BY Jack Neworth
A few weeks ago I wrote a Snide World entitled, “The Power of Negative Thinking.” I bemoaned the depressing decline in recent years of almost all L.A. sports teams. In my own superstitious way I was hoping the Sports Gods might have WIFI, read the column, take pity on our fair city and throw some wins our way. Crazy? You be the judge.
Since that column, USC football extended their win streak to eight and will meet Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2! Not bad for a team that had three losses early in the season. The Lakers, while not a .500 team, are just outside the cutoff for the playoffs. Already, they’re only seven wins from equaling the total number they had all of last year.
And the Clippers are firmly in the upper echelon of the Western Conference. The franchise is a far cry from just a few years ago when they had an owner with sentiments so racist it embarrassed the entire league.
But my favorite turnaround is the UCLA basketball team, which last year had its worst season since 1946, two years before Coach John Wooden arrived in Westwood. This year the revamped Bruins are undefeated and fresh off a spectacular upset win over #1 Kentucky! Clearly, hope is in the air. (I’m only saying “hope” because I’ve learned over the years, what the Sports Gods giveth they can taketh away.)
This year’s squad is unselfish, intelligent and confident.(For me personally, I’d settle for two of the three.) Freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball, plays with the smarts and poise of a 25-year-old NBA veteran. His father, LaVar Ball, who reminds me of Richard Williams, the outspoken father of the tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams, is predicting UCLA will win the NCAA title. (If only!)
Frankly, I’d like to have a little of what LaVar is smoking. Then again, some said that jokingly about Richard Williams who predicted his daughters would both be #1 players in the world and dominate their sport. Guess what? As history turned out, if anything Richard understated the case. (And I’m quite certain neither man smokes anything, it’s just a joke, otherwise here come the emails.)
I’m crazy about Bryce Alford, the son of coach Steve Alford, a relationship that can’t be easy for either of them. Bryce is plays with grit and is clutch with the ball in his hand and seconds to go. He’s also unbelievable at the free throw line and is second on the all-time UCLA 3-point shots made list.
As for his dad, last year was so awful, Coach Alford, in an unprecedented move, voluntarily gave back one of the years on his contract. When did you hear of a coach doing that last? And I’m also quite partial to Coach Alford’s outgoing and animated wife Tanya who coaches from the seats and looks like she could take over at any minute.
T. J Leaf, the 6’10 freshman forward plays his heart out and with a maturity of a senior. Thomas Welsh, the junior 7-foot center, is a tenacious rebounder and seems to make just about every shot at the crucial moment. Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday go from solid to brilliant when needed most. Backup center Ike Anigbogu, who just turned 18, is ferocious under the boards and swats shots away like pesky flies at a summer barbecue.
Since John Wooden retired after winning the 1975 Championship, there have been nine Bruin coaches. That’s about a four-year average or not exactly great job security. And wouldn’t you know Alford is in his fourth year. But the way he has the starters and reserves working together and seemingly believing in their destiny, not to mention next year’s recruiting class ranked #1 in the country, I think Alford is on very solid ground. (Meaning it’s likely UCLA will give back that year and then some.)
If you haven’t already, check the Bruins out but don’t blink. They score in waves. Currently, they are the highest scoring team with the highest field goal percentage in the country. Barring injury (biting my tongue) UCLA’s only possible weak spot might be defense and lack of bulk in the front court.
Coming back to earth brings us to the Rams. At a dismal 4-8 record they’ve lost 7 of their last 8 games. And yet, amazingly, coach Jeff Fisher, only 1 loss away from having the most losses in NFL history, was given a two-year contract extension.
The surprise extension led former Ram and Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson to speculate as to why. “He must have some naked pictures of somebody.” Actually, the mystery seems solved. It turns out Fisher’s agent, Marvin Demoff, is the father of Rams Senior Executive Kevin Demoff.
To summarize, and with appreciative and respectful nod to the Sports Gods, the Lakers, Clippers, USC football and UCLA basketball are all thankfully on the upswing. That leaves the Rams being the Rams until further notice. What can I say? Four out of five ain’t bad.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org.