All Ball Sports – Easy Reader

by Paul Teetor

Next man up.

That was the story Saturday night for Mira Costa as the Mustangs fell to St. Francis 38-35 on a last-minute touchdown and then missed what would have been a game-tying field goal as time expired.

Hanging over the first game of the year was the shadow of a Mustang star who wasn’t there because of the bizarre nature of this crazy pandemic season. 

Thomas Southey had a school record, touchtown Saturday night. Southey also set a school record with 12 receptions for 192 yards. Photo by Ray Vidal

Slingin’ Sam Whitney had only one season as Mira Costa’s quarterback. But what a season it was, as he morphed from junior varsity scrub to South Bay star.

In his first and only varsity season the 6-foot junior set eight school passing records, was named the Bay League Player of the Year, and made All-CIF and All-South Bay. 

That glorious season, however, ended 16 months ago. All his friends and family and fans were excited about what a great senior season he and the Mustangs were going to have – until the pandemic hit and changed everything.

Dean Repetti gets all the protection he needs from 6-foot-5, 260 pound Wes Widmer. Photo by Ray Vidal

So there was bad news and good news for Mira Costa football fans this weekend.

The bad news: Slingin’ Sam won’t be back for this short, 6-game season after transferring to a Connecticut prep school two months ago when it looked like there wouldn’t be a football season at all for the Mustangs.

The good news: his replacement showed signs of following a similar trajectory when the Mustangs opened their season Saturday night with the same wide-open, high-octane, pass-and-pass-some-more offensive attack that took them so far last season.

Casey Pavlick, the junior varsity QB last year, who was promoted when Whitney left, put up Slingin’ Sam type numbers in the loss. He connected on 28 of 41 passes for 404 yards and five touchdowns. Senior end Thomas Southey set a school record for receptions with 12 for 192 yards and four touchdowns.  

Coach Don Morrow had reason to feel good about the Mustang’s opening season loss. Photo by Ray Vidal

But after St. Francis scored a fourth down TD with 23 seconds left to take a 3-point lead, Southey’s big night was marred by his last second field goal try that just missed. Normally a very reliable kicker, this kick veered wide right at the last second and left the hard-working Mustang team with a brutal loss, after rallying from an early 14-0 deficit.

There were few fans in the stands, but still it was a tough loss for Mustang Nation as the news quickly spread on-line.

The one cheerful note: it looks like they’ve already found a ready-to-go replacement for Slingin’ Sam in Chuckin’ Casey.

Meet the new QB, similar to the old QB.                  

LeBron launches an airball

LeBron James learned a painful lesson this week: With the assumption of great responsibility often comes the burden of even greater responsibility being asked of you, even when you may not be eager to confront a very sensitive issue.

All Ball takes a back seat to no one in its admiration of LeBron as the best baller of all time and, an equally important social justice warrior, unafraid to speak truth to power on the trending topics of the day.

But this week LeBron shot a Covid-19 airball and we urge him to look in his heart and find a way to take another shot at the hoop.

Over the last decade, as he grew from an apolitical young man obsessed with basketball to a socially aware grown man of 36, LeBron has taken on a leading role in pop culture as a spokesman for athletes in general and for the black community in particular. 

Three years ago, when Donald Trump tried to demonize Colin Kaepernick and other black athletes for taking a knee during the national anthem to shine a spotlight on police misconduct, LeBron defended their actions. He called Trump a “bum” and brought some clarity to the issue by pointing out that Trump was trying to confuse and enrage his mostly white, mostly conservative “base” by falsely conflating a protest against police brutality with disrespecting the flag.

And last summer when the Black Lives Matter movement held a series of protests in response to several police killings of unarmed Black men, LeBron helped organize NBA players and almost shut down the NBA re-start just as it was getting underway.

He and his foundation have even gotten involved in the voting rights movement, because of  voter suppression efforts underway in states across the country where black votes were critical in last year’s elections, such as Georgia and Arizona.

LeBron’s activism has been a healthy and refreshing change after decades of watching Black superstars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, who used their fame and media platforms to build personal fortunes, while choosing not to leverage that same fame and powerful platforms for social justice issues. Jordan rationalized his passive approach to cultural issues with an infamous quote that said it all: “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

This week LeBron ran into trouble when he took a similar passive approach. He refused to say whether he and his family have had their Covid-19 vaccination shots, whether they will get them, and whether he would urge the Black community to get their shots.

“That’s a conversation that my family and I will have,” he told the press. “Pretty much keep that to a private thing.”

Pressed by the media to explain his stance, LeBron added: “I think it’s all luck, man,” he said about the possibility of contracting the virus. “I can’t sit here and tell you I’m an expert on this whole thing. It’s just luck. You have no idea how you can contract it or how you can get it. We know the cases, we know the studies, we hear the doctors and things of that nature, and I’ve just tried to follow protocol as much as it’s been laid out to us. I go to the facility. And I go home. I go to the arena. And I go home.”   

Typically, when LeBron has something significant to say, he doesn’t wait for a question about it. He just comes right out with it at a post-game media session or on Twitter. This time it felt like he wasn’t prepared and hadn’t thought about the question or the right answer for someone of his stature and influence. 

In an age when any narcissistic knuckle-head with a cell phone, a Twitter account and 50 followers can call themselves a “social media influencer,” LeBron is the real deal: a genuine celeb with millions and millions of followers who react to his every Tweet. 

It was a legit question to ask of the Lakers star for two reasons. First, because the Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately hard hit by the virus but have not sought out the vaccine in the same percentages as other groups: the Center for Disease Control says that 7 percent of those getting the Covid-19 vaccine so far have been black – even though Blacks represent 13 percent of the US population.

And second, because there is a long tradition in black neighborhoods of vaccine suspicion, skepticism and even hostility.

Much of that vaccine mistrust stems from the so-called Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a now dis-credited government project that ran from 1932-72. Six hundred impoverished black men from the deep south were told they were getting free health care from the government, but in reality it was a project to observe how syphilis evolved when it was untreated. Four hundred of the men already had the sexually transmitted disease, while 200 did not. None of them received the free health care they had been promised. Instead, they were never told of their diagnosis and were given placebos instead of real medicine. 128 of the men died from syphilis.

Over the last five decades the government has been forced to admit the deceptive and unethical nature of the study and eventually apologized for using the men as guinea pigs. But the massive government deception targeting black men has had a profound impact on the Black community and its attitude towards government administered medicine.   

That’s why the NBA has been running public service spots on its broadcasts featuring basketball stars of the past – like Julius “Dr. J.” Irving, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – getting their Covid-19 shots on camera and urging those watching to do the same.

And that’s why there is, as there should be, growing pressure on Lebron to come out and state clearly that he intends to get a covid shot along with his family.

Even Stephen A. Smith, the bombastic ESPN shouter who normally sucks up to LeBron, gently criticized him for his stance and urged him to follow the example of the Hall of Famers doing their part to help the nation do all it can to get past the pandemic as it passed the one-year mark this week.

Smith then put his arm where his mouth is and got his shot – on camera, naturally.

All Ball hopes LeBron will think it over, consult with his elders, and follow their example.

Monday morning the CDC issued new data that added a juicy twist to this issue: the other cultural group resistant to taking the vaccine turns out to be the right-wing MAGA crowd, which includes traditional anti-vaxxers and anti-government conspiracy theorists. You know, the Trump-loving crowd that ignited the January 6 Capitol riot.

By Monday afternoon, politicians from both sides of the aisle began to call on Trump – who got the vaccine in January before leaving office but “forgot” to tell the public – to record a public service announcement similar to the ones put out by former presidents Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

They want Trump to urge his ardent followers to put aside their skepticism and take the vaccine so we can all get past this terrible moment in history.

Dr. Anthony Fauci led the charge, pleading with Trump to step forward and take a leadership role.

The possibilities boggle the mind: picture LeBron and Trump together, with Fauci in the middle urging them to play nice and do the right thing for the sake of the team. 

Remember: Fauci was the starting point guard on his high school basketball team. This would be the greatest assist he ever made.       

USC, UCLA Face Rocky March Madness Road

A wise old football coach named Bill Parcells who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants once said something that applies to basketball and every other sport as well: you are what your record says you are.

Forget about all the woulda, coulda and shouda factors. Every team has their own list of injuries and excuses and crazy, unpredictable things that happened over the course of a long season. The bottom line is the bottom line.

Unfortunately, their records say that the UCLA and USC men’s basketball teams, despite one or the other leading the PAC-12 all season until they both collapsed in the final two weeks, are not very good teams and will not go very far in the NCAA tournament.

That was the consensus Sunday afternoon when the NCAA announced the field for its annual March Madness tournament. UCLA, at 17-9 and coming off four consecutive losses in games they led in the last 10 minutes, was badly dissed by the selection committee, making the tournament by the skin of its teeth.

Indeed, the Bruins were judged not good enough to be included in the main field of 64 teams. Instead, they were designated as one of the so-called “First-Four” teams who will play each other, with the winner getting to play a first-round game in the regular tournament.

In plain English, they will have to win a qualifying game Thursday night against Michigan State just to get into the real tournament. Barring an upset, it will be a quick exit for Coach Mick Cronin’s offensively challenged squad that doesn’t have a single NBA prospect. The winner of that game will then become the 11th seed in the East Region and will play Brigham Young Saturday afternoon. If the Bruins make it that far they can consider their season a success.

USC, which finished second in the PAC-12 regular season but lost in the semifinals of the PAC-12 tournament, didn’t fare much better despite its 22-7 record. The Trojans were designated the 6th seed in the West region and will play the winner of the Drake/Wichita State play-in game in a first-round game Saturday afternoon.  

They will be favored to win that game mainly because they have one of the two best players in the nation in 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley, whose father just happens to be a USC assistant coach. But there is so little elite talent around Mobley – 24-year-old Tajh Eaddy is the second-best player, and he’s already playing for his third college – that unless Mobley completely takes over the offense, the Trojans are unlikely to go very far. 

If they win their first-round game, they would then play 3rd seeded Kansas, and that is where their season is likely to end.

Still, with a player like Mobley who swept all three major PAC-12 awards this season – freshman of the year, player of the year and defensive player of the year – anything can happen if he catches fire and drags his team along with him.

Hey, that’s why they call it March Madness.

Meanwhile, the highly-ranked UCLA Women’s team finished second to Stanford in the PAC-12 Tournament and earned a third seed in the NCAA tournament. They will play 14th seeded Wyoming in a first-round game Monday, March 22.

Look for them to go a lot farther than the men.

Contact: Follow: @paulteetor  ER

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