Tag Archives: football

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-3-22-50-pm

Pat McMahon Brings International Resume to LouCity Squad

BY KEVIN KERNEN | PHOTO COURTESY FC CINCINNATI

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-3-22-50-pmFor the Louisville City faithful, Pat McMahon sticks out as a foe from both the Rochester Rhinos and, more recently, FC Cincinnati. He also brings both a flowing head full of hair and an international resume to a LouCity squad in need of defensive reinforcements.

A native of Chicago suburb Bolingbrook, Illinois, Pat played for youth team Ajax FC Chicago before enrolling in the Horizon League’s University of Illinois at Chicago in 2005. He stood out as a strong defender while starting every single game in his four seasons there, collecting a pair of league titles as well as reaching as high as sixth in the national polls in 2006. As is customary with talented college players, McMahon played in the amateur Premier Development League (PDL) during the summer months in 2005, 2006 and 2008, joining the Chicago Fire’s youth team in his final foray into the League.

After leaving UIC, where he would later return to finish his finance degree, Pat ventured down to Puerto Rico to trial for an expansion USL team, but nothing came of it. Returning to the Chicago area, Pat enlisted in Bridges FC, a program for unsigned and out-of-contract players that gives them the connections and visibility to different clubs in hopes of signing a professional contract. After a year of hard training with Bridges FC and an international trial with Danish club HB Køge that ended with a fractured ankle and a long layoff for rehabilitation, Pat joined semi-pro Australian team Wynnum District Wolves FC in 2011, along with two other players from the program.

While gaining valuable game experience, Pat found himself working a litany of jobs – from cleaning the team’s clubhouse, to bartending, to pouring concrete foundations – in order to keep his prospects of playing professionally alive. He featured an impressive 55 times over a pair of seasons, winning the Brisbane-centric regular season league title in his first year and taking the playoff trophy the succeeding season, all while earning Player of the Year honors. Although Pat was a fan of the lifestyle and climate, he had outgrown the league, and yet the option of the A-League (Australia’s top division) was unlikely due to the gauntlet of paperwork and visas needed to become a full professional. On a trip abroad with Bridges FC to the quite literally polar opposite side of the globe, Pat earned his first professional contract.

Ljungskile, Sweden, is home to an eponymous club, which has been in the nation’s second division most of its existence. Ljungskile Sport Klub signed Pat ahead of their 2013 campaign, having previously penned Pat Hopkins, a teammate of Pat’s in Australia. Bringing his imposing presence in defense, Pat helped shore up the injury-blighted team’s defense, and the team maintained their second-division status despite having stared down the possibility of relegation.

Pat returned home after his contract wasn’t renewed for the following season. Having played abroad for the last three years, he sought something closer to home and an opportunity to trial with the Rochester Rhinos came up.

In Pat’s first season with the Rhinos in 2014, he took part in 26 contests en route to a sixth place regular season finish and an appearance in the playoff quarterfinals. Following a competition restructuring in the league for the 2015 season (largely due to an influx of expansion teams, including Louisville City), the Rhinos dominated in the newly formed Eastern Conference. In 28 regular season league games, the Rhinos conceded only 15 goals and lost just once before going on to top LouCity in the Conference Championship. Pat and company would then go on to edge Western Conference representatives LA Galaxy II in an extra time USL Final, thanks in large part to Pat’s presence in the back line, which ran to 27 starts, including going all 120 minutes in the Final, a record that Pat hangs his hat on.

Finding himself again out of contract after the 2015 Championship season, he joined upstarts FC Cincinnati for the following season, and again found himself well up the team sheet, netting 27 appearances in the league. After a big turnover in players between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Pat remained in the squad but found himself surplus to requirements with only 92 minutes of playing time on the 2017 season.

Following the path of his former teammate Luke Spencer, who switched the year previous, Pat swapped sides of the USL’s most exciting rivalry and is now a member of LouCity’s team, fortifying the already formidable defense that counts Sean Totsch (a former teammate in Rochester and his roommate for this season) and Paco Craig as centerpieces, as well as fellow signee and first-year pro Alexis Souahy.

Thanks in part to his being a native of the Chicago area, Pat enjoys listening to Motown and blues music, and collecting records in down time. Fueled by his years abroad, Pat also enjoys traveling in the offseason and seeing old friends. During the season, he likes to bond with teammates, something that will keep him in good stead with Coach O’Connor.

For what some may call a “journeyman career,” Pat has been successful most of the places he has played and presents an eminently likeable personality. He considers himself fortunate to have been on a number of strong sides, and on top of all of that, he will definitely move the needle when it comes to follicle excellence.

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-3-27-28-pm

SOCCER 101 LESSON 1: BASIC RULES

BY KEVIN KERNEN

Debuting in this month’s edition, we’re going to take a look at the rules, history, culture and competitions among other facets of the worldwide soccer tapestry. For the uninitiated, consider this section a crash course in understanding the world’s most popular sport; for the indoctrinated, you’ll probably learn something new as well.

The rules for the game of soccer (referred to as some variation of football virtually everywhere else) are governed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), not FIFA. There are 17 rules that explicitly outline every aspect of the game, and as a certified referee, I can assure you it’s not an easy compendium to internalize. For your sanity, I will distill the first five rules for you here, along with some commentary.

RULE 1: THE FIELD OF PLAY

Much like in baseball, parts of the dimensions of the field can vary. The length of the pitch (a term unique to soccer that we’ll explore in a future issue) can vary between 100 and 130 yards, while the width is somewhere between 50 and 100 yards. Yes, you can have a square pitch.

At the end of each half is the penalty area, also called the goalie box, 18-yard box, or simply the box. This is the area that the goalkeeper is allowed to handle the ball in. A foul committed inside this area results in a penalty kick (we’ll get to that next edition). The smaller box inside of the penalty area is called the goal area, and is sometimes referred to as the 6-yard box or the six.

Other than that, there is the penalty mark, measuring 12 yards from the center of the goal. This is where penalty kicks are taken from. If you’re wondering what the arc is at the top of the penalty area, that’s for during penalty kicks. Players must stay 10 yards away from the spot until the moment the ball is kicked, and that arc is the area of exclusion outside of the penalty area itself. For penalty decisions, this arc is not considered part of the penalty area.

RULE 2: THE BALL

Every team at LouCity’s level uses a size 5 soccer ball. Fun Tidbit: Colors of balls vary between manufacturers, but in case of snow, match officials will break out an orange neon or yellow ball. Let’s move on.

RULE 3: THE PLAYERS

There are 11 players per team, including a goalkeeper. The 10 players that aren’t the goalie are often referred to as outfield players. In the United Soccer League, where LouCity plays, each team is permitted three substitutes, a convention the USL only adopted last season. Once a player is subbed off the field, they are not allowed to re-enter.

RULE 4: THE PLAYERS’ EQUIPMENT

While policy on shirt sponsors varies from league to league, players are required to have:

1. Shirt with sleeves

2. Shorts

3. Socks

4. Shin Guards

5. Approved Cleats (sometimes called boots)

This ensemble is often called a kit.

Make sure to check back next time as I’ll be covering the contentious area of fouls, bookings, and sendings off.


For top teams in Europe, kit sponsorships are lucrative propositions that can yield eye-watering sums. For instance, in 2014, England’s Manchester United (one of the world’s most valuable sports team) signed a seven year, $559 Million deal with Chevrolet, per Forbes.com. On top of that, kit suppliers (Nike and Adidas being the most affluent) splash out even more ridiculous amounts for the right to manufacture and sell teams’ shirts. Another top European team, Spain’s Real Madrid penned a 10 year, $1.6 billion deal with Adidas to produce kits for Los Blancos.

tom-jurich-ftr-091515-getty_1ae9vc2vsgegg1od6wlxzai1jo

The Endless Story of Tom Jurich

By Zach McCrite

It never ends.

Every month, I am given carte blanche to write about whatever I want to write about in this space. My goal, obviously, is to write about what people in the community want to read about when they open a Kentuckiana-based sports magazine.

And every month, seemingly, here I am, finding myself writing more about the ongoing sagas (plural) that are going on at the University of Louisville.

Some of you may be as fatigued by my writings in this space as Cardinal fans are by the ostensibly-boundless stories portraying their favorite school, former athletic director and former basketball coach in a negative light – in part by their own actions.

Since I last penned a column for this space, those stories continued.

It can be fatiguing for fans and writers alike. But, it’s the story.

Courier Journal (formerly known as The Courier-Journal) and ESPN released exhaustive stories that focused on Tom Jurich, the much celebrated, much debated, fired AD at UofL. I was one of a handful of local media members interviewed in Tim Sullivan’s Courier Journal article about Jurich’s business tactics.

I could’ve used this space to give my loyal readers the inside scoop before anyone else got it. In fact, I should have.

But, up until last month, I had vowed to never speak of it publicly. There were numerous reasons I never did up until recently. First, shortly after the meeting, I felt like Jurich was doing what he felt he had to do in helping keep me from a potential job opening. After sulking in my new reality as it pertained to missing out on a great opportunity, I realized it was business. It affected me massively, but that was his prerogative. I just didn’t know he had that power at the time.

And, if we’re being real, there was a part of me that was proud of it. And it was newfound pride. I was proud that, before the age of 30, Jurich thought I carried a big enough stick in the market to sway public opinion—an opinion he apparently with which he did not agree. Up until that point, I never thought that much of my own ability. Jurich considered me credible.

But, the much more important reason I never went public with this story, a story that dates back over seven years ago now, is this: had I gone public, listeners would take every opinion I had from that point forward and would perceive that I had a bias against UofL athletics that simply did not exist.

I was determined not to let it dictate my opinion on matters of which listeners turned on the radio to hear me. I had gained the trust of many listeners in the area. In the media business, there is nothing more valuable than your listeners’ trust. Why would I want to betray that by telling a story that would make people think I am now anti-UofL even though I wasn’t?

Sure, people inside the media knew of my run-ins (plural, I got calls from his department many times over the years along with many other media members) with the University of Louisville and Jurich, in particular. But, I always thought it would look like sour grapes if I ever told the story publicly.

AN EXAMPLE OF JURICH’S POWER OVER LOCAL MEDIA

Here’s what happened: I met with Jurich in his office after hearing he was, perhaps, being a roadblock to a job I thought I already had – new afternoon show co-host on WKRD 790 AM back in 2010. I was accused by Jurich, mainly, of being too critical of Steve Kragthorpe, the coach who had, by that time, already been fired by Tom, himself.

My basic rebuttal was that it was basically impossible not to be critical since, you know, Kragthorpe took a program fresh off an Orange Bowl victory and promptly went 15-21 in three years as head coach of the Cardinals including the most embarrassing loss I, to this day, have ever seen at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, a 38-35 defeat to Syracuse. At that time, that was the biggest upset, according to Vegas sports books, in college football history. Louisville was a 39.5-point favorite that day. How could I not be critical?

“Besides, Tom,” I recall asking him, “you’re firing of Steve validates my criticisms of him, does it not?” Jurich responded by implying that I helped shape the public narrative of a coach that didn’t deserve it. Whatever.

After more sparring, I walked out of that meeting knowing that I wasn’t going to be the host of a show I had already been tabbed by radio station management to co-host.

It was my first real sniff of how much power Jurich had when it came to local media coverage. Of course, if you were a diehard, Louisville-never-needs-to-be-criticized-because-I-simply-love-them-that-much sort of Cardinal fan, Tom loved you. That meant he didn’t love me. Oh well.

In the interest of fairness, Jurich’s side of this story is that he doesn’t remember this meeting.

And, for the record, I don’t consider Tom being a ‘bully’ to me. I guess it was just his prerogative to not have me on airwaves for which he had at least some level of control. I was just a 29-year-old who was too dumb to understand that this is how it works in some markets where the media entity has to make nice with one of their highest-paying customers or else face the consequences.

Jurich and I were always respectful of each other in public after that – shaking hands when we saw each other. But, Jurich made his feelings about me well known just in that simple handshake. Either that, or he regularly shakes hands with the strength of a wet newspaper.

Luckily, the people in power at iHeartRadio (which was Clear Channel at the time), while wanting to keep their client (Jurich) happy, also felt me valuable enough to keep me around.

And thanks to them and Matt Jones, who was starting up a new radio show on a different station in the same building, I was still able to secure a radio gig without much downtime, becoming Matt’s first partner on “Kentucky Sports Radio.” Not long after that, I was tabbed as a radio host for ESPN St. Louis.

In hindsight, it was a blessing.

I only put that story here in the interest of giving you my version of what went down in more detail than what was penned in the Courier Journal story. And my story is tame compared to others that have had less-than-favorable run-ins with the guy who many thought was the most powerful man in the city of Louisville for the better part of two decades.

JURICH’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS GO UNMATCHED

That, however, does not preclude me from applauding Jurich on many fronts.

He was undoubtedly the head man in turning Floyd Street from a road known for its ugly silos to a road full of beautiful sports-hosting facilities worth well into the nine-figures in total.

He also was aware before many others in his position all over the country, that women’s sports not only mattered in the grand scope of college athletics, but he was also successful in making it known to companies who donated to such endeavors that it was the “long game” to which they would see their return on investment.

The fired athletic director also gets a bad rap for how he handled the initial negotiations in the lease that secured UofL as the anchor tenant at the KFC Yum Center. The deal he helped negotiate for the university, according to ESPN, meant UofL kept “88 percent of premium seat licensing, 97 percent of suite sales, all program revenue and half of concessions.”

This was a deal to which both the city and the university agreed. A sweetheart deal. And isn’t that what you’d want if you had a negotiator working a lease for you? That’s what Jurich did for the University of Louisville.

Where Jurich misses is claiming in the same ESPN story that Louisville “took all the risk.”

Please. Where is that risk? Were you afraid that the three percent of suite sales you had to give away was going to cripple your program?

I also don’t blame him for being, at the very least, a massive obstacle for the city of Louisville ever being home to an NBA team. Jurich’s sweetheart deal with the KFC Yum Center came with priorities that effectively left the NBA zero options to place a team in Louisville.

According to the original lease, the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball programs had control of the KFC Yum Center not only on days of home basketball games, but also on the day before and the day after each game.

In other words, for every UofL game at “The Bucket,” UofL had reserved the arena for three days. That meant that there was absolutely no way that an NBA team could effectively schedule 41 home games at the KFC Yum Center.

Access denied. A win for Jurich.

Jurich and the school both wanted to keep an NBA team from dipping their proverbial hands in the UofL cookie jar full of donors and sponsors that Jurich and his team had filled up to the brim.

And, again, who can blame Jurich for making that deal. He was hired to fill up that once-empty cookie jar. And keep it full.

There was so much money falling out of that cookie jar thanks to Jurich, in fact, that former president James Ramsey was sliding that money, seemingly under the table, to Jurich in deals that were probably less than forthcoming to the taxpaying public.

Of course, that story is child’s play compared to all the other shady dealing’s the former school president had, which all came to light when an audit of the university’s finances became public earlier this year.

JURICH’S FIRING IS STILL JUSTIFIED

Tom’s contract reads like that of a made mafia man. That is, if the mafia ever put anything in writing.

Jurich’s contract leaves the university with basically no route to not pay him at least a very hefty portion of his remaining contract – a sign of the lockstep in which Jurich and Ramsey regularly danced.

The contract addendum, agreed upon in 2011, says UofL has to pay Jurich a full year’s salary even if he’s fired “for cause.” Translation: It’s more than likely going to be a seven-figure payday for Jurich. Just for being fired.

I bet if you look close, you can still see the marks Ramsey left on Jurich’s back and vice versa. They scratched each other’s backs constantly, it seemed.

That’s not Tom’s fault. In fact, I applaud him for getting that installed as part of his contract. Some might even say he earned it.

But that doesn’t mean his firing wasn’t justified.

The new Board of Trustees at the University of Louisville, led in part by one of the university’s biggest donors and supporters, Papa John Schnatter, put into place checks and balances that didn’t appear to be in place before their arrival.

Part of those checks and balances included being held accountable for what employees underneath your jurisdiction may have done to harm the school’s financial wellbeing and image.

In other words, a good portion of the reason Pitino was fired – hiring people who didn’t have the university’s best interests at heart – is one of the main reasons Jurich was fired as well. He hired Pitino and is now on the hook for having, potentially, two major NCAA violations happen under his watch.

This is where Jurich’s leadership seemed to cease. As scandals mounted and things seemed to be spiraling out of control at UofL, plenty of opportunities arose for Jurich, the usually-unabashed leader, to take over a contentious press conference or a rocky board meeting.

Instead, Jurich took a back seat, leaving people like Ramsey, Postel, Pitino or contracted NCAA compliance expert Chuck Smrt to take the lead role, interjecting only when asked a specific question and, even then, sharing only brief responses, mostly.

But hey, if it was a press conference about a Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion update or UofL’s now-ill-timed announcement of a $160 million apparel deal with the school, there was Jurich, front and center, salivating over a hot microphone, accepting rounds of applause and appreciation.

And, make no mistake, the fearless leader should be there telling us all about the good times.

The fearless leader should also be front and center when the university is in turmoil. The fans should have heard from him in those times before anyone else. They needed to.

Regardless, there are many out there who believe that Jurich has done nothing wrong, including many of the same media members who sold out to be mouthpieces for the university in exchange for job security.

Nevertheless, all the positive things that Jurich accomplished at the University of Louisville should, over time, supercede the damage he was, at best, complacent in helping prevent.

And I think they will. Down the road, when time heals the wounds, they’ll build a statue of him. And they should.

The constant reminder of Jurich’s footprint on this university is all up and down Floyd Street.

It never ends.


NEVERTHELESS, ALL THE POSITIVE THINGS THAT JURICH ACCOMPLISHED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE SHOULD, OVER TIME, SUPERCEDE THE DAMAGE HE WAS, AT BEST, COMPLACENT IN HELPING PREVENT. AND I THINK THEY WILL. DOWN THE ROAD, WHEN TIME HEALS THE WOUNDS, THEY’LL BUILD A STATUE OF HIM. AND THEY SHOULD.

Want to find Zach on Twitter? Just follow @BigEZ.

screen-shot-2017-12-28-at-5-06-07-pm

Thabane Sutu’s Winding, Winning Path

The path to American second division soccer for players and coaches alike is usually a long and winding one. That goes tenfold for Thabane Sutu, the accomplished yet unassuming goalkeeper coach for Louisville City FC.

BY KEVIN KERNEN | PHOTOS COURTESY EM DASH PHOTOGRAPHY

A native of Lesotho, a country of two million and about the size of Maryland, Thabane Sutu comes from modest South Africa beginnings.

One of two sons to a nurse and civil servant, he had his fair share of chores to do around the house before he could play soccer in the streets after school days, something that all boys would join in on. While he had a comparatively comfortable childhood, Sutu didn’t start playing organized soccer until he was spotted by South African coaching legend and then-Lesotho National coach April “Styles” Phumo at age 15, when the coach founded an amateur team, Arsenal FC, in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru.

After school they would train in the national stadium; it was a side project for Phumo. It was here Sutu cultivated a dream to go on and play professionally, not something many Lesotho players had the opportunity to do. His Arsenal team had to begin play at the third and bottom rung of the completely amateur soccer pyramid in Lesotho before quickly gaining promotion to the premier A Division in 1988.

While cutting a swath through the ranks of Mosotho soccer, Arsenal gained a reputation as a hard, grafting team and were disliked amongst the rest of the established soccer guard. Sutu was an important part of the team, although not usually the best or most physically gifted player on the pitch, he was a student of the game and always eager to learn, a trait he has yet to lose.

Sutu was part of the Arsenal team that ran roughshod over Lesotho soccer and won the Lesotho top flight in 1989, 1991 and 1993, and they claimed the domestic cup twice in his career there. With this success, came continental competition in the African Cup of Champions (equivalent to UEFA’s Champions League) and in the African Cup Winners’ Cup (comparable to the secondary UEFA Europa League). The 1993 Cup Winners’ Cup campaign would prove to be a turning point for Sutu.

Coming from such a small and unproven soccer playing nation, Arsenal had to win a qualifying home and away series in order to join the continents’ elite clubs in the competition proper. Their first matchup was against Mozambique title holders Clube de Gaza, in which Arsenal stole a 2-2 draw away from home and earned a 1-1 tie on home soil to advance on goal differential, a massive upset in the competition for an amateur team.

The result saw the Lesotho minnows drawn against Egyptian giants Al-Ahly in the succeeding round of 16, a gargantuan task. Arsenal were staring down an impossible game, but went out and still performed admirably, miraculously only conceding a single goal at home, largely thanks to what Sutu called one of his best performances as a player. At that moment, Al-Ahly was looking for a goalkeeper to backup club stalwart and national goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir, and after a yeoman’s effort in the first leg, Al-Ahly took a closer look at Sutu. during their reception for Arsenal in the run-up to the decisive second leg, they gauged his interest, something that took Sutu off guard.

“I didn’t know how to react (to) something that had never happened before. I was thinking ‘Wow, all the things that I had been dreaming about have literally just happened right here, right now.’ ”

He didn’t give them a commitment in Egypt that day, however, because he needed to speak with his coach and family back home.

Sutu signed with the 39-time league champs on June 23, 1993, realizing his childhood dream.

It was a big change for the young man from South Africa going from playing in front of a few thousand in his native land to training in front of 20,000 people and playing in front of attendances that regularly pushed six digits, not to mention adjusting to an entirely different culture and language. The biggest club in all of Africa and the Middle Eastern soccer world, Al-Ahly has no fewer than 100 trophies in their cabinet from domestic and continental competitions, and maintained a high level of excellence in part thanks to their manager, Englishman Allan Harris. Bringing his experience as a player with more than 300 games of experience in English football and also serving as an assistant under Terry Venables at league-winning Barcelona, Harris would influence Sutu’s coaching acumen more than any other figure. Although he never quite broke through to the first team, Sutu did gain dozens of starts for the Egyptian giants.

During this exciting time, Sutu captained the Lesotho national team as well, racking up nearly 30 caps between 1994 and 1997. Where the most senior player generally assumes the captaincy, Sutu gained the armband in a more unexpected way. In an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier 1994 against a Cameroon team fresh off a World Cup showing in the United States, and after a long flight from Cairo to Johannesburg, Sutu made his way back to Lesotho to find the national players in a dispute with the national association over unpaid stipends. Despite Cameroon already being in Lesotho, the game was at grave risk of being called off, something that wasn’t unheard of in the cobbled-together nature of soccer in the region at the time. Not one to waste his long journey home, Sutu brokered a deal between the association and the players to split the gate receipts, and as a result of his work between the players and the association, he was handed the captain’s armband, all of this before the match even transpired. The game was a shock 2-0 win for the hosts, a result that Sutu says was the proudest of his four-year tenure between the posts for his national team.

After a respectable excursion abroad, Thabane decided to hang up his gloves in 1998 and return to his roots at Arsenal to coach the nation’s top youth prospects, something he knew he wanted to do the duration of his career. The move meant he was closer to his eventual wife, Motselisi, whom he met the previous year. The daughter of a Presbyterian ministry director, Motselisi found herself back and forth between Lesotho and Louisville, Kentucky, where her father studied. After several month of coaching in 1998, and after long consideration, Sutu left his position in the Basotho national setup coaching youth prospects to move to the U.S. with his soon-to-be wife and to study exercise science at the University of Louisville, a move he would reflect on as a great decision.

Despite leaving all of his accomplishments and notoriety a continent behind, Sutu would return to the coaching ranks soon enough. He joined the Trinity High School coaching staff in 2000 after he was spotted playing pickup soccer one day in Seneca park and played briefly for a local team, the Cosmos. He moved on to local youth team United 1996 FC the following year, after he was brought on by Founder/Director Mohamed Fazlagic, where Sutu still holds the position of technical director.

Fast forward almost 15 years: Sutu was invited to talk to the representatives of the newest USL-Pro team, Louisville City FC, looking to start play in 2015. GM Bjorn Bucholtz and Head Coach James O’Connor were looking for a goalkeeping coach. The initial talks were more informal, with O’Connor and Sutu feeling out each other’s coaching philosophy. Sutu was asked back for a more formal interview along with a couple of other goalkeeping coaches, and Sutu won the job. He slotted into the coaching setup well, joining Daniel Byrd as the third member of the staff, satisfied with the established hierarchy.

In addition to being the goalkeeping coach for Louisville City FC and technical director at United 1996 FC, he also holds the position of co-head coach at Louisville Collegiate High School.

What a winding path indeed.

huxkc-so-79

KENTUCKY HOOPS SAYS GOOD-BYE TO EPPS AND AKHATOR, HELLO TO A YOUNGER BUNCH 

BY STEVE KAUFMAN 


Matthew Mitchell will start from scratch this year, without star power but with a lot of depth


John Calipari loses – and replaces – key players every year on his Kentucky men’s basketball team. But for Matthew Mitchell, coach of the UK women’s team, losing key players can be extremely disruptive.

And that is the case for this year’s squad. Gone by graduation from last year’s nationally ranked team that won 22 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament are Makayla Epps, the dynamic floor leader and shotmaker, and Evelyn Akhator, the imposing inside presence.

Epps scored 17.7 points a game and shot 35.5 percent from three-point range. Akhator added 16 points and nearly 11 rebounds a game. She was the third pick overall in the WNBA draft, by the Dallas Wings. The fiery Epps was drafted in the third round by the Chicago Sky.

So, in other words, much to replace.

The burden falls on two double-figure scorers from last year, juniors Taylor Murray and Maci Morris. Both are sweet-shooting backcourt players, and Murray, in particular, is as fast a player as anyone in the country. She also was a McDonald’s All-American (a reference all of Big Blue Nation is familiar with) while in high school in Odenton, Md.

Of all returning players from last year’s team, Murray carries over the most points per game (12.2), rebounds (4.9 a game), assists (3.9 a game) and steals (2.0 a game). Morris averaged 11.8 a game and led the team with 53 made threes.

Whether either one has the dynamic, aggressive floor leadership abilities that Epps brought to the court will have to remain to be seen. But the early season has produced a 3-0 record and a national ranking. And the two veterans combined for 34 points in the third win of the season, 71-54 over the University of Montana. Murray added 12 rebounds in that game.

Another returner, senior Jessica Hardin (a transfer from Bellarmine), was leading the team in three-point average a year ago before suffering a concussion that ended her junior season. Mitchell regards her value as more than just shooting. She’s an energetic hustler, as well.

As is Jaida Roper, a 5-6 sophomore whose slim statistics last year probably weren’t an indication of how much Mitchell hopes she’ll bring to the court this year.

And then there’s replacing Akhator. In early season play, 6-3 freshman Dorie Harrison has been asserting herself. She had nine rebounds in 20 minutes in the season opener, a 101-point effort over Sacramento State; and another eight rebounds against Montana.

But the team suffered a severe loss, even before the season began, with a knee injury to Ogechi Anyagaligbo, a 6-1 junior who transferred to UK from SUNY Stony Brook, where she was the America East Conference freshman of the year, averaging 10 points and nine rebounds.

Other bright spots in the season-opening win over Sacramento State were Makenzie Cann, a 6-1 senior guard who scored 17 points, making six of nine shots, four of six from three; and Tatyana Wyatt, a 6-2 freshman forward, who scored 13 points in 15 minutes off the bench.

Cann had another double-figure game against Gardner-Webb, scoring 10 points (with four-of-seven shooting) and with seven rebounds in the team’s 72-34 route. Last year, Cann played inside a lot, because of her height. The feeling is, the deeper talent on this year’s squad will enable her to roam the floor, where her height will make her a tough matchup for most teams.

And Roper, making the most of her off-the-bench opportunities, came in against Sacramento State and threw up six shots in 21 minutes, scoring nine points. She scored another 10 against Gardner- Webb, and 14 against Montana.

But the season’s early non-conference games in November are just that. Early games in November. Coach Mitchell will remind you it’s a long season, especially in the SEC, arguably the strongest women’s basketball league in the country. South Carolina is the reigning national champion, last year ending the Connecticut Huskies’ four-year reign. The Gamecocks beat another SEC school, Mississippi State (who knocked off the Huskies in the semifinals), in the national championship game.

Last year, Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri, Auburn and Tennessee also made the tournament (as well, of course, as Kentucky and the two championship finalists). And Tennessee, when coached by the late, legendary Pat Summitt, was probably the country’s most elite program, with eight national championships and five other losses in the championship game. Summitt’s gone, but Tennessee still brings the weird-colored magic.

But Kentucky is not looking in from the outside. Mitchell can do much more than dance like Elvis. His Kentucky teams have won 71 percent of their games. He has led them to eight straight NCAA tournament appearances, developing the games of such UK superstars as Victoria Dunlap and A’dia Mathies. His teams have reached three Elite Eights. He’d probably laugh at the notion, though, that this might be his toughest rebuilding year. He’d probably say that every year is tough and challenging.

Calipari’s teams are always loaded with promising freshmen. Mitchell is not without the same on his team this year. Keke McKinney, a 6-1 frosh from Knoxville, Tenn., is learning a new role. She played the 1 or 2 in high school, but Mitchell wants her out on the court, probably in the 3 position. Even as a freshman, though, on a team dominated by upperclassmen, she has shown the vocal, aggressive personality that made Epps such a compelling presence during her UK tour.

Ten players played double-figure minutes against Sacramento State, eight more against Gardner-Webb, and seven against Montana. That’s a preview of the depth Mitchell expects to get from his team this year. Of course, minutes on the floor tend to condense as players’ strengths and weaknesses emerge and the level of competition gets tougher. Kentucky basketball fans have become used to seeing every year how Calipari goes from 10 or 11 players early to a nucleus of seven or eight in the cauldron of the real season. But Mitchell has indicated just the opposite tendency, especially with this team.

Without a breakthrough, dominant player – like Dunlap, Mathies or Epps – he’s counting on the strength of this team being its depth. The ability to bring in fresh legs without losing competitiveness. It’s a factor that always plays well against less-deep teams, who begin gasping for breath and tugging on their shorts, especially in up-tempo games. It’s what he expects to see this year.

But is that how it will play out? Coaches who preach depth and balance are always hoping that somebody steps up and claims superstar status, providing the bulk of minutes, points and leadership to take their teams deep into the NCAA tournament.

Does Mitchell have that superstar? Might it be Murray, or Morris, or maybe Wyatt, or Cann, or Harrison? The beginning of every season is always rife with unknown possibilities. The fun of the season is seeing how all that plays out.

Even more fun than one of Mitchell’s stank legs or hammer-time dances, baggy Hammer pants and all.

brain-scan

CTE: Let’s Use Our Head on This

screen-shot-2017-11-06-at-5-14-34-pmBy Jim Biery

When I was seven, I was a typical kid who couldn’t wait to go outside and play with my friends. As I ran down the hallway and started down the hardwood stairs, I was also trying to save time and put on my shirt in the process. Halfway down, I missed a step and went head-first into the next to last step. After the crying was done and Mom had wiped all the tears away, I went next-door to play.

After a couple more pals showed up, we were ready to ride bikes. But the mother of my next-door neighbor said before he could go play he had to pick up the mess he left in the basement. We all joined together to help him out. Once we got to the basement, things began to change.

When I tried to look around for the toys we had to pick up, all I saw was black. I looked at the light in the corner and it looked just like the sun. No details of the lamp but just a round sphere of color. After a few failed attempts to see anything on the floor, I went back home and told my Mom what was happening. She took me straight to the family doctor, and he confirmed my first of a handful of concussions.

So, why am I telling you about something that happens to just about every kid in the world? (After all, most kids will fall, run into something or get hit in the head with an object.) It’s because, fairly recently, we have become aware of what multiple concussions can do to the human brain. It’s called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

Let’s start with understanding exactly what I’m talking about.

The definition of a concussion is temporary unconsciousness caused by a blow to the head. The term is also used loosely of the aftereffects, such as confusion or temporary incapacity. A concussion is also know as as mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).

CTE, according to a recent Mayo Clinic report, is “a diagnosis only made at the time of an autopsy studying sections of the brain. CTE is a very rare condition. … CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease for which there is no treatment.”

The symptoms of CTE are difficulty thinking, impulsive behavior, depression, short term memory loss, and difficulty planning and carrying out tasks.

If you ask anyone who may be over the age of 50 (yours truly would fit into this category), these are the same symptoms of everyday life. So, why is football getting the lion’s share of the blame for CTE?

There have been a growing number of parents who have decided that football is too dangerous to play and have kept their kids out of the sport. Of course, parents are making these decisions to try and protect their kids, however you might be surprised to know what sports and activities bring the most danger to participants.

Jennifer Graham of Descret News reported researchers’ results in an article from April 2016. Researchers analyzed ER visits between 2003-2016 dealing with head trauma and concussions.

They put sports and activities into six categories: Contact sports like football, soccer, etc.; roller sports; skiing; equestrian; aquatic; and snow boarding.

The number one leader with 45 percent of ER visits was equestrian sports. Interpersonal contact sports was second with 20 percent of the reported visits. If we applied the same protective logic to results like these, little Suzy would never get that pony she has always wanted.

Listen, I’m not trying to say that riding horses or skateboarding or even snow skiing are inherently as dangerous as contact sports, but the only difference is that no one – to my knowledge – is taking actions to try and persuade people not to participate in these activities if someone chooses to. So why are we doing so with football?


THANKFULLY FOR ME, MY MOTHER DECIDED SHE WOULD NOT PLACE ANY OF HER KIDS IN THE PREVERBIAL PLASTIC BUBBLE. UNFORTUNATELY FOR HER, I WAS JUMPING OFF ROOFS AS A CHILD.


Concussions can be caused by all kinds of events, butwhat I’m wanting people to focus on is not to limit what a loved one does because of fear of what could happen, but to do research and continue to improve safety features of any given sport. Many steps have been taken to improve safety. For instance, kids under the age of 12 playing soccer are not allowed to use their heads to advance or try to score a goal. This is called a “header” and can cause damage to both the heads and necks of young soccer enthusiasts.

We can’t always prevent kids from doing what makes them happy and what they enjoy. My grandmother was so protective of my mother that she was not allowed to even ride a roller coaster. She told me this as I was growing up and said that it was something she wished she had done as a child.

Thankfully for me, my mother decided she would not place any of her kids in the preverbial plastic bubble. Unfortunately for her, I was jumping off roofs as a child. I would, of course, jump my bicycle over anything I could find to jump: trash cans, sewer pipes, even other kids! Yes, this did lead to some pretty gruesome crashes. Once while riding my bike no handed, I hit a sewer cap and flipped over the handle bars and knocked myself out.

Let’s not bury the sport of football to try and solve the concussion issue in kids. That’s like throwing the baby out which the bath water logic. How about we teach proper tackling, improve equipment and look for other ways to play sports of all kinds more safely instead of just telling people not play what they want.

screen-shot-2017-11-06-at-5-08-53-pm

LOUISVILLE CITY FC LAUNCHES “LOUCITY BOURBON BRIGADE”

New supporter volunteer group seeking people willing to assist.

Louisville City FC has launched a new volunteer group for supporters who wish to assist in the growth of the United Soccer League club and soccer throughout the region.

Christened the LouCity Bourbon Brigade in honor of the region’s rich bourbon heritage, this new supporter-led volunteer group will have the opportunity to work directly with the LouCity front office and team by helping grow the soccer club’s supporter base.

LouCity Bourbon Brigade members will be invited to:

• Become a Lou City ambassador and assist and help staff LCFC events

• Use their own contacts and networks in the community to help expand the LouCity season ticket base

• Use their experience to assist LouCity in generating new season ticket sales leads, season ticket renewals and assist with promotional events and campaigns throughout the year

• Support the club’s charitable and community-oriented efforts

• Assist in the club’s efforts to have a new stadium built in Butchertown

Fans who join the new volunteer group will be rewarded for their time and efforts with recognition, great rewards and prizes and unique money-can’t-buy LouCity experiences including:

• An opportunity to meet the team and coaching staff at an exclusive event

• Attend a closed-door team practice and a team talk from Coach James O’Connor

• Earn exclusive club merchandise

• Have their photo taken with their favorite LouCity player

• Earn a chance to travel with the club to a road game and be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a trip to an English Premiership match

• Help introduce the team as part of the Bourbon Brigade Tunnel on match day

Supporters interested in joining the new group can apply at the club’s website: www. louisvillecityfc.com/bourbonbrigade. Membership of the group is by application only and open to anyone 18 or over. Interviews for successful applicants will take place in November.

“This is a unique opportunity for our most dedicated fans to get even closer to the club by dedicating their time, effort and contacts in the community to help LouCity and soccer in general in our region grow and flourish,” said Louisville City FC Chief Operating Officer Steve Livingstone. “If you love Louisville City and soccer, and have some time to spare, we’d love to hear from you by applying at the LouCity website. There are some great rewards, experiences and recognition for those supporters who get involved.”

Supporters can apply to join the volunteer group at www.louisvillecityfc.com/bourbonbrigade or call Jon Davis at 502.384.8799, ext. 114 or email him at jdavis@louisvillecityfc.com.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-7-14-23-pm

College Spotlight | Jaire Alexander

Photo & Story by Jeff Nunn of CardinalSportsZone.comscreen-shot-2017-09-25-at-7-14-23-pm

The University of Louisville had a player voted to the first team in the first-ever Associated Press preseason football All-American list.

No, it wasn’t the reigning Heisman trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, but rather junior cornerback, Jaire Alexander.

Alexander also was named to Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Preseason All-America Team as well as 247Sports’ Preseason All-American team and the All-ACC preseason team, and was named to numerous preseason watch lists, including the Paul Hornung watch list (most versatile player in major college football), the Jim Thorpe watch list (best defensive back in college football), the Bednarik watch list (college defensive player of the year) and the Nagurski watch list (best collegiate defensive player). Those awards will be handed out after the season.

All those awards and nominations are very impressive for any college athlete but especially impressive for Alexander because he didn’t start playing cornerback until his junior year of high school. He grew up playing wide receiver but made the switch to corner when he transferred high schools. When the Charlotte, N.C., native transferred, his new school already had established wide receivers, but there was a need at corner. So, he moved to the defensive side of the ball and played corner full time but still managed to play wide receiver part-time.

The 5-foot-11-inch, Alexander managed to be the leading receiver in the Charlotte area during his senior year at Rocky River High School. Despite being the state’s most productive two-way player, and being ranked as the fifth best player in the state of North Carolina by Scout.com, he received exactly zero scholarship offers from the from any of the power-conference teams in North Carolina. He was rated as a consensus 3-star athlete and the No. 67 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com.

The lack of big-time offers and low player ratings didn’t seem to bother Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who is known to recruit to what he feels is a good fit for his style of play rather than “expert” rankings or star ratings. Petrino knows talent when he sees it, and so Louisville was the first school to offer Alexander a scholarship

Alexander committed to Charlotte but soon changed his mind when South Carolina came calling.

Alexander comes from a tight family, and they were heavily involved in his college decisions. It was said that Alexander and his parents felt like South Carolina didn’t give Alexander the love he deserved and the coaches couldn’t exactly tell them where their son fit into their plans.

It was time to move on, so they moved on to the University of Louisville where Alexander was only promised a chance to compete for the starting job. He had to earn it.

Alexander enrolled early in January of 2015. In his freshman year, he played in 10 games and recorded 19 total tackles, one interception, and two passes defended He also had 23 punt returns for 223 yards (9.7 yard per return average).


ALEXANDER BY THE NUMBERS

4.32

40-YARD DASH


While those statistics are good, they were not good enough for Alexander. He worked very hard in the offseason in the weight room as well as the film room.

In his sophomore season, he burst onto the national scene when he returned a punt for a touchdown versus second-ranked Florida State with ESPN Gameday in the house. He nearly broke off a second touchdown but was tripped up short in his attempt. He told his father, Landis, that “his body locked up preventing him from scoring” on that second punt return.

He later had two amazing interceptions and a forced fumble in another nationally-televised game in Death Valley versus fifth-ranked Clemson. He also had a two interception game vs Virginia. He finished his sophomore season with a team leading five interceptions, nine pass breakups, 39 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus (a website that focuses on a thorough analysis to grade every player both college and the NFL) graded Alexander as the No. 1 Power-5 cornerback for the 2016 season.

Entering this season as a junior, expectations of his performance have been raised by everyone, including Alexander himself. He again has worked hard in the off-season and has become faster. He was clocked with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash.

Along with those expectations come talk of skipping his senior year and entering the NFL draft. Alexander is ranked as the No. 19 draft prospect in 2018 by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Landis praised his son and said that he has remained grounded and focused despite all the awards and attention. He also said if his son is not projected as a first- or second-round pick at the end of the 2017 season, he’ll return to Louisville for his senior year.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-7-57-20-pm

790 KRD | From Ali to Kanye to Lamar: Adidas’ American BOOM is a Huge Boost for Louisville

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was written and published in the print version of our October issue prior to the developments at the University of Louisville. Instead of pulling it from our website – because you can’t do that when something is published in print – the Extol Sports team made the decision to publish this column online and in our digital format, too. Please keep that in mind. Like so many other sports fans, we’re waiting to see what happens next.  –Angie Fenton, Extol Sports Editor-in-Chief

By Howie Lindsey of 790 KRD

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-7-57-20-pmA NEW PARTNERSHIP worth $160 million makes Louisville the highest-earning college program in Adidas history.

The new deal, announced in late August, will include 10 years of apparel and branding partnership between the University of Louisville and the global shoe brand at a rate of $16 million per season.

“Our new partnership with Louisville is one of our largest ever investments in sports in America,” Adidas North America president Mark King said. “When you think about college sports in America, you think Louisville. The athletic program the Cardinals have created is remarkable. These young athletes are impressive competitors in every sport.”

The partnership between UofL Athletics and Adidas will not only include clothing and shoes, but also facility enhancements and collaborative, widespread brand-marketing efforts meant to take the Louisville logo to an international audience.

While the $160 million is certainly headline grabbing, the more interesting story is where this deal came from and where it is going.

GENESIS

The deal with Louisville started nearly 20 years ago when Louisville Vice President and athletic director Tom Jurich was working to find a partner for athletics in the apparel business.

“Our first deal was if we bought two pairs of shoes, the third would be half price,” Jurich said with a smile. “We have come a long way since then.”

Since then, Louisville has gone from Conference USA to the Big East to the American and now to the ACC, arguably the nation’s top all-sports league. And along the way, Louisville’s elite athletes – national champions, Gold Medal winners and Heisman Trophy winners – have worn the three stripes that Adidas is known for.

“When we began our relationship with adidas nearly 20 years ago, we weren’t in the same shape we are now,” Jurich said. “Adidas has stood arm-in-arm with us through adversity and success. The biggest winners in our cooperative partnership have clearly been our student-athletes, who are at the focus of all that we do.”

King, the Adidas’ North American president, explained, “Louisville has been an important partner of ours for nearly 20 years, and we see tremendous value in our new partnership as we continue to shape the future of sports together.”

While Louisville’s success led to higher numbers in each subsequent apparel deal, Adidas’ rise as a North American power helped send the newly announced deal into the stratosphere.

Essentially, as Louisville built itself into a multi-sport national power under Jurich’s guidance, Adidas built itself into a stronger American brand.

Signing innovative shoewear designers and art and culture influencers like Kanye West, Kendall Jenner, Pharrell and Missy Elliott, Adidas transformed its image from European soccer shoes and shell-toes to Yeezys, UltraBoosts and innovative design like Tubular Shadow.

It has worked so well that Adidas’ stock has been rising for nearly two years straight and the brand just leaped Michael Jordan’s signature line.

“Adidas has overtaken Jordan as the No. 2 brand in U.S. sport footwear. This is an achievement I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” sports industry analyst Matt Powell of the NPD Group wrote. “Adidas sport footwear sales grew more than half for the month of August, and shares grew by nearly half, to 13 percent of the market.”

“Adidas basketball grew more than 40 percent, while Nike declined in the mid-singles and Brand Jordan lost about a third of its sales,” said Tonya Garcia of MarketWatch in mid-September.

Adidas’ rise in market share and stock price meant more money available for schools like Louisville, Nebraska and Kansas.

THE FUTURE

So that’s where this new deal came from, but where is it going?

Jurich was asked to name details at the official announcement and declined, smiling while saying, “We have big plans and we’re excited about our future together.”

Adidas wants UofL – and its other collegiate partners – to think outside the traditional box of teams wearing sneakers and gear.

Jurich said, “We are thrilled to be partnered with an enterprise who shares our passion for innovation, pioneering efforts, striving for excellence and simply doing things differently.”

Doing things differently fits with Jurich’s brand – he is always thinking five years down the road to see what is next in collegiate athletics. Part of Louisville’s plan is to continue its strong Adidas Interns program, where UofL students can learn the business of sports apparel with an inside look at the Adidas brand.

And what else will the deal include? Jurich and Adidas’ Chris McGuire said fan and media will have to wait and see.

“It’s not vague,” McGuire said. McGuire is Adidas’ senior director of sports marketing. “It’s just that our product timelines are 12 months in advance, so we have a lot of work to do on our end to bring those products to market. It’s a long process for releasing products. There’s a lot of concepts that are out there, a lot of different ideas, just not anything that’s ready to come to fruition yet.”

Part of the Adidas partnership announcement centered around Louisville Athletics’ new slogan, “We, The Future.” The slogan, developed over the last 18 to 24 months, firmly focuses Louisville Athletics’ vision on the future of its athletic programs.

“It is here the future of sport will be written,” the UofL mantra states. The “We, The Future” branding is all over Louisville’s campus and athletic fields this fall.

Louisville’s slogan fits hand in glove with Adidas’ longtime mantra “Impossible is Nothing,” especially considering “Impossible is Nothing” comes from a 1974 quote by Louisville’s native son, Muhammad Ali.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it,” Ali said. “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Most people familiar with the metropolitan commuter school in the early 1990s would have thought it impossible that Louisville would sign a $160 million dollar deal with an international brand like Adidas. But it happened this fall.


U OF L & ADIDAS PARTNERSHIP BY THE NUMBERS

10 YEARS

$16 PER SEASON

ADIDAS HAS OVERTAKEN JORDAN AS THE NO. 2 BRAND IN U.S. SPORT FOOTWEAR