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To Get A Great Answer, You May Have To Ask A Risky Question

There was a time in my life when sportswriting was my job, and I viewed it as a craft I had to work at every day. The media gets a lot of well-deserved negative comments these days, but there is a video going viral right now involving Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was asked after losing a playoff series-deciding game “do you view this season as a failure?”

Giannis’ answer was a perfect blend of emotion and perspective, saying “there’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you are not, some days it is your turn, some days it’s not. That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win.”

He’s absolutely right. Even the greatest basketball player I ever saw – Michael Jordan – did not win all the time. Giannis even used that as an example, saying “Michael Jordan played 15 years, won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure?"

The question was asked by Eric Nehm, who is the Milwaukee Bucks beat reporter for The Athletic. Giannis was a bit miffed at the question, rubbing his face with his hands in disgust before pointing out Nehm asked that same question last year. As you would expect, the barons of social media have ridiculed him, saying what a terrible question that was and how he should have never attempted to ask such a thing.

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With The Addition Of Beran, A Plan May Be Coming Together...

Yesterday Virginia Tech basketball picked up a commitment via the transfer portal from Robbie Beran, a 6-9 forward-center from Northwestern, and I’ve got to say, I’m probably more impressed than most are about this.

The Hokies definitely got some good players out of the transfer portal in 6-7 ODU transfer Mekhi Long, 6-7 UNC transfer Ty Nickel (who the Hokies really wanted last year) and Beran. But it is the roster strategy that Coach Mike Young is employing that makes this latest commitment pretty special.

If you were at a bar doing a sports trivia contest, I’m willing to bet one question that would stump most would be “when was the last time Virginia Tech had a really good big man?” It would be an equally tough question for a lot of other programs too because to have a good big man, you have to be patient.

Rare are the big men who come out of high school ready to play, and they almost exclusively go to the blue chip programs, stay for a cup of coffee, then go on to the pros. You can find big people to recruit, but then you have to build them into the player you want them to be, which usually takes 2 or 3 years.

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Forgive Me Wendy, For I Know EXACTLY What I'm Doing :)

It’s now been one full year since we lost Wendy Rieger.

To most, she was this charming, funny lady who anchored Channel 4 news at various times with a sharp mind and a bold laugh. But for me, she was Wendy from the neighborhood, as we grew up within a few blocks of each other in Norfolk. Luckily for me, from the sixth grade on, we stayed in touch.

I could tell you a dozen stories about her in her extreme youth, but the one I’m thinking about this morning involves a picture taken in the mid to late 1960s.

We were both attending Little Creek Elementary in Norfolk, and as was the tradition back then, they took a class picture every year. Kids of limited height got to sit in chairs in the front, the more moderately tall students stood in the middle, and those of us who were given the gift of height were on the back row. I’m 6-4, and while Wendy never grew THAT much, she was as tall or taller than me in the sixth grade. So in class pictures, we always seemed to end up standing next to each other.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about the picture. It just got thrown in a drawer with everything else from “the old days” when I left home after college, and somehow kept getting packed before each move to the next town, house, or new address on my life’s journey.

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Go Live Your Life To The Fullest While Young And Healthy, Grant...

It’s not often I’m not disappointed when I see a good player leave Virginia Tech when he still has eligibility left.

But this morning’s news that Grant Basile is leaving the Hokies to go play pro basketball in Northern Italy made me smile.

Basile is Italian, so much so he has obtained dual citizenship both here and in Italy. If you've noticed the dozens of letters in my last name, I too am Italian, as my grandfather came to America right before 1920.

Unlike Grant, who obviously has been over there quite a bit, I didn’t make it over to the land of my forefathers until I was 40, spending three weeks traveling through Tuscany, Milan, Lake Como, Vicenza, Venice and many small towns in between.

You see, when you grow up here and have an Italian name, you are Italian to everybody else. But it’s not until you go over and spend a lot of time there that you become Italian. I grew up speaking very little Italian because it was drilled into my Dad to not speak Italian outside the house. He was 18 when World War II started, and if you had a couple of vowels in your name, you were very careful not to speak Italian less someone think you were a Mussolini sympathizer. I think that’s why most Italians volunteered to fight in the war, just to prove they weren’t.

So around our house, Italian phrases were uttered involving food (time to mangia!) and insults (I was 13 before realizing my middle name was not “chadrool” which means “a fool”) and obscenities when one accidentally hit his knuckles with a wrench. But any conversational Italian never happened.

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Our Long National Nightmare As Fans Has Finally Come To An End...

It’s finally over.

With the news that Dan Snyder has reached an agreement to sell the artist previously known as the beloved Washington Redskins for $6 billion, the inconceivable nightmare decades ago that could force so many of us to no longer like the team has ended. On paper, I suppose you could say Snyder won the financial game, buying the team for $800 million and selling it for $6 billion.

But in real life he went from a respected and liked local businessman, someone we all thought was “one of us” as a huge fan, and descended into the depths of infamy. Worse yet, he took many of us with him to the point we now viewed the organization as an excommunicated family member, someone we once loved long ago, but now struggled to be in the same room with.

Yeah, it’s just a sports team playing a kids’ game, but that so understates the situation. In my case, the Washington Redskins and Sonny Jurgensen were warm memories of my youth. The sound of Sonny, Sam Huff and Frank Herzog was so comforting during the Super Bowl years I’d drive two hours to my inlaws house to hear them on radio while watching the game when local outlets in North Carolina did not carry the contest on radio.

In late 1999, offered a job with the choice of either living in Los Angeles or living in Northern Virginia and gaining a boatload of frequent flier miles flying back and forth from Dulles to LAX, I decided “I’m moving to Ashburn” because that’s where the team was located, and I’ve lived here the last 23 years.

Then Snyder bought the team.

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To Be Fair, Snyder May Have Reason To Try To Block Bezos

During the 23 years I’ve lived up here in Ashburn, Dan Snyder has done plenty of things I’ll never forgive, not the least of being he ran the franchise so horribly, I gave up my season tickets to his team 13 years ago. The quality of the fan experience, team etc. was so bad, it just felt like he was taking our money while laughing at us as suckers.

But now it’s even worse. I’m having to write something to defend him.

It’s not to defend all the cries of how awful a person, owner, or general human being he may be. I’m still on board with all that, but this defense revolves around the notion he’s trying to prevent Jeff Bezos from making a bid on the team, and how horrible that is.

That situation, no matter how much you hate Snyder, does have roots in good business strategy.

Let it be said first that nobody can stop Bezos from making a bid on the team, any more than anybody can stop you from knocking on someone’s door and making an offer to buy their house. In both cases, however, the owner is not obligated to accept the offer. The team is not a public company and he’s the majority owner, so he can do what he wants, even if he takes less money.

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To All Of My UVA Friends On This Rivalry Day...

On a morning when I thought we’d be getting ready to watch Virginia and Virginia Tech play football, I find myself instead thinking of a time back in 2007.

It was a day when the television trucks had finally left Blacksburg after round-the-clock coverage of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. The dead had been buried. The memorials had been planned. The who, what, when and where’s of the situation had been fleshed out.

No one, however, ever answered the why. And because of that, as people were saying it’s time to move on and start healing, many of us didn’t.

Those next couple of months, I recall, is when it really got tough. The lives of both young and old were gone, including the shooter. The warning signs that went unheeded were identified. Each day bought more information, but all the data did was add to the grief and recognition that this was a senseless tragedy that could have possibly been averted.

I found myself postponing chances on several occasions to go back to the campus after that. Visiting Virginia Tech for decades had been like going to visit an old friend. The times were always fun, the memories were warm, and it reminded me of younger days when you could have fun in the safety of the cocoon of a college campus, far, far away from the pressures of going to work, paying a mortgage and being an adult.

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File This Under "Why The Hokies Continue To Make Me Crazy"

If it’s possible to find both hope and discouragement in the same football game, I managed to do so watching Virginia Tech’s 22-21 loss to NC State last night.

In a season where it now seems like half of Hokie fans (mostly the younger ones) want to fire new coach Brent Pry, and the other half (the ones referred to in posts that start out with “OK, Boomer”) want to give him 7 years to turn things around, I’ve been looking for the one sign you tend to see when a new leader is about to get a turnaround going.

Which in the third quarter, I thought I saw.

That sign is one of a team believing in its leader, and that leader in turn believing in its team. It’s an overused expression coaches use all the time, and the sign I’m talking about is something you don’t see in media interviews and other off-the field activities, because to be honest, talk is cheap.

You instead see it in the play calling. Particularly as it relates to the offense.

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In Final 5 Games, It May Not Be Wins Or Losses That Are Important

With the Hokies enjoying a bye week – meaning there’s no pending game to complain about – I have found the conversations I’ve been having with old Hokie friends the last few days interesting.

There is no talk involving the play of the quarterback, the performance of the new head coach, or much of anything football related. Instead, there is conversation – and concern – about the one question every recruit asks and every coaching staff must answer.

“Why should I come to Virginia Tech?”

It’s not nearly as negative a question as you may initially think. It’s something every student asks whether it involves education, social life, class size, having fun, etc. And as it relates to football, there’s always been a good answer to it for as long as I can remember.

Go back to when I was a freshman in 1974 (I really liked the guy on Twitter who referred to our ilk as Metamucil-swilling dinosaurs who are in bed by 11 PM every night) and the answer was opportunity. Back then the scholarship limits were different, so a good player go either go be the fifth QB at Ohio State or come play and possibly start at Virginia Tech.

I can even remember when part of the pitch was we were going to be the next Penn State, so come to Blacksburg and be part of it.

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Ricky Don't Lose That Menu, You Don't Want To Call Nobody Else...

Since I’m not spending as much time on social media these days, I worry up and coming chefs like Ricky LaBlue won’t get enough meal ideas and instead will make the same steak meal he specializes in over and over again. To alleviate that, here are my meal plans for the weekend, of which little money was spent.

This morning, for example, I went looking into my freezer for stuff to rescue from an almost certain frozen death. I buy stuff when it’s on special in some quantity, put the excess in the freezer, then hope I remember to use the various chicken, shrimp, fish and other stuff before the Nationals win another World Series.

Today’s search prompted me to go to the grocery store to pick up about $20 worth of stuff to turn what I found into several meals. Here’s how it turned out:

  1. Found a package of frozen Northwest white fish I’d obviously gotten a great deal on at LIDL a while back. I bought some cabbage to make slaw, a cucumber, some fresh tortillas and a tomato. Those ingredients, plus salsa and sour cream I already had, will make for some very nice fish tacos.
  2. Found a Tupperware container of chopped BBQ. When I take a pork shoulder and make it into BBQ, it’s too much for just the two of us. I bought some fresh hamburger rolls, and along with the slaw being made for the fish tacos and some thinly sliced onion, can be made into some nice BBQ sandwiches. Will also bake a tray of baked beans so we can be like cattlemen and eat BBQ and beans.
  3. Found a couple of frozen chicken breasts (I’ll buy the big pack at $1.99 a pound when they’re on sale and split them into two portions, freezing one of them). They’re now defrosted and I bought some apples to peel and chop up. The apples, chicken, sweet pickles, boiled eggs, mayo and the rest of the onion from the BBQ sandwiches will make a nice vat of chicken salad which will become lunch for few days.
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It Will Be Interesting To See How Fixing The Defense Is Handled...

If you’ve followed my ramblings on this site for any length of time, you know my one concern when Brent Pry was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech was the fact he’d never been a head coach.

It’s not that this was some insurmountable obstacle, but when you’ve never been the head guy, you really don’t know what you don’t know. While the tendency is that you pick up things fast, you’re really not tested until you run into a crisis.

It’s during that time most new head coaches, company presidents, etc., have to fight the inclination to focus on the areas they’re most comfortable with instead of continuing to be the captain of the ship. The head coach’s job is to hold assistants accountable, provide advice and - if necessary - tough love.

Above all else, a good head coach keeps everyone in their lanes.

Failure to do so for many teams tends to result in everyone on staff offering their two cents about areas that are not their direct responsibility and you end up with a management by committee atmosphere that never works. If you look back to the waning years of the Frank Beamer era, you saw a little of that.

With that in mind, I think the next few weeks are going to be interesting in the development of Pry as a head coach. Two weeks ago against North Carolina, the offense and defense were big problems, but against Pitt, you could see some changes had been made in strategy and the offense scored 29 points. Take away some untimely penalties and dropped passes and the offense could have scored 40 points.

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