.  But when you look at his demeanor, his improving skillset, this guy has a chance to be very, very, very good.  I love watching him compete against James.  So that’s still to me the best part of this series.

 

JACKSON:  I agree with Jeff.  I think the health of Wade and Ginobili will play a huge factor.  They’re at a different place right now.  I think the difference is the role players of San Antonio.  They’ve enhanced, like I said earlier, difference is having a guy like Patty Mills who really was a third point guard last year, played a huge part and had a great year for them in his ability to play out of pick and rolls.  Going and getting Belinelli, another guy that can stretch the floor and play out the pick and roll.  Last year pretty much Ginobili was the impact player off the bench creating offense.  This year it’s other guys, and they’ve got live weapons all around the floor.

 

With the Heat, it’s just Wade is playing at a high-level right now, and it takes the pressure off of LeBron to pretty much carry them.  I think that’s a huge difference.

Audiences that might not be able to catch tonight’s game on ABC aren’t out of luck.  The game will also be available on ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and WatchESPN.

 

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