Tuesday, March 28, 2017

LUKE MAYE AND A PICTURE WORTH MORE THAN 1,000 WORDS


Watching Luke Maye on television hit the shot that sent North Carolina to the Final Four
is one thing, seeing a picture of the former walk-on practicing jumpers with his father, Mark,
is quite another.

The photograph was captured by Andrew Carter of the News & Observer last year in late
February after a regular-season game. The clock said it was close to midnight. The empty seats
tell you everybody's long gone and probably resting comfortably in bed. A little used player,
craving meaningful minutes, knows he has to get better. A father who knows about sacrifice, commitment, and the fine line between success and failure in big-time college sports, is going
to help him get there.

Yes, the picture is worth far more than 1,000 words.

Oh, I reckon the conversation on the floor that night didn't add up to 10 words, much less 1,000.
There were maybe a few, "good shots", or "keep your elbow up", but nothing else really needed
to be said between father and son. They knew. They both knew what it was going to take to be
more than an end-of-the-bench type of player at Carolina.

Hard work.



Luke Maye didn't go from reserve forward to an important player in the NCAA tournament by
accident. He put in the hard work and earned it.

Roy Williams didn't put his trust in a player in the biggest game of the year just because that
player's father used to be the quarterback of the football team. Luke invested a lot of sweat
equity when nobody was watching and secured it.

It wasn't by a stroke of luck that Luke hit the biggest shot of his life and one of the biggest in
the storied history of North Carolina basketball.

He was ready for it.


Thanks to his father who was feeding Luke ball after ball on that February night a year ago,
Luke made the most of his opportunity. Mark didn't need to push or pressure a kid who bet on himself to walk-on at North Carolina team after bypassing scholarship offers to other schools,
but he knew.

He knew that behind every great shot there are usually thousands of others that clanked
off the rim, backboard, or missed everything, altogether. But he kept feeding Luke and fueling
his desire to get better.

He knew about the doubts, lonely moments, and failures that would cause many athletes to
pack it in and quit. But he encouraged Luke to keep believing in himself as he sat on the
bench.


Luke Maye's jersey may not go up in the rafter alongside Michael Jordan, James Worthy,
Sam Perkins, and countless other North Carolina All-Americans, but he is a basketball legend
throughout the state. No Tar Heel will ever forget him or his shot that beat Kentucky.

Hard work, persistence, and a father who knew better, helped make it happen.







Sunday, March 26, 2017

MAYE CAROLINA CONNECTIONS LAST FOREVER


Just over a year ago, I ran into Mark Maye, one of my old roommates at UNC during a
football game. We hadn't seen each other since I left Chapel Hill after graduating in 1987, but
we had reconnected recently, thanks to one of our other roommates, Brett Rudolph, who was a standout linebacker on the football team.

Coming out of high school in 1983, Maye was North Carolina royalty. He was the top-rated
quarterback in the country after a spectacular career at Charlotte's Independence High School.
Maye was a 6'5" pro-style quarterback who threw lightning bolts. He was Peyton Manning before Peyton Manning.

Maye was also pretty darn smart, too.

After getting the full-court press by every coach in the country, Maye told everyone to keep
the full-ride they were offering. He was going to UNC on the prestigious Morehead Scholarship,
the highest-academic award given by the university.


Maye was also one of the nicest guys on the planet, void of ego, full of manners, and very
genuine If you didn't know better, you'd have thought he was the last walk-on allowed to dress
on Saturdays instead of a quarterback who was the object of every college coaches desire.

On a spectacular football Saturday in 2015 at Kenan Stadium, the same place Mark
called signals for the Tar Heels, we connected in person for the first time in more than three
decades. I had talked to him on the phone, trying to prank him by saying I was a fundraiser
for North Carolina and asked him if he could donate $50,000.  The conversation went on for
about five minutes before he figured out he'd been had.


We made small talk and I asked about his kids. Someone in the Carolina network told me
he had a son who was a pretty good basketball player in Charlotte. Mark was about as perfect
as a guy could get, but he did have a slight stutter going all the way back to his Carolina days.
He said, "Paul, he, he, he, he's a pretty good player. He, he, he got some scholarship offers but
he wanted to walk-on at Carolina."

6'8" white kids have as much of a chance of walking-on at Carolina as Donald Trump does. It
just doesn't happen very often, and if it does, they will get limited seconds of playing time
and a start on senior day. That's about it.

Mark and I shook hands, wished each other luck, and went our separate ways. A blast from the
past vaporized into the Carolina blue sky.

I am not a Carolina die-hard fan these days. I don't wave the pom-poms or get emotionally
involved in games anymore. Well, that was before Sunday's game against Kentucky. This was
for the chance to go to the Final Four. I missed the entire first half as I was traveling from out of town.  Basketball games don't really get going until the last 12 minutes, so I wasn't too upset
about joining the game in progress.


As the game went into crunch time, a player named Luke Maye stepped up for Carolina. Yes,
this was the son of my old roommate. Damn, I was feeling old. Like his father, Luke is tall,
very tall. He stands 6'8".  He is a spitting image of the old man: dark hair, sleepy eyes, great
posture.

Mark's career at Carolina never lived  up to the huge expectations thrust upon him. He had
rotator cuff surgery as a sophomore and was never quite  the same. One of the most sought
after players in the country out of high school, he blended in with so many other football
players in college.

It happens.

Sunday, I was watching his clone, a player who fits in perfectly to the system of Roy Williams.
He is a smart player and one who hustles his ass off. When Luke went to the foul line, I saw
his father, Mark, talking to me at the dinner table in our old apartment. When Luke dove for
a loose ball near the end of the game, I imagined Mark giving his son a big fist pump from the
stands and then recoiling, hoping no one saw his emotion. And when Luke hit the shot that beat Kentucky and sent UNC to the Final Four, a huge huge smile washed over my face.


How great was that? A walk-on, playing on the same floor with a slew of NBA lottery picks,
hitting a game-winning shot to send the school he grew up rooting for, to the Final Four.

Luke Maye, an unheralded player unlike his father, etches his name in the annals of Carolina basketball. Everyone who ever went to UNC and even those in North Carolina who didn't, will  remember that shot forever.

I will remember that shot forever, not because my school is still alive and has a chance to
win the national championship. I will remember it because my old roommate, Mark Maye, who
battled through injury and unfulfilled expectations at North Carolina, enjoyed his greatest
moment as part of the Tar Heels family.

Any top-rated recruit in the country who gets injured and has to live with unfulfilled
expectations, may always wonder, "what if?" It can eat at a person for a long, long time.

Mark Maye waited a long time to experience a moment like Sunday. His son, Luke, a walk-on,
nailing a basketball that is now part of Carolina history. How sweet is that?

That was so awesome. That's what makes sports so great.









Sunday, March 19, 2017

THE COURAGE OF JOHN MARTIN



"I was waking up at 4 a.m. every single day asking myself if all this was real."

John Martin's near-perfect life was shattered in early October when he was diagnosed with ALS.
Sleepless nights and questions to himself were returned with brutal answers. One minute, Martin
was living the dream as a father of two beautiful girls while firmly entrenched in a job he truly
loved. The next minute, a doctor gave him the news that's altered the course of his life.

"It blew me away," Martins said of the diagnosis. "It still blows me away. I can't believe it.
But I am staying positive and doing everything I can to stay that way. That is the biggest part
in all of this. I'm maintaining a positive attitude daily."

Upon learning he had ALS, Martin left his job as a videographer at NESN, his employer of 19
years. Martin has made it clear he's handling the disease  his own way, creating a path that
suits him and only him. Martin recently spent two weeks at a wellness facility in West Palm
Beach, Florida.

"It was a lot of green drinks, wheat grass, salads, and sprouts." Martin said from his home
in Newton, Massachusetts. "It was a type of mental and physical cleansing thing. No caffeine,
no alcohol, and some meditation."

Martin says he is embracing both the Western and Eastern approach to dealing with the
disease which includes acupuncture, meditation, and an energy trainer. He says he's also
working out daily with a stretching routine and a lot of swimming.

"I feel great," he said. "Just like I did before. But sometimes when I look down, there
is a little less muscle than there was before. I'm not expecting to wake up and everything
will be OK. I know that's not going to happen, but I'm dealing with it the best way I can."

Martin also credits his great team at Massachusetts General Hospital for helping in his battle
against Lou Gerhig's disease.

Perhaps, the best medicine has come from his friends back in Boston. Martin is one of
the most beloved members of the media and you'd have to search far and wide to find
someone to say a bad thing about him. If they did, they either never met John Martin or were
flat out lying.

The support for Martin has been heartwarming. A GoFundMe page was set up for Martin
shortly after his diagnosis and in the first two weeks of it going on-line, more than $80,000
was raised.


Red Sox manager John Farrell chipped in with a $1,000 and sent Martin, who covered
the team for many years, a text he will always cherish:

"Throughout all the dealings with media- your positivity and being real  has
always been a strength! That strength will always be present."

"That meant a lot to me," Martin said. "He also invited me to visit his office and watch a
game. I've always liked John. He is a class act."

Martin said he's been overwhelmed by the donations that have come in from all over New
England and beyond. Longtime friends have shown their love and generosity. People Martin
has never even met contributed to his cause.

"This college kid sent me five dollars and wrote, 'I don't know you personally, but you sound
like a great person. I don't have much money, but wanted to help out.' "That means as much
to me as the donations that have come in from the big hitters."

Many of Martin's good friends have stepped up in a big way to put a smile on the face of
their buddy. Bryan Brennan, a former colleague of Martin's at NESN, bought a beautiful Stetson
hat during a trip to Nashville while covering the Bruins. Brennan did a little something extra
for Martin. He went into the Bruins locker room and asked them all to sign the hat for Martin.
Every player on the B's did.

Martin with cowboy hat signed by Bruins

"That was awesome of Bryan and the Bruins." he said. "For the Bruins to take time out and
sign that hat. That was really cool."

Martin's love for his work had cooled since his diagnosis. He had covered the Red Sox for
so many years, shooting interviews while making the talent look really good. You can
forgive him if the job took a backseat to what was going on in his life.  But his love for
the Sox and his job was re-ignited in early February.

"When I started to see all the reports from Fort Myers while sitting at home, I started
to get the itch a little bit. I missed it."

Martin missed a lot of his former colleagues at NESN and when he stopped in Fort Myers before
his trip to the wellness facility in West Palm Beach, Martin enjoyed a night out with his buddies
from NESN.
Martin with his NESN buddies in Fort Myers

"That was great. Tom Caron and Steve Lyons were there. So was Mike Narracci, longtime
director for NESN and Bill Titus," Martin said. "It was great catching up with them.
It was like I never left."

Martin is back in Boston now with his two girls and wife, whom Martin calls his "rock."
"Adrienne has been really amazing. Always has been. She's taking care of me. She's taking
care of the kids. She's taking care of everything."

Martin was dealt a terrible blow. His fate has been revealed and far sooner than he ever
expected. But in true John Martin fashion, he's looking on the bright side and trying to power
through a difficult time.

"I truly am George Bailey," Martin said, referring to the fictional character played by James
Stewart in 'It's a Wonderful Life.' "I still can't believe it. But I'm going to be OK."

As for those sleepless nights? Martin reports he is back to getting seven plus hours of sleep a
night.

Please continue to love and support John Martin. Donate to his GoFundMe page.

https://www.gofundme.com/jmartinfund



Monday, March 13, 2017

THE BRILLIANCE OF LAVAR BALL


Until Monday, I had never heard of LaVar Ball and didn't know much about his basketball-playing sons, Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo. Oh, sure, I had seen a few highlights on ESPN of Lonzo at
UCLA, but I wasn't phased by him or his talent. He was just another guy dunking on 'SportsCenter'.

However, thanks to his father, Lonzo and his brothers, who are committed to playing at UCLA, I know about the entire family now. I learned a lot about them just by reading the avalanche of the
information about them on social media and the world's reaction to it.

According to Twitter, Facebook, and just about every media outlet that occupies space on the
web, LaVar has stoked the fire and passion of the number of sports fans who consider themselves
to be experts. That number matches the dollar amount Daddy Ball says the shoe deal for his kids should be worth:


More than a billion.

Yes, that's right. More than a billion dollars.

Michael Jordan, who just happens to be the greatest basketball player in the history of the
sports, makes about $100 million annually from Nike for lending his name to the brand. Daddy
Ball says the package for the 3-Balls, who have never set foot or sneaker in the NBA, should
start at one billion dollars.

Brilliant.

You see, the world reacts like wildfire on social-media. Then every media outlet like ESPN picks
it up and talks about it. America will hate and Pardon The Interruption will debate. And just about
every knucklhead on sports talk radio will scream, holler, and even laugh at Lavar Ball.

Go ahead, LaVar Ball is laughing--and his kids will eventually do that all the way to the bank.

And do you think it was an accident that Daddy Ball made all these proclamations right before
the NCAA Tournament? Heck, no. He knows that everybody that has something to do with
March Madness will be talking about his Balls.

I mean, look at all the money the Kardashians have made and they have zero talent. None. At
least the Ball kids can flat out, well, ball. They are a special talent and thanks to the big words
of their father, everyone knows about it.


People laughed at Richard Williams when he said Venus and Serena, his African-Americans
from Compton, California, would dominate the lilly-white world of tennis before they even
reached high school. What happened? If you know anything about sports, then you know.

LaVar Ball is taking a page right from Mr. Williams' book. He's already said Lonzo or
LiAngelo or LeMelo---I forget which one it was, would be better than Steph Curry, the
two-time NBA MVP.

Good, Lord.

Daddy Ball also added that he would've kicked Michael Jordan's ass in a game of one-on-one back
in the day.

Good, grief.

Even Big Daddy Ball knows MJ would've wiped the floor with his jockstrap, but Daddy Ball
also knows putting Jordan into any conversation will attract a lot of attention and attention is
all Ball wants. He will use anyone or anything to get it.

Now, America is angry and talking about the Balls.


It's easy to say Daddy Ball is a fool, but in reality, he's brilliant. He knows how the world
works today. It's not so much about talent, as  it is having a name that every sports can can roll
off their tongues.

People are talking about Daddy Ball. Well, they are not exactly talking about him as much
as they are hating on him. Hating is another thing the people on social media have become
experts in. They will go on their rants, take their cowardly cuts at the Balls, and Daddy will
just have one big smile on his face.

Thanks to him, all the Balls are on the national map. They will soon become household names
and eventually, very, very rich. That's just how America works. Endorsements, contracts, etc., etc., etc.

Daddy Ball has trademarked "Big Baller Brand" and is selling merchandise on the web site.

The price has just gone up for the all the Balls.

Daddy is a smart, smart man, and one with very big balls.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

NEW CANAAN STEPS UP FOR GRAHAM HARDEN


There aren't many families who've passed through New Canaan like the Hardens. Boyd,
Shea, Graham, and Holmes---siblings who define and embody what integrity, class, honor,
and respect is all about,  were raised by Lucy Gail, the sweetest of mothers, and Holmes,
the strong patriarch, who passed away far too young, suffering a heart attack at the age of
50.

Lucy Gail and the kids persevered through the tragedy of losing a father to thrive in the
community, making an everlasting impact in New Canaan through their great accomplishments
in sports and in the classroom. Shea was the smartest of the bunch. She went on to Dartmouth
and earned her MBA at Stanford. Boyd, Graham, and Holmes were great athletes, all three
going on to play lacrosse at UNC. Boyd was an All-America but Graham was All-World.
He was National Defenseman of the Year and named to the ACC's Top 50 players of All-Time.


In August. the Hardens, who overcame the tragic loss of their father, received another dose
of unthinkable heartbreaking news. Graham was diagnosed with ALS. Even in a world that
seems to yield tragedy every day, this just seemed so unfair. A great family man who has
given so much back to his community in Cincinnati as a volunteer firefighter, coach, and
through his charitable endeavors, is ridden with an insidious disease that has never lost.

However, the community where the Hardens cemented their legacy, is rallying around
Graham to see that his life is a made a little bit better and all of his medical bills are paid
for. On Friday March 3, more than 200 people gathered at Grace Farms in New Canaan
to show their  support for Graham and his entire family. It was supposed to be a fundraiser
for Graham, but turned into a remarkable show of love, admiration, and respect for
someone who  was not only one of New Canaan's greatest athletes, but greatest of men,
as well.

The love was real. The admiration, genuine. The respect, undeniable. Friends who grew
up with Graham in New Canaan, came from all over to honor a person whose had a great
impact on their lives and community. It was truly heartwarming to see New Canaan step
up and support one of its favorite sons.

Graham is taking on ALS just as he battled opponents in football, hockey, and lacrosse:
with an unmatched competitive fire and the same iron will that helped him become one
of the best lacrosse players in NCAA history.


The former All-American has started a blog http://gforcegameon.org/welcome-to-my-blog/
to keep his friends and supporters apprised of what lies ahead for him and answers questions
that many people are afraid, or too uncomfortable to ask.

Friday night was a great showing by New Canaan in its support of Graham. He is a great
father, husband, brother, son, and friend to so many from New Canaan, North Carolina, and
Cincinnati, where he currently resides.

Keep it up, New Canaan. Graham Harden deserves our love and support.