Travel: The H

Ahhhhhh, The H.  The home of candy paint, gold grills, and the well recognized screwed and chopped music sound.  By giving birth to Beyonce, Bun B, Michael Strahan, the late Patrick Swayze, and a host of other athletes and entertainers, Houston is firmly established as a talent hotbed.  On the other hand, with such a bountiful spread of individuals who have made overwhelming contributions in their respective fields and bring relevance to the city, it’s mind-boggling that the city does not garner the same respect of the bright lights of New York, Miami’s heat and iconic beach lifestyle, and the scenic views that come along with Los Angeles’ perfect weather.  Nevertheless, Houston plays the role of underdog without any mind and keeps its head up high.  Boasting Texas’ largest mall and the eighth largest mall in the United States, The Galleria, any sane person will understand that Houston is a heavyweight in its own right.

Whether you’re pulling off of the I-10, I-610, or I-45, the distinct nature of Houston’s culture slaps you in the face as soon as the city limits are entered.  With the Texas Flag waving atop many buildings, along with the 24-hour Chachos Mexican grill on the side of the road that will satisfy any late night hunger pain, any visitor understands that they are in a new world.  Also, with three major sports teams, professional action is easy to come by.  Pick your poison: You can either (A) go see a Rockets game and catch James Harden drop somebody to the floor with a sick crossover and splash a three-pointer in his defenders face, or (B) grab a seat at a Texans game to see J.J. Watt tally up sacks, fumbles, interceptions, and touchdowns on both sides of the ball.  It’s a win-win either way.  Also, with the Astros in town satisfying those who enjoy a homerun or diving catch, any sporting fan is sure to find a good ballgame.

For those arts and culture enthusiasts, exquisite human feats can be found at the Museum of Fine Arts is a must see if you can carve out the time for it.  Within the cities Museum District lies a pristine campus that offers two buildings for gallery exhibitions, two house museums, a library, sculpture garden, along with other attractions to captivate and inspire museum- goers.  Exhibitions including “Eye on Houston: High School Documentary Photography,” “Arts of Islamic Lands: Selections from The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait,” and a variety of artistic items from the museums Modern and Contemporary Art collection are all on display to quench any creative palate or thirst for out of the box thinking.

After building up an appetite, throwing down is next right?  Once you park up in the Breakfast Klub’s gravel lot off of Travis Street, you may say to yourself, “I don’t know about this place to eat”. But after you get past the waitresses handing out menus at the entrance, the aroma of crispy fried chicken and waffles raises your eyebrows and brings immediate life to Houston’s 4th Ward.  If you choose that option, once your teeth sink into the meal, it will be instantly recognized that this is a C&W combo that can be argued as the best.  But honestly, you cannot go wrong with the menu.  With pork chops & eggs, the Klub’s own version of green eggs and ham, along with mouth-watering daily specials, it is near impossible to choose a meal that isn’t a winner.  If considering a mid-day spot to catch brunch, please be sure to make the Breakfast Klub a pit stop of yours.

On the other hand, Benjy’s gives the Breakfast Klub a run for its money when it comes to the grub.  Serving brunch, lunch, and dinner, this is a Houston staple that can be frequented at nearly any time of the day.  It also adds the element of a lounge that gives the environment a transitional and laid back feel that everyone seeks after having a decent meal.  Whether you’re looking to impress a hot date, or somewhere to get good eats with your friends, Benjy’s will not disappoint.

If a nightclub is on the Thursday night agenda, 5th Amendment should definitely be in the mix.  With the DJ bumping H-towns finest, Hip-Hop and R&B, and everyone looking their best, an excellent weekday night is pretty much a guarantee once you step through the velvet ropes.  If you can catch the food truck in front after partying into the AM, that will be the cherry on top of any evening outing that can turn a late night craving into the instant itis.

Should the night continue into the wee hours of the morning, V Live is likely your best bet to catch a face from the big screen in person.  With the likes of Rihanna and Drake being spotted there, this gentleman’s club provides a two-level venue that has plenty of entertainment, money floating through the air, and vixens that look like they walked out of the gates of music video heaven. Toronto’s head man has even been name dropping the popular nightspot by spittin “I treat V Live like it’s 07’ in Magic City” on “10 Bands” and “V Live, I order that Alfredo pasta then eat in the kitchen like I’m in the mafia” on “No Tellin”, both of which are from his latest project “If You’re Reading This Its Too Late.”  These shout outs surely give the club a gold star since an international powerhouse feels the need to bring their name to the forefront.  Not to mention, BYOB is the name of the game.  It can’t get any better than being your own bottle service at your own cost!  So if you are about putting your late-night game face on, understand that no excuses will be taken when stepping into the premier after-hours playground.

So if you’re ever in the H, be sure to make the best of your time.  If you don’t, you’ll definitely regret hearing the stories instead of being able to tell them.

 

– Clinton Jackson

Squad Up-Grade: NBA Teams That Improved The Most Over The Summer of 2014

Same old places, fresh new faces.  The NBA off-season never fails to shake things up and shift the balance of power through player movement via free-agency, the draft, or managerial circles getting on the phone and striking a deal in hopes that a player swap can take their team over the top.  In the midst of this past summer’s player shuffle, it was obvious that a few teams were going for the gusto and are currently plotting on the Larry O’Brien championship trophy for the 2014-2015 season.  Let’s take a look at the squads who improved their roster the most:

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1.      Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA - CAVS

 

For obvious reasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers made the top of this list.  LeBron James (SF) alone elevates any team into championship discussions.  Aside from getting the closest thing to a mutant to ever play the game, the surrounding roster moves have been calculated, impressive, and make the Cavs the class of the Eastern Conference.

 

The Acquisition of three-time All-Star, Kevin Love (PF) from the Minnesota Timberwolves, makes Cleveland’s frontline an immediate threat from an offensive standpoint.  His arrival and ability to score in the paint, as well as from the land of the trey, should result in a healthy raise of Kyrie Irving’s (PG) assists per game, and make the two deadly in their pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop sets.

Aside from snagging the big man, the fact that any sane player chomps at the bit to play with LBJ and contend for a title makes for an easy sell from the powers that be for the Ohio franchise.  With youth already secured in the form of All-Star, Irving, Dion Waiters (SG), Tristan Thompson (PF), along with Love, the focus shifted to veteran free agents that were looking to make their last hoorah as their careers reach the tail end.  This prompted the signings of Shawn Marion (SF) (a.k.a. “The Matrix”), Brendan Haywood (C), and LBJ’s former Miami teammates and expert three-point snipers, Mike Miller (SF) and James Jones (SF).  These additions provide an incredible amount of depth to their bench, playing experience, considering all of them have been in the league for more than ten years, and championship experience with each of them have at least one ring.  Talk about setting the bar high and adding an immediate amount of seriousness and business-like approach to the locker room.

With the exception of Chicago, good luck to the remaining thirteen teams in the East.  Last years 33-49 squad is a thing of the past, and is now in the conversation for possibly threatening the 72-10 record setting season that the Chicago Bulls had in the 1995-1996 NBA campaign.

 

2.      Dallas Mavericks

NBA - MAVSThe Dallas Mavericks were the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs last season and lost in the first round.  Vince Carter bounced for Memphis and Shawn Marion sought greener pastures in Cleveland with LeBron.  Sounds like the Dallas Mavericks were headed to the dumps right?  Take a chill pill.  Owner, Mark Cuban definitely had a few tricks up his sleeves in the offseason.  The team that played the soon to be NBA champion, San Antonio Spurs, better than anyone else in the playoffs and took them to seven games, actually made improvements in light of the departures that were made.

In a trade with the New York Knicks, his “rabbit out of the hat” included reacquiring Tyson Chandler (C), his defensive anchor from the 2011 Mavs championship team, and Raymond Felton (PG).  With cap space as a non-issue in Big D, a bidding war was entered into with their in-state and inner-division rival, the Houston Rockets.  The target in their crosshairs: 6’9 long-range shooter, Chandler Parsons (SF).  The Rockets gracefully bowed out of the race for Parsons after Dallas pretty much said put your money where your mouth is H-Town!  A three-year, $45 million dollar, contract was eagerly signed by Parsons after pouring in more than 16 points and 5 rebounds a game in 2013-2014.  Emphasis was placed on Parson’s in the open market because of his statistical improvement in those categories in each of the three years he has been in the league.  Soon after Dallas General Manager, Donnie Nelson, lured former Orlando Magic guard, Jameer Nelson (PG), and also wooed versatile swingman Richard Jefferson (SF) to end his flirtatious ways with the free agent market and join the mix to make a championship run.

Similar to the Cavaliers, with the exception of Parsons and Felton, these acquisitions provide veteran leadership and players with experience who have either gotten a ring, Chandler, or have played in the NBA Finals, Jefferson with the Nets and Nelson with the Magic.  A deeper roster to compliment Dirk Nowitzki (PF) and Monta Ellis (SG) only make the Mavericks more of a threat in the Western Conference and a team that everyone should circle on their schedule.

3.      Chicago Bulls

NBA - Bulls

 

The Chicago Bulls come in a close third to the Mavericks.  If Derrick Rose hadn’t already played games as a Bull, and was suiting up for his first game instead, they would be a sure fire #2.  Despite such, the few pieces that they have picked up definitely allow them to keep pace with the cavaliers, if they’re not already ahead of them, in the race for the Eastern Conference crown.

 

Head coach, Tom Thibodeau, and General Manager, Gar Forman, coupled with the current make-up of the roster in light of D-Rose coming back into the fold, persuaded Pau Gasol (PF) to sign on the dotted line for a three-year deal worth $22 million.  The chance of getting more hardware for his trophy case was clearly a priority and caused him to leave the Los Angeles Lakers and his life on the west:  say goodbye to picture perfect weather and sandy beaches, and hello to the Windy City, where hoodies and massive winter coats are a common sight.  Fans will quickly forget that Carlos Boozer was playing the same position just a few months ago upon seeing the variation of offensive skills that Gasol will bring and his career averages of more than 18 points to go along with 9 boards per contest that are now added to the mix.

Even before Gasol even hit the market, savvy roster moves were made in the June draft and it was apparent through the selection of Doug McDermott in the first round (11th Overall) that the Bulls sought immediate contributors instead of developmental projects that would take two to three years to blossom.  Not only did the Bulls brass have the wherewithal to select the two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year (2012-2013), they knew that he had the potential to provide instant offense after leading the NCAA in scoring his senior year by averaging more than 26 points a clip.  A rare breed in today’s basketball landscape since he is one of few players that is fully seasoned by way of four years of hoops on the collegiate level.  Dougie McBuckets showed and proved throughout this year’s Las Vegas Summer League by averaging 18 points and also had a 31-point game, which solidified their draft day “A+” assessment on draft day.

These key acquisitions will make for a smooth transition for the Bulls’ prized international prospect Nikola Mirotić who will be joining Chi-Town after playing five years of professional ball in Spain.  The Spanish-Montenegrin power forward was signed to a three-year deal worth more than $16 million and should be able to provide added versatility to their frontcourt after being named to the All-Euroleague Second Team for the past two years.  Learning from Gasol should make the 2013 Spanish League MVP a solid contributor come mid-season, and give insurance when the injury bug hits any of their bigs.

New blood along with veteran pedigree has the Bulls in position to jockey for the first seed in the Eastern Conference, defeat the revamped Cavaliers, and potentially take the Bulls back to the golden era of the 90’s and MJ by winning their first one in nearly 20 years.

HONORABLE MENTION (in no particular order)

 

Philadelphia 76ers

NBA - 76ersDespite going on a 26-game losing streak last year, and ending with a 19-63 record, something good has to be said about the franchise that laces up in the City of Brotherly Love.  It can’t get any more dreadful for them than last season.  So the only direction they can go is up.  They honestly don’t have a choice.

Quite frankly, though there isn’t much to say about the closest thing the Association has to a team that could be ranked in the Top 25 of college basketball (NBA’s youngest team with the average age at 23.8 years old), having some decent talent come by way of the draft has to count for something.  Philly finally gets Nerlens Noel (PF), the 2013 #6 overall pick, onto the floor after missing the entire 2013-2014 season with a torn ACL.  And from the looks of things, he’s coming around with great promise.  Noel definitely recovered nicely from his injury and posted more than 13 points, and 5 rebounds in monitored action at the Orlando Summer League in July.

The Sixers weren’t going to settle for just one big man though.  They also drafted Joel Embiid out of Kansas with the #3 overall pick this year.  With all of the upside any team could imagine from the offensive and defensive end, the fact that he has a checkered past with injuries and is currently sidelined for five to eight months with a bum foot, the 76ers still decided to push their chips in for a big man after watching him dominate the Big 12 last season.

If Embiid makes it to the hardwood this season, that will be an even bigger bonus to the young team and get them in the win column more often.  While they may not be a playoff team, they will surely be more competitive as the season progresses and in future years to come.

 

San Antonio Spurs

NBA - Spurs

 

Without any notable additions or splashes in free agency, there is only one reason why the Spurs are here: the passage of time.  Honestly, this is the only team that could enter a “most improved team” conversation without making any major roster moves.

At this point, San-An has shown that they will get worse when they choose to get worse.  Either that or when one of their big three decides to put their career in the sunset.  An aging Tim Duncan (C), a Manu Ginobili (SG) that has been injury prone as of the past few years, and a maturing Tony Parker (PG) haven’t shown any signs of slowing.  They continue to prove doubters wrong and defeat the test of time.  Call them the fine wine crew if you may: with time, they simply get better.

With the Spurs Franchise garnering the most championships of any team since 1999, this trio together since the 2002-2003 season, and running a clinic on the Heat in last years finals to win their fifth championship in 15 years, who is to say that the end is anywhere in sight.

Golden Gems of the 2014 NBA Summer League

With the 2014 NBA Summer League in the rearview mirror, the cream of the crop has shown flashes of greatness and has given a glimpse of what the league will soon look like.  Yes, we all know about Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and other attention grabbing talent, as well as veterans that came through the Summer League ranks.   On the other hand, the Summer League puts the basketball community on notice about who should actually be grabbing headlines before the season even begins.  Take a look at a few teams and players that have improved their reputation and have garnered increased respect after playing in this past summer:

  • Washington Wizards – Glen Rice Jr., SG (Right): Otto Porter, SF (Left) – The 2013 2nd round pick out of Georgia Tech showed that he was in the gym this off-season by averaging 25 points and more than 7 boards per contest in the Las Vegas Summer League.  With Trevor Ariza heading back to H-town for a second stint with the Rockets and an aging Paul Pierce joining the Washington mix, it would behoove the Wizards to bump Rice’s minutes up from the 10 he averaged last season to about 15-20 an outing.  But Rice better not take his foot off of the gas pedal because Otto Porter is lurking right behind him for those minutes.  Porter quietly dropped 19 a game and added 5 rebounds to that stat line in an effort to make amends for a below average rookie campaign.  Rice may have to thank Porter because the former Georgetown standout probably pushed Rice Jr. to the top of the heap in the name of friendly competition; definitely a positive sign for a squad that is already stockpiled with talent.

 

  • New York Knicks – Tim Hardaway Jr., SG: Cole Aldrich, C: Shane Larkin, PG: Cleanthony Early, SF/PF – Surprisingly, the Knickerbockers had a productive late spring and summer to go along with a summer league filled with hopefuls for the youth movement that will eventually contribute to Melo’s pursuit of a ring.  Phil Jackson’s hiring of Head Coach Derek Fisher and acquisitions through the draft, as well as via trade, gave him some added credibility that he could handle a management role as President.  These pieces injected some new life into the Big Apple and gave the nation of blue and orange something to cheer for during the Las Vegas Summer League.  Second year shooting guard, Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to improve his stock and give his pops, Tim Hardaway Sr., former perfectionist of the “killer crossover,” some bragging rights about his offspring.  Hardaway Jr. averaged more than 22 a game and led the Knicks to a 4-1 record out west.  On top of that, former University of Kansas standout, Cole Aldrich, was a beast on the glass among all centers on his way to averaging 15 rebounds per contest.  With those two gaining much of the attention throughout the month of July, the floor leadership of second year point guard, Shane Larkin (acquired via trade), and flashes of athletic promise from Cleanthony Early, who plays both forward positions (2014 2nd Round Draft Pick), were often overlooked but will surely pay off at various points throughout the upcoming season.

 

  • Houston Rockets – Nick Johnson, PG/SG: Isaiah Canaan, PG – Drafting Nick Johnson and holding onto Isaiah Canaan sure has the Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey, gloating in his office chair with his feet up.  Upon trading away Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers before the Rockets participated in the Orlando Summer League, many thought that there would’ve been a lack of depth for the Rockets at point.    Though they still have Patrick Beverly in the fold, the nerves of Houston fans were eased upon reading that the former Arizona Wildcat’s averages were 15, 6, and 5 (ppg, reb, asts) once he was done in the sunshine state.  And oh yeah, he dropped an under the radar triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in a victory against the Brooklyn Nets during his quick stay in Florida.  As the Rockets summer league action shifted to the Las Vegas Summer League, Isaiah Canaan shined where he averaged 17 points, and was among the top 15 in scoring.  Though both play the same position, the two games are completely different.  Johnson is a multi-faceted player who occasionally dibbles and dabbles in several statistical categories, while Canaan has more of a killer instinct coupled with a bulldog mentality.  The two of them should definitely be able to challenge Beverly in practice and pick up some of the minutes that Lin once occupied.

 

  • Detroit Pistons – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG – The Pistons coaches told KCP one thing and one thing alone in the Orlando Summer League, “Keep shooting!  Just keep shooting!”  Though he shot only a shade above 40% from the field on his way to averaging 24 a game, Caldwell-Pope showed that he had the capability to handle a volume shooting load.  Leading the D to a 3-2 record in their Orlando session, the shooting guard was clearly green lit as he scored 26 or more points in four out of five games, proving that he is ready for more minutes, more shots, and a larger role in his sophomore season.  Quite frankly, Detroit should honor all three categories considering they are not a franchise on the up-and-up, and it wouldn’t hurt to make more of an investment in their younger talent. 

 

  • Minnesota Timberwolves – Zach Levine, SG – The Minnesota Timberwolves went 2-4 in the Las Vegas Summer League, haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, and it has been reported that their best player, Kevin Love, no longer wants to play in the twin cities.  So why mention the Wolves?  Zach Levine, that’s why.  While he was unable to take over and dominate the summer league the way prime time players do, there were definitely flashes of superior athleticism and basketball play-making ability.  Despite his scrawny frame at 6’5 and 180 lbs, he managed to average more than 15 points and 4 rebounds. Primarily using his quickness to get anywhere he chose on the floor and exceptional jumping ability to knock down jumpers with a hand in the face is a primary reason for those numbers.   So Wolves fans can only envision his skill set once he hops on a NBA health and fitness regimen to improve his strength and overall muscle mass.  Honestly, when you’re a player who has averaged less than 10 points a game at UCLA, played only one year of college ball as a true freshman, and is taken in the NBA Draft lottery ahead of your Bruin teammate, Kyle Anderson, who was considered to be the best player on their 2013 – 2014 roster, much is being said about Levine by the Wolves management who decided to pull the trigger on a talent that has little experience and production.  Luckily for them, the decision appears to be the right one.

 

By Clinton Jackson

Josh Gordon: The NFL’s New Problem Child

“Dear Lord, please provide me with the opportunity that Josh Gordon has: To make millions of dollars, support my family, live a lavish life, and be an NFL All-Pro.  I promise that I will be a positive influence to those around me and my community, and to use the talent you gave me to satisfy all of my fans.  I will not use drugs, disobey the law, or be a menace to society.   AMEN!”  Upon seeing Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver, Josh Gordon, enter a downward spiral during this offseason, this is the prayer that is being sent to the man upstairs by every NFL Free Agent, 4th and 5th option on any teams depth chart, and CFL player trying to make their way into National Football League.  Gordon is quickly losing the trust of the Cleveland Browns organization, the NFL, and his many supporters after being arrested for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) over the July 4th weekend.  Not to mention, this is in the midst of facing a year-long suspension from the league for his violation of its substance abuse policy, which he is currently appealing.  The text acronym “SMH” has never been more appropriate.

 

Since the Browns selected the now 23-year old  in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, it was well documented that he had a limitless ceiling but was an at-risk player considering his checkered past with drugs dating back to his collegiate career at Baylor University and the University of Utah.  With that past spilling over onto his professional career, the talented wideout’s career is at a crossroads. After beginning his second season with a 2-game suspension for codeine usage in 2013, he quickly raised the eyebrows of NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, for all the wrong reasons.  Despite receiving word in early May that his 2014 campaign may be cut short before it even starts after failing a drug test for marijuana, it appears that did not shake him up a bit.  The Memorial Day weekend obviously shed light on Gordon’s adrenaline rush for speed, which he was ticketed for, and left the Browns covering their faces.  As Gordon approaches his July appeal hearing for his suspension, these events and his history provide a case against him being in the league rather than for him, especially in light of his recent DWI arrest.

 

So the Cleveland Browns are now faced with the tough decision of either cutting Gordon, and imposing a no nonsense attitude in the their locker room, stand by the troubled receiver, exhibiting a sign of unity and togetherness throughout the ups and downs of those within the Browns family, or to simply wait to come to a determination, whether or not he participates in the 2014 NFL season.  But the home of the Dawg Pound must tread lightly, as they have a host of other issues that are currently disturbing its organizational focus on football.  For one, there will be no stopping Johnny Manziels celebrity status, and partying with the likes of Hollywood socialites and entertainers, which lead to questions about his dedication to the game.  But honestly, what do you expect from a 21 year-old who has a truckload of money at his fingertips?  On top of that, Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam, is battling an ongoing federal investigation of his family business, Pilot Flying J, which has been alleged to be at the forefront of a massive rebate fraud ring on trucking companies.  So while Gordon does come with baggage, the Browns cannot sit there as if everything is peachy in Ohio and he is the only distracter to the franchise.

 

On the flipside, there are feel-good stories of troubled NFL players who have successfully bounced back from their off-the-field troubles.   Cincinnati Bengals Cornerback, Adam “Pac Man” Jones, quickly calmed down his negative conduct after a string of incidents, which most notably included his involvement in a well publicized Las Vegas shooting, and ultimately led to his suspension for the entire 2007 season, along with part of the 2008 season.  I guess once he saw those game checks get chopped more than the chicken at a hibachi grill, he quickly fell in line.  Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been on good behavior and has not had any legal woes since he was suspended six games in 2010 relating to alleged sexual assaults in 2009 and 2010.  Most notably, New York Jets Quarterback, Michael Vick, has been the poster child for how quickly things can evaporate for any player, at any height of fame, in the NFL.  With his career hanging by a thread after pleading guilty to a dog-fighting operation and serving a 23-month prison sentence, Vick complied with all rehabilitative measures that the league encouraged, got his play back up to an A+ level, and earned a $100 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. 

 
Yes, Gordon hasn’t done the best job with seizing the privilege of being a model NFL player, but the potential for greatness is there if he doesn’t fumble any second chances.  In his second year, he led the league in yards with 1,646, caught 87 balls, reached the endzone 9 times, and became the ONLY player in NFL history to post back-to-back 200 yard games. Statistics like that at such an early stage of his career make pulling the plug on Gordon even more difficult for the Browns higher-ups.

 

Though a grey area looms over Gordon’s third season in the league, and how the Browns and the league will handle his recent off-the-field activity, the league has shown that it will make decisions with an iron hand, but still offer a shot a redemption to those who are worthy.  When it’s all said and done, Gordon is simply going to have to want it for himself and understand that his life without the pigskin is not worth a few highs, a few joyrides, or anything else that could jeopardize his playing days.  Whether it is his inner-circle that is steering him wrong or him acting out on his own, some new influences surely couldn’t hurt at this point.  Maybe he should begin to hang with Brown’s Corner, Joe Haden, who just signed a 5-year $68 million dollar extension for shutting receivers down on the field and staying off of the police radar.  He is an example that the Brown’s are interested in rewarding their young talent for doing what they are supposed to do (which is very simple) on the field and off of the field, and investing in the team’s future.  If Gordon does the same, one can only imagine his monetary possibilities and the kind of high praise he would receive outside of pass-catching by getting his life back on track.  Until then, he better expect to be public enemy #1 in the NFL and among his teammates.

 

Basketball Is Everything, Then Again It Isn’t: Using Hoops As A Tool For The Future

Educator, Community Leader, Philanthropist, and Humanitarian.  Hmmm.  Sounds like Bill Gates right?  Try again.  This must be Oprah?  Well only if who I’m talking about was actually a woman.  Despite the above-mentioned titles normally being associated with household names, CEO’s of major corporations, and global icons, quite frankly, there are people who are making a splash in the world without much noise and graciously accept any thanks they are given, if any.  In steps Jamael Lynch, professional basketball player and NBA prospect.  Unknown to Lynch when he first began to handle the rock, his skills in between the 94-foot rectangle would be used to parlay his dreams into real life events and impact the lives of many.  Not only has his hoop dreams paid the bills for him, basketball has been a platform to tackle his own non-profit and for-profit organizations, flourish in a modeling career, and even get on-camera to show off his flair for acting.  This has been done while staying on track with feeding his entrepreneurial spirit.  I guess it’s safe to say that you can add bona fide hustler to his description as well.

 

Fast forward past a successful high school career, tournament championships, and multiple awards, to where the game does a complete 180 and the stakes are ten times higher: the college ranks.  Despite great talents, basketball prowess, and the will to win, sometimes all of those things are not enough to cut the mustard to achieve basketball greatness.  While performing at an exceptional level on the Junior College level by averaging more than 12 points, ranking in the Top 25 of all major statistical categories, and leading his team to a school record, 55 wins and 13 losses, from 2003-2005 at SUNY Cobleskill, the grind of basketball was apparent for the hoops standout. 

 

Upon pursuing greater challenges, and more intense competition, a change of scenery was needed.  After sitting out a year to work on his game and generate interest from several schools, he was recruited to take a chance and walk-on at the University of Rhode Island.  He gladly accepted since he was a firm believer in himself and his abilities.  Though he made it to a big time program, he accepted the fact that he made the great sacrifice of no longer being the go-to man on his team in order to progress.  His minutes were cut, and his points per game took a dip.  For many, that would be the making of frustrated player who would sit in haste and grumble to himself while blaming everyone but himself.  Leave it to the ambitious 20-year old to turn a negative into a positive.  These circumstances were the foundation that pushed Lynch to limits he thought were unreachable.   By the end of the 2006-2007 season when team accolades were handed out, Lynch had earned the “Team Spirit Award” for making his teammates better by matching the quality of play to that of a starter in practice, and tirelessly supporting the team on their way to a conference championship.  Little did he know that these were valuable lessons for his future, and the long-term impact it would have on his career.

 

Although success was achieved at Rhode Island, as he entered his final collegiate campaign Lynch was soon faced with circumstances that would surely alter his basketball path.  Upon learning that his mother began to suffer heightened complications from diabetes, he made the decision to transfer to UMass Lowell, a top Division 2 school in the nation. Though a slight detour, he was able to receive a little more flexibility with his basketball schedule to visit and tend to his mother in New York that a Division 1 school would not provide.  In light of the adversity he faced,he averaged nearly 10 points and saw his per game totals increase in the categories of assists, rebounds, and steals in 2007-2008.  Scouts, Agents, and various members of the basketball community took notice on a national and international scale.

 

With his collegiate career ending on a strong note, along with strutting in his cap and gown to receive his Bachelor of Arts in Marketing, Lynch exhaled a huge sigh of relief after getting back onto the path he initially set his eyes on.  Soon enough, the phone began to ring, his name began to circulate in some of the top managerial circles, and the buzz was ballooning at a rate he never experienced.  Before he knew it, he was on an 8-hour flight to play professionally in France at the 22ft Basketball Academy.  While soaring through the sky, Lynch literally knew his road to the NBA was official like a ref with a whistle. With a newly minted mindset and Terminator-like precision on tackling his newest challenge, he turned into a madman and averaged 18 points, and 14 assists, per contest during his rookie year as a professional.  Though he is listed at a shade taller than six feet, his game surpassed that of the height of two Shaquille O’Neals.  After one season, the westward move across Europe was in full effect, as he went to play at the 1st Regionalliga in Germany.  If his first year wasn’t impressive, he surely upped his game in year two.  By netting 27 points a game and more than 10 dimes each time he graced the hardwood, it was clear that a bigger task was at hand.  As an instrumental piece in leading his team to an International Championship and displaying great leadership among his teammates and coaches, they understood that they would have the inspired point guard in their presence for a short period of time because his performance demonstrated that he was in a class of his own.

JL57 - Overseas

Though overseas and pursuing his childhood fantasy, there were many nights of staring at the ceiling where the realization became clearer that the road to the promised land was not cupcake city, as Dick Vitale would say.  Countries he had never been to, food that tasted funny, and languages that made his eyes cross were never in the initial picture of the “dream” to play in the NBA.  Nonetheless, to have the dream in the palm of his hand, Lynch knew he had to be willing to go to the earth’s edge to accomplish it. In times of clearly being knee-deep in the unknown, the dedication to the game and his fitness regimen remained intact:  the 6:00 a.m. wake-ups for a power breakfast followed by 2-mile run remained a constant, two-a-day gym workouts never slipped out of his schedule and were as common for him as a morning brush of the teeth, and on top of that, the clacking of metal plates became music to his ears during his daily weight training routine.  In light of the many uncertainties that surrounded him during his European tour, his commitment and continued drive towards his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA is what made Lynch believe the best was yet to come.

 

Then the call came from the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) that he was drafted in the 2011 Draft by the Erie Bayhawks.  All of a sudden, Lynch began to salivate like a pit bull staring at a T-bone steak.  Knowing he was on the NBA’s doorstep by playing for the New York Knicks farm team, the 6’1 guard was now peering through the front window of the Association while knocking more than your neighborhood Jehovah’s Witness.  The Bayhawks selection was the siren that indicated his work was paying off.  While some would sulk and focus on the fact that they would be hooping in rural Pennsylvania, the Brooklyn native’s “Let’s get it!” attitude kicked in.  A trait he acquired years earlier during his collegiate days when things appeared to be dim at the University of Rhode Island.  Luckily for him, no matter the environment, his regimen remained a well oiled machine and he had plenty of momentum once he stepped back onto American soil.  The Bayhawk practices were telling of the will and self-determination he possessed, as picks that were set for him were sharply escaped, and he suffered his fare share of floor burns from diving for loose balls, all of which contagiously affected the effort of his teammates and positive play when the bright lights came on.  These displays of exceptional character led to invitations to NBA camps with the likes of current pros, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, and Kyle Lowry.  But instead of being star struck or shying away from the challenge of top flight competition, the fresh Nike’s were laced up, and the opportunity was treated as if it were a job interview (meaning the A-Game was in the building).  Hell-bent on getting better with each decision, dribble, and shot that was taken against those who receive the highest NBA praise, his game elevated to the level of the competition. This “AHA!” moment set the stage for the following 2012-2013 season with the Dallas Vandals of the American Basketball Association (ABA). 

 

While in the Lone Star state, it was evident that Lynch graduated to becoming a floor general of the highest rank.  The ability to play both ends of the floor, and impact the game on paper and in the huddle gained applause from some of the most esteemed players to enter the NBA fraternity.  Mark Aguirre, former overall No. 1 pick in the 1981 NBA Draft, and famed member of the Detroit Piston’s “Bad Boys,” lauded Lynch’s game by describing him as a “Seasoned player awaiting a fair opportunity.  He is savvy in transition and has solid decision making with great floor general skills.”  This kind of attention came on the heels of his per game averages of 15 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and more than 2 steals a game with the Vandals.  Sure enough, NBA scouts began sifting through the stat sheets and game tape to get the inside scoop on this diamond in the ruff that could give their career that prized recruiting gem and upgrade them to an executive level position.

 

Unfortunately, there are always physical bumps in the road for any athlete.  So as Lynch prepared himself for his big break after solid play, the dreaded injury bug reared its ugly head in his direction and locked on like a top-secret military homing missile.  Though he performed at a high level upon returning to the United States, Lynch battled though tearing his labrum in his right shoulder (shooting shoulder), and nearly fracturing his foot in 2012 and 2013.  Both injuries sidelined him for weeks and surely halted the much needed on-court action that would propel him into the league.  Irrespective of any injury that life threw his way, Lynch used the time he was unable to play, as an opportunity to become even more of a mental wizard of the game.  This served as the springboard to sharpen his mind and focus on his spirituality in order to get back onto the court with ease.  Using every lesson as a tool, he also began to prepare for life off of the court, as he realized that an injury could snatch any career away in a heartbeat.

 

Though his off-the-court aspirations were already in motion, once injured, the importance of these initiatives were magnified and greatly emphasized.  The knowledge he has gained from his collegiate and professional experiences are now being implemented into the JLynch57 Foundation, which was founded in 2011.  Through this exists non-profit and for-profit initiatives that he is spearheading for the benefit of today’s youth and will take place during the summer of 2014 (July and August).  The for-profit, “The Big and Little Skills Academy,” is a weekly developmental clinic that schools basketball enthusiasts between the ages of 8-18 on the social, mental, physical, and nutritional benefits, and obstacles that come along with the sport.  Guidance from pro’s like Lynch, former NBA player Vin Baker, along with other professional and collegiate players that support the same mission, will provide an opportunity for an experience rather than a place to merely run a few drills.  Using basketball to build confidence, develop self-esteem, and instill responsibility and accountability at an early age, pre-teens and teenagers will leave the Academy with the ability to exceed their own expectations and tackle life’s curveballs.  Then on weekends the competition will intensify at the non-profit program, “Get Your Game Up.”  Here, the kids will be challenged to go hard in Saturday practices in preparation for Sunday’s basketball tournaments.  Kids will be able engage on a competitive level and showcase their new moves that they learned the day prior through one-on-one coaching coupled with educational basketball sessions that teach the X’s and O’s of the game.

 

Both programs will showcase Lynch’s learned tutorials on what is needed to excel and play basketball at a high level.  He intends to emphasize the beneficial long-term impact that constant repetition will have on any player’s game.  From his experience in youth leagues through playing professionally, Lynch has the ability to pinpoint which small learning moments and teaching tools are often overlooked by a younger player.  With attention to detail being such a critical part of any player’s success and development, the crafts of shooting, ball-handling, pre-game preparation, and critical individual self-analysis geared towards constant improvement, will be reinforced so all participants in the programs can soak up every ounce that game of basketball has to give.  These skill building exercises are designed as a segue to provide the youngsters with transferrable techniques that will equip them to handle the job-force, personal and professional relationships, and unexpected obstacles that they are bound to encounter upon entering adulthood.

 

Lynch’s exposure to the pros and cons of the game will be a highlight of the Academy, as many aspiring professional athletes only see the positive that come along with being a star and obtaining celebrity.  Many begin their love for the game by emulating their favorite player in hopes of making it to the NBA.  Along that road, guidance and advice can make all of the difference, and can prepare you for the ups and downs that the basketball journey has for each player.  The paths of Lenny Cooke versus Lebron James speak volumes about having a solid supporting cast that have someone’s best interest at heart.  But despite Lynch’s achievements up to this point, some things he was just not prepared for.  “Schools won’t always go your way and recruit you, and learning how to rebound from your falls is big.  No obstacle should stop you.  Just know that life is testing how strong you are and the kind of character you have” is what he said about the twists and turns of pursuing his dream.  These very life experiences that were attacked head-on will be echoed to all throughout each clinic, as they fight through each drill, and confront adversity when they miss a last-second shot or get pulled out of the game for a lack of mental focus and turn the ball over.

 

While knee deep in his community efforts and his pro-hoops career, Lynch hasn’t let that deter him from other ventures and career interests that he is preparing for A.B. (“After Basketball” for you history buffs).  Acting, Modeling, and continually growing the Skills Academies are all on his plate, and he is chomping at the bit. His on-camera talent has been explored by being featured in national advertising campaigns for Boost Mobile, Footlocker, Nike, and Spalding.  All of which came to him by first perfecting that quick crossover dribble and pull-up jumper from the free-throw line that all guards must execute in their sleep.  Before heading down these roads, it was realized that basketball would serve a purpose for him off the court as well.  I always wanted this game to be a platform to help other people and myself in other ways.  It had to be more than just basketball.  It helped me become a better person and instilled the necessary traits to succeed even after my playing days are far behind me.”  That kind of thinking from Lynch shows that he is wiser than what his 29-year old age would predict. By thinking ahead, maintaining a creative mindset for leveraging opportunities, and anticipating his career and future business, a lane of his own is being carved.  While some may need basketball to give them millions to begin new ventures and community-based initiatives, he simply takes what the defense gives him; life in this case, rolls up his sleeves like James Evans of Good Times, and gets the job done to keep everything afloat and moving in a forward motion.

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With a never-say-die attitude that got him through some of the most humbling times earlier in his career, Lynch has surely put in the work to thrive in the future.  At this point, some may say “What else is there to be done?  He is already a success.”  The New Yorker may chuckle at such a comment, knowing he is striving to be a legend for generations to come and mountains of the unaccomplished stand in front of him.  But what do you call a “success” that’s actually just getting started?  Undoubtedly on a path to constantly reinvent himself, before you know it, “success” will be substituted by “great,” then great will be substituted by “transcendent,” and so on. Through tackling new challenges, and pushing for the unimaginable, it would be wise stay tuned for only the second chapter of what we will know as the evolution of Jamael Lynch.

 

  •  By: Clinton Jackson