Talk Derby To Me, Baby!

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Here it is, the one time of the year when it’s actually encouraged to spend your Saturday night in Louisville, KY.  Celebrities in prodigious hats will sip mint juleps, inhale Woodford Reserve and talk the thoroughbred talk like they were born, raised and taught the ponies in the Commonwealth.  If you’ve ever wanted to pretend to be a southerner, here’s your chance.  It’s pretty much the only time it can be done without harsh social consequence.

But enough jibber-jabber, let’s get to the real reason everyone’s checking Lexpatriates on Derby Saturday: predictions.  My pick in this year’s run for the roses is Lookin At Lucky, the Kentucky-born progeny of Smart Strike, the half-brother of former Canadian Triple Crown winner Dance Smartly.  If my Bluegrass upbringing taught me anything, it’s that when picking Derby winners, 1) never bet against the distant horse-racing pedigree of former Canadian powerhouses and 2) always go with the favorite, no matter what post they draw; those guys win it pretty much every year.  I mean, they’re the favorites for a reason, you know?  Plus, Lucky’s got the rail.  My seventh-grade track and field experience taught me that spot actually has the shortest distance to run around the track.  Seriously.

Another reason for this post: it gives me an excuse to link to some of the finer works of Hunter S. Thompson, maybe the finest ambassador the city of Louisville’s ever known.

In honor of today’s shit show, we’ll kick it off with a Lexpatriates favorite:

“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,”by Hunter S. Thompson (from Scanlan’s Monthly), 1970.

“The Derby, the actual race, was scheduled for late afternoon, and as the magic hour approached I suggested to Steadman that we should probably spend some time in the infield, that boiling sea of people across the track from the clubhouse. He seemed a little nervous about it, but since none of the awful things I’d warned him about had happened so far–no race riots, firestorms or savage drunken attacks–he shrugged and said, “Right, let’s do it.”

To get there we had to pass through many gates, each one a step down in status, then through a tunnel under the track. Emerging from the tunnel was such a culture shock that it took us a while to adjust. “God almighty!” Steadman muttered. “This is a…Jesus!” He plunged ahead with his tiny camera, stepping over bodies, and I followed, trying to take notes.”

“He Was a Crook,” by Hunter S. Thompson (from Rolling Stone), 1994.

“Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”

“The 450-Square Mile Parking Lot,”by Hunter S. Thompson (from Pageant), 1965. (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4)

“If you count yourself in that legion of restless Americans who’ve been “thinking” for years about moving to California — and especially to the Los Angeles area in Southern California — you’d better get your plans into high gear pretty soon, or forget it.  Because the Golden State is getting crowded.  So many people have gone there seeking the “good life” that every year it gets harder and harder to find.”

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Lexpatcast – Episode Two

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In what could be described as either irony or just horrible time management, denimjersey and myself were concerned with filling 30 minutes and ended up plowing along well past the 60-minute mark.  That wasn’t the only disaster.  My phone dropped our call about ten minutes in and my audio-editing skills had to be put to use when I (unintentionally) kinda-sorta OK’d drinking and driving when talking about the Rod Strickland situation.  But aside from the shitty cell phone service and laissez-faire attitudes towards serious crime, I think we did okay.  Not unlike last time, we’re a bit long-winded.  Topics of discussion include:

– Mr. Jersey’s take on Calipari’s first season with Kentucky

– The Rod Strickland DUI

– Tiger at Augusta

– Ben Roethlisberger

– The O.J. Chase

– The urgent need for a Lexpatcast theme song (I’m looking at you, tokenwalkon)

It goes without saying, but all segues are seamless.

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 1)

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 2)

Lexpatcast – Episode II (Part 3)

Lexpatcast – Episode One

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Finally!  It only took me two-and-a-half weeks to figure it out, but the inaugural installment of the Lexpatriates Podcast is finally online.

Listen to ReverseLexPat and myself nervously (and drunkenly — but only to combat the nerves) stumble and vocal-pause our way through a 50-minute conversation ranging from John Calipari’s first season in Lexington to Tiger Woods’ comeback to why Interested In: Wayne Turner may have been a more strategic blogging alias.  Fair warning: both of us greatly underestimated our conversational savvy.  As a result, Reverse’s phone dies about 30 minutes in (almost certainly in response to the intensity of our chat), and we went just a bit over the 30-minute time limit we’d set for ourselves.  Oh well.  As RLP said just as we were about to sign off, our first foray into the podcasting world was, we think, “not at all a failure.”

Lexpatriates Podcast – Episode I (Part I)

Lexpatriates Podcast – Episode I (Part II)

Derrick Caracter – The Sequel

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One can only imagine my excitement yesterday afternoon when, while checking to see if Lexpats had topped the 30-hit mark for the fourth consecutive day (yes!), I noticed that there had been not one, but two posts by bloggers other than myself since the last time I’d logged on.  We’re not in the habit of keeping blogging/posting records around here, but I get the feeling that if we did, today’s two-post explosion would shatter many and create a jovial commotion on par with WVU’s celebratory couch burnings.

I encourage everyone to check out denimjersey’s and reverselexpat’s triumphant returns below.  DJ brought the link thunder, while RLP (do we like this initails-as-nicknames stuff?  or no?) did that thing where he steals my ideas and operates under the assumption that this site is dedicated to the urinary tracts of robotic golfers.  I don’t have the heart to tell him any different.

But I’m also excited for another reason.  I’d been trying to find an angle on the Jeremy Tyler and Derrick Caracter stories from last week ever since I read them, but was having a rough go of it.  Then, this little gem dropped out of the sky (and onto The Big Lead) and gave me the inspiration I’d been looking for.

Tim Sullivan wrote a nice piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune this weekend that summed up Tyler’s failed journey into the world of European hoops with this this: Tyler needs not worry, for this is far from the last chance he’s going to get.

The problem is, he’s absolutely right.  Somebody else, be it another Euro-squad or a D-League team, will take a chance on Tyler in the upcoming season, and unless his second attempt at a pro-basketball career goes even worse than his first, an NBA team will do the same in June of 2011.  You’ll read stories about Tyler’s failed Euro adventure that will end with the writer telling you how Tyler’s learned from it all, changed for the better, and is out to prove his naysayers wrong with whatever team’s decided to take a chance on him.  Then, most likely, Tyler will revert to his old ways and make whatever team invested a lot of money in him look foolish.  It’s what guys like him do.

For those of you not familiar with Tyler’s story, let me catch you up to speed:

– At one time (roughly two years ago), Tyler was considered a hoops prodigy.  He was one of the highest-rated players in the 2010 class, and had already given his verbal to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville.

– At sneaker-mogul Sonny Vaccaro’s urging, Tyler announced in April of last year that he was entering uncharted territory: he was going to quit high school at the end of his junior year to play basketball in Europe.  Though a few players before him had toyed with the idea of going pro before finishing high school, Tyler was the first to actually see it through.

– Tyler cited “lack of competition” as his main reason for the decision, saying “I was the best player in San Diego this year and it was boring. Next year, it would be extremely boring. I’d go into the game with no enthusiasm.”.

– In August 2009, Tyler signed a one-year, $140,000 contract with Maccabi Haifa, an Israeli pro team.

– Then, in November, the NY Times published this article, a feature piece on Tyler’s first few months in Europe.  In short, it was just about the most unflattering piece of journalism ever written about a 17-year-old basketball player, which is saying something.  A couple of highlights:

His coach calls him lazy and out of shape. The team captain says he is soft. His teammates say he needs to learn to shut up and show up on time. He has no friends on the team. In extensive interviews with Tyler, his teammates, coaches, his father and advisers, the consensus is that he is so naïve and immature that he has no idea how naïve and immature he is. So enamored with his vast potential, Tyler has not developed the work ethic necessary to tap it.

“Tyler still talks openly about retiring with $200 million in the bank after a 15-year N.B.A. career. He also talks about modeling, the documentary being made about him, and how he and his girlfriend, Erin Wright, the daughter of the rapper Eazy-E, will grow up to be an American power couple.”

Tyler’s European nightmare finally came to an end last week when, two months short of fulfilling his contract, he quit the team and came back home to San Diego.  Tyler’s numbers in the ten games he played for Maccabi Haifa: 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.6 minutes/night.  No word on whether or not his boredom with basketball was remedied.

– What’s worse, by the end of Tyler’s run, he wasn’t even suiting up.  He watched the final three games of his European basketball career in street clothes.

– To top it off, Tyler quit the team in classic prima donna fashion: he booked his flight home without telling his agent, parents, or coaches, and he informed the team of his decision around noon of the day he was set to fly home.

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It is at this point that I wish to pose the question…Why the fuck would anyone be willing to take a chance on this kid? And by take a chance, I mean draft and invest several million dollars of your team’s money in someone that couldn’t last seven months in a European pro league?  Keep in mind, this wasn’t a college freshman transferring from a program because adjustment problems or a mean coach, this was a kid that was being payed a doctor’s salary to play basketball for ten months.  He signed a contract, didn’t produce, alienated his coaches and teammates, and skipped town without warning.  Does this sound like someone you’d want in your locker room?

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Brandon Jennings, who is currently doing quite fine in the NBA, had his share of troubles during his European experience as well.  It’s also worth mentioning that Jennings at least made it through.

The NY Times did the same sort of piece on Jennings while he was in Europe; at the time, he was the first big-time prospect to go the Europe-over-college route and many recruiting experts were saying that if his trip was a success, more blue chippers may follow suite.  But Jennings’ piece, like Tyler’s, didn’t have a very triumphant tone.  And while neither sounded like they were having the time of their life, there was a noticeable difference in their attitude and message.

Jennings sounded like a Marine fresh out of boot camp –  broken down and rebuilt for the better.

Tyler just sounded like a brat.

Jennings talked about his in-game struggles and how tough the transition had been for him, but he also noted how he’d matured and accepted his role.

Tyler talked about his plans to spend the money from an NBA career he doesn’t have.

But the bottom line?  Jennings stuck it out and Tyler didn’t.  Neither looked like an all-star, but only one did things that should (but probably won’t) put his NBA stock in jeopardy.  You could even argue that Jennings’ handling of the whole experience actually improved his draft status; suddenly, his weaknesses became his strengths: he was tough, mature, and coachable.

It’s tough to imagine any of those adjectives being applied to Tyler’s game right now.

All that brings me to the second Times profile of the week that drew my interest, “Derrick Caracter Finds Measure of Success at UTEP.”  The sub-header for this one was “Can’t-Miss Prospect May Make It After All,” but just as easily could’ve been, “Jeremy Tyler: You’ve Been Warned.”

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Anyone who even passively follows college basketball recruiting has to remember Derrick Caracter.  As an eighth-grader Caracter was already 6’8”, labeled a prodigy, and for some reason, always carrying around a stuffed orangutan named Ollie.  This unique blend of size, talent, and cuddly primate made him an instant celebrity in recruiting circles.

Unfortunately for him, Caracter, both in terms of basketball talent and likeability, peaked as an eighth-grader.  Fortunately for basketball, no person or team ever had to invest money (at least not legally) just to watch him fail.

His high-school and college careers (up to this point) are better remembered for his off-the-court fuck ups than his actual on-court production.  He was still considered a stud when he committed to Louisville, but he showed up to campus 50-pounds overweight and, despite a few strong showings, never materialized.  Pitino eventually kicked him off the team, and he now averages 14 and 8 for a 12-seed.

Point being, Tyler has the makings of a Caracter 2.0.  They have all the same symptoms: immature, defiant, entitled, no willingness to listen, an obsession with a lifestyle that they don’t have the work ethic to achieve, etc.  People gave Derrick Caracter every chance in the world and look where it got him.  People will almost certainly do the same with Tyler, and I’m willing to bet it gets him to a similar place.

At some point, teams, both college and pro, need to figure out that money only makes these players more of what they already are.  If Caracter and Tyler can’t fully commit themselves to basketball now, what makes you think they’ll be able to when they’re millionaires?  Character (no pun intended) matters.  It doesn’t take a shrink to realize both of these guys lack it.

In honor of DJ’s and RLP’s return to the site:

Everyone Hates Duke

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If you were one of the 50,000+ that read yesterday’s post on the NCAA committee flip-flopping Kansas and Duke’s brackets (to Duke’s benefit), you know that I’ve already asked (in writing) how the NCAA, while working under the assumption that the entire country believes there to be a Duke bias, can give the third-overall #1 seed an easier road to the Final Four than the first overall #1?  Amongst those 50K must’ve been Kansas City Star writer Jason Whitlock, who says the answer’s simple: People watch Duke – either out of love or disgust – and the NCAA is smack dab in the middle of contract negotiations for its tournament with CBS and ESPN, and they really, really need this one to have big numbers.

NCAA basketball’s numbers have gone down over the last few years, and while I always assumed Duke must be ratings gold to TV Networks – I mean, they’re always on – I had no idea of the extent to which that’s true.  Everyone knows that Indiana State-Michigan State, Bird-Magic duel is the highest-rated college basketball game ever, but did you know that after that, 1992’s Duke-Michigan game in second, and 1994’s Duke-Arkansas final is fourth?  Really?  If nothing else, this shows us how much race and the perception of race play a role in the way we watch sports.  Duke is, obviously, the whitest team ever (both then and now), and both Michigan and Arkansas weren’t just good teams, they were good temas that were diametrically opposed to Duke in every way, shape, form, and color.  They were uber-athletic and urban, the antithesis of Duke in terms of raw talent and playing style.

Aside from that, it also tells us that Duke is, as much as anyone else in college basketball, America’s Team.  If nothing else, they get a strong opinion out of everyone.  You either love Duke or you hate ’em.  There’s never any in-between.  I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone that doesn’t either a) call Duke his or her favorite team or b) list Duke as one of his three least-favorite teams in the nation.  I’ve always thought it’d be interesting to take a survey of people all over the country, asking them to list their three least-favorite college basketball programs.  I think Duke would win going away, then probably either North Carolina or Kentucky.  After that, it gets tougher to predict.  Kansas?  Nah, they’re dominant, but not really unlikeable.  Indiana?  People hate Bob Knight, but there’s an entire decade-and-a-half’s worth of kids who don’t associate Knight with IU the way older sports fans do.  Plus, it’s been so long since the Hoosiers have been worth a shit.  UConn?  Memphis?  UCLA?  I’d love to find out.

But back to Duke.  Why is it that people hate them?  Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman discussed this in their last podcast, with Klosterman essentially making the case that Duke’s “whiteness” makes people hate them more.  I’d call this a partial-truth.  Yeah, Duke is very white, but it goes deeper than that.  Duke isn’t just white, it’s fraternity-guy white.  It’s country-club white. Basically, it’s spoiled-rich-kid white – and there’s nothing Average Joes hate more than that.  That’s why people can’t stand them.

Gonzaga is a team comprised largely of white players, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they hate them.  Florida’s had more than its share over the years, and – outside of Kentucky – people loved those teams.

On top of that, you can’t discount Coach K.  Nor can you completely write off the arrogance with which they play.  They all have a swagger – where it originates, I have no idea – that irritates me, and I’m guessing plenty of others, to all end.  Plus they flop.

PLUS, as much as I hate to admit this…they’re good.  That has as much to do with it as anything, because, really, all the other stuff would be moot if they weren’t a good program.

Just not good enough to have one of the easiest roads ever to the Final Four.

2010 Season Awards Starting Early for UK Football Team

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Creatively-named blog Name of the Year has released its nominees for its 2010 Name of the Year tournament, and among those lucky enough to be nominated was Kentucky defensive-tackle Mister Cobble.  Cobble will be going up against such powerhouses as Lolita Respectnothing, Destiny Frankenstein, and Coke Wisdom O’Neal (the early favorite), so he’ll need our help stuffing the ballot box if he’s going to have a chance of pulling the upset.  No word yet on whether or not the incumbent, LSU’s Barvkevious Mingo, has plans of seeking reelection.

The voting starts soon.  Cast your ballots here.

Stuff I Read and Liked

“Big Trouble at 11:35,” by Mark Seal (from Vanity Fair), 2010.

“Joe Halderman, as he was known, had never met David Letterman, but the Late Show host represented for Halderman the increasingly problematic state of CBS, where he had worked for 27 years. Once the pre-eminent news network, home of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, CBS News had steadily lost its status in the era of cutbacks and layoffs, shuttering foreign bureaus as the focus of all the networks shifted from news to entertainment. But the man behind the wheel of the Tesla—the wisecracking face of the CBS entertainment division—seemed oblivious to the catastrophes going on in the news department. Letterman had not only a large staff and a seemingly unlimited budget but also the use of a private jet and his own theater. “Now, here’s Letterman in a hundred-thousand-dollar car, and—the ultimate insult—he’s stealing Joe Halderman’s girl!” says Arnot. And doing it right in front of Halderman’s house. From where he stands, he can see them “in the car in a passionate embrace, and the way Joe interpreted it was: We just had hot sex and we’re going to do it again as soon as we possibly can,” says Arnot.”

“My Best Worst Friend,” by Joey (from Free Darko), 2010.

“I always knew that Michael had a gambling problem, but I didn’t understand its full dimension until I sat down across from him and got roped into his lunacy as he indulged his famously competitive zeal. The sky doesn’t usually turn from blue and sunny to black and foreboding over the course of three minutes, but that’s what had happened on this day, and the television was tuned to the Weather Channel so that travelers could follow the storm and adjust their plans. I guess that Michael had told the woman he was clutching that he could predict the weather–as though Michael Jordan needs pickup schtick–and fixing to mount the illusion of scarcity, she bet him a drink and phone number that she could beat him at it. Obviously, that got Michael going, in pretty much every sense of that well-worn expression. As I plopped down on the leather couch, he and the woman had just begun, and they both seemed eager to share their game with a stranger who could admire it and maybe cough up some cash.

“Excuse me–would you like to play a game with myself and my friend here?” Michael asked me.”

“Greatest.  Indie-est.  Band.  Ever.” by Chuck Klosterman (for GQ), 2010.

“There’s an inherent problem with writing about Pavement: People tend to know nothing or everything about them. To most of the populace, they were a band with a funny name, one minor MTV hit (1994’s “Cut Your Hair”), and a lot of abstract credibility among people who get mad at the radio. But to the kind of hyperintellectual, underemployed people who did not find it strange to buy concert tickets a year in advance—and who will buy the band’s upcoming greatest-hits release even if they already have all the tracks—Pavement are the apotheosis of indie aesthetics, the “finest rockband of the ’90s,” according to former Village Voice critic Robert Christgau. They are remembered as the musical center of the lo-fi era, a designation that’s spiritually true but technically wrong.¹ Over the span of five albums and nine EPs, Pavement became a decade-defining band, widely regarded as essential and game changing (at least among those who cared).”