HBO documentary to feature WKU’s Derrick Gordon

12 08 2011

Release per HBO:

High school basketball is the last pure platform of the sport.  Where the NBA and even college ball are “just a business,” high school basketball is played for school, community, family, friends and love of the game.

Directed by Marc Levin (the 1998 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Slam”), PRAYER FOR A PERFECT SEASON is a gripping account of the 2010-11 boys’ basketball season at St. Patrick’s High School, located in a hardscrabble neighborhood of Elizabeth, NJ.

This feature-length documentary chronicles the extraordinary effort of coach Kevin Boyle and his players, whose journey ends in a winner-take-all showdown for the mythical national championship with archrival St. Anthony’s of Jersey City, when it debuts TUESDAY, OCT. 25 (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

PRAYER FOR A PERFECT SEASON captures the intersection of two forces – the soaring media interest in the big game, and the decline of Catholic school programs – while illuminating the real-life issues players and coaches confront during the season.

Coached by Kevin Boyle, the St. Patrick Celtics’ 2010-11 team was loaded with talent and plagued by distractions.  Star player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (now a freshman at the University of Kentucky) was one of the nation’s top performers and his elite skills had cast him in an unrelenting spotlight since grade school.

When Kidd-Gilchrist was just two and a half years old, his father was murdered, and he also lost his surrogate father at the beginning of his senior year of high school.

Complementing Kidd-Gilchrist, senior shooting guard Derrick Gordon (ticketed for Western Kentucky University) must live with his twin brother’s incarceration for aggravated assault.

PRAYER FOR A PERFECT SEASON follows the roller-coaster ride of a team on the brink of history, at a school on the verge of becoming insolvent, where the journey to the top of the polls is inspiring, but the future is filled with uncertainty.  The quest for the perfect season comes down to the March 9 title game, a prime-time match-up on the campus of Rutgers University before an overflow crowd, as St. Patrick’s (26-0) confronts archnemesis St. Anthony’s (29-0), led by Basketball Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley.

Marc Levin’s previous HBO credits include “Schmatta:  Rags to Riches to Rags,” the Emmy®-winning “Thug Life in D.C.,” “Protocols of Zion” “Gang War:  Bangin’ in Little Rock” and “Gladiator Days.”

PRAYER FOR A PERFECT SEASON is a Blowback Production in association with Overbrook Productions; directed by Marc Levin; produced by Karl Hollandt, Ben Selkow and R. Binky Brown; editor, James Lester; director of photography, Daniel B. Levin.  For HBO:  executive producers, Shelia Nevins and Rick Bernstein; senior producers, Nancy Abraham and Joe Lavine.

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WKU football media day

11 08 2011

A few snippets from Western Kentucky’s football media day, which the team held today inside E.A. Diddle Arena.

WKU coach Willie Taggart was joined by offensive coordinator Zach Azzanni, defensive coordinator Lance Guidry as well as senior defensive end Jared Clendenin and senior running back Bobby Rainey.

Taggart, his assistants and both players arrived at the media day news conference wearing their now custom-made blue-collared work shirts – as the team continues to put emphasis on getting back to basics.

In any event, a few comments from today:

WKU coach Willie Taggart:

On his team’s progression to this point:

“Our guys are working hard, they understand how to practice now and that’s fun to watch as a coach. I’m not emotionally hijacked because guys are going the wrong way or don’t know what we’re doing. Our football team now understands how we practice and that’s fun. Guys aren’t sitting around looking clueless either.

“I always say, I hate boring people – and I tell our football team that we can’t be that way. We have to be excited. If you make an interception, get excited. If you catch a pass, get excited. Guys will say, ‘coach, I’ve been there already.’ No, you haven’t. It’s hard to catch a ball, it’s hard to score a touchdown or get a pick – I want my team to enjoy what they’re doing.”

On the importance of WKU’s season-opener vs. Kentucky in Nashville:

“It’s very, very, very important – because it’s the first game. It’s the first one on the schedule and the first game we can play. It’s the beginning of a new season and I want to see what our football team can do.

“I’ve watched them grow, watched the culture change and now I’m excited to go watch our guys respond after starting to finally believe in themselves.”

Taggart on his mission to remind his team of WKU’s past football success, and show them what the school once was, and possibly could be again:

“When I was a player, we didn’t have all this stuff. We worked for everything we got. We didn’t complain, we just worked. We had fun, we enjoyed each other – but at the end of the day, we worked. There are a lot of people counting on us to do well and there are a lot of people that worked really hard to get us to where we are today, they were blue collar – and I’m one of them. And I want our guys to get back to that.

“We brought some old footage back and really showed them what we went through. I showed them an old OVC championship team. And how, you know, today we run onto the field out of a tunnel through the helmet – back then, we ran through a car port. That’s ghetto-fabulous – that was big time. Those guys went crazy when they saw that. And back then, we thought we had something going – we had the smoke, all that, we had fun and we won a lot of ballgames.

“We didn’t worry about any other stuff back then, we just had fun and played ball. And that’s how I want our team to be.

“A lot of guys don’t understand how it is around here. When I took this job I said that I was going to beat (WKU’s football tradition) back into them. There’s a rich tradition here and we have to get back to feeling that way. … We don’t have to settle and I want our team to stop settling and talking about being the new guys on the block or the transition. Get away from excuses and just work. That’s what we used to do around here. We took everything we ever won and got. If we wanted it, we went out and took it. We need to get back to doing that.

“We need to put pride back into this program, because there are a lot of (former players) out there that are waiting to be able to go to work and brag on this team. A lot of people are depending on us.

“Every night after practice during camp I have a former player come speak to the team. The other night we had (former player) Pat Reynolds, who played on the (2002 1-AA National Championship team). He gave a great speech – we were all fired up. And he walked up, took out his championship ring and left it there. He said he was coming back to get that when we win the Sun Belt.

“And he said he’d be getting a lot of other guys to put their rings up to let them know how important it is – I put mine up. But I want that thing back, quick.”

Taggart on his expectations for Bobby Rainey this season – Rainey himself has set a goal for 2,000 rushing yards:

“Bobby looks good. He’s been good. I tell him to shoot for the stars. Our team, we want a Sun Belt championship. You have to set those goals high, and if he doesn’t set that goal high he won’t get it.

“I always tell Bobby that you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. If he gets less than 1,600 yards, I tell him he’ll have gotten a little bit worse. If he gets 1,600 on the dot – I’ll take it – but still, a little bit worse. He understands that, though, and we talk about that with everything in our program.”

Taggart on how time is running out for his veterans to make a mark:

“No matter how you put it, it’ll hurt them if they leave here having lost their entire career. You’ll think about that and think about everything you could have done. But now, they have an opportunity to lead this program to a winning season and go out as a winner.

“And they have to hold these young guys accountable to make sure that this group goes out a winner. … You could leave here and say you were a part of getting something started again, and they should take pride in that.

“They’re doing a good job of holding guys accountable – and that’s a big difference. They’ve been able to show the young guys the way in how to get things done.”

Taggart on Kawaun Jakes’ development at quarterback:

“Kawaun’s growing up, just like the rest of our football team. I commend him because he’s done a great job of taking criticism. He got a lot of it last year, even though he’d only played one year and was in a new system – he got it bad, but he took it well.

“I knew he wouldn’t get this offense down in one year, if he did, he would already be playing at the next level. I understood that we were running our offense with a spread group, I knew we weren’t going to be on our A-game all the time.

“But Kawaun’s always had the tools to run and throw the ball. The concern always was, to me, doing those little things on and off the field. He can’t who anybody any weakness, he can’t show them that he’s rattled. He’s got to put it on his shoulders. He wasn’t that way before, he was just like the rest of them.

“I told him simply, there’s a part of you that your teammates can’t have – sorry, it’s just the way it is. He can’t be like them, that’s what he signed up for when he wanted to play quarterback. And he’s understanding that now. And he’s putting in the work now to get there, before, he wasn’t doing it. Now, he’s studying film, taking notes, and that’s good to see.”

 

For more on media day, see Friday’s Daily News





WKU football: Padding up

10 08 2011

The Western Kentucky football team was scheduled to practice in pads for the first time this afternoon.

The practice was only open to media during the first 15 minutes, so while coach Willie Taggart couldn’t give a full reaction to how the group looked – he said he was excited to see his group hit for the first time since spring.

“It’s exciting to get out here and see what guys are all about,” Taggart said. “We’ll have some time to see what these young guys can do – in pads and helmets they look the part, but we’ll find out with everything on.

“One linebacker, (sophomore) Andrew Jackson has looked great in just shorts and helmets – so I’m really excited to see him. I told our team last night after they had a great practice that now we have to put two together, and we have to do it with pads on. I’m excited.”

Freshmen showing their stuff

Taggart noted several true freshmen that have already caught the coaching staff’s eye during the first week of practice.

Taggart said that receiver Boe Brand has been solid during his work with fellow freshmen and veterans.

He also noted that freshmen defensive backs Cam Thomas (safety) and Champ Lewis have been playing ahead of the curve early – remember, Taggart routinely pointed out Arius Wright and Tyree Robinson at this point last season, and both ended up as fixtures in the starting lineup.

Taggart also touched on the talent of freshmen running backs Marquis Sumler, Quartterrio Morgan and John Evans –saying that all have been exciting early, and all have serious potential moving forward.

“They’re almost playing a little too fast right now,” he said. “They’re a little antsy – I want them to calm down a little bit, but there’s a lot of potential right there.”

O-line stays quiet

Prior to the start of last season, the WKU offensive line made a pact to boycott any media requests until the team’s losing streak was snapped.

The group stayed true to its promise – not uttering a word to anyone (not even WKU sports information) until the Hilltoppers ended their skid against Louisiana-Lafayette.

This season, the group is at it again – as senior offensive tackle Wes Jeffries informed WKU sports information that he and his fellow linemen would be denying any media request until the Hilltoppers win a home game.

The last home football game WKU won was Sept. 20, 2008 against Murray State – and currently, the group’s home losing streak stands at 15 games.

On Thursday

The Hilltoppers will host their annual media day at Houchens-Smith Stadium on Thursday – but the team will not unveil its new uniforms.

WKU sports information said that the team is expected to unveil the new design of its uniforms on Aug. 19.

Also, in Thursday’s Daily News, we catch up with WKU tight ends coach Stu Holt – a former staff member during the David Elson era that has returned to the Hilltopper sidelines this season.





On a personal note …

9 08 2011

When I began working at the Daily News in 2007 and eventually started this blog in 2009, I was clear to all involved that it was my goal to bring fans of Western Kentucky athletics the most honest, accurate and up-front coverage that I could possibly offer.

And sticking with that, I’d like to take another opportunity to be as honest with you as possible right now.

With hints of both sadness and excitement, I offered my two-week notice to the Daily News this morning as I have recently accepted a position as the University of Michigan basketball beat writer at AnnArbor.com in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Since 2007, Bowling Green and Warren County has been like a home to me. I’ve met so many phenomenal people during my time on the WKU beat, both inside and outside the playing arena – people that have treated me with great respect and kindness.

People I’ll never – ever – forget.

But, for me, the state of Michigan is home – even in the winter – and that just won’t ever change. And my new opportunity professionally was one that I simply couldn’t pass up.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank anyone that’s ever read this blog, any story I’ve penned in print or interacted with me on Twitter – and to anyone that’s ever stopped me in passing to bend my ear, to give me a pat on the back, toss me some criticism or just say hello.

My job has always been to provide honest, fair and accurate coverage of the programs you care deeply about.

And I’m proud to say that I think we’ve accomplished that here.

It’s been a truly wonderful four-plus seasons here at the Daily News on the WKU beat – and while the future will offer change, I pledge to do my best to make the present as strong as ever.

I’ve got two more weeks with you here in Bowling Green, and I intend on giving you everything I have until that clock strikes zero.

So if you’ll excuse me, your Western Kentucky football program is in the midst of fall camp – and I’ve got practices left to cover.

Sincerely,

Nick Baumgardner





WKU men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Ryan Johnson leaving program

8 08 2011

Western Kentucky men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Ryan Johnson is leaving the Hilltopper program, according to WKU senior associate athletic director Todd Stewart.

Stewart told the Daily News on Monday that Johnson – who was hired prior to the 2010-11 campaign – will be departing the Hilltopper program to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy.

Johnson came to WKU last year prior to spending two seasons as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach at the University of Texas.

According to Stewart, Johnson will pursue his degree near the Texas/New Mexico area – putting him closer to he and his wife Sara’s home.





WKU football: Practice notes 8/8

8 08 2011

Western Kentucky football practice ran a little long today – which means one thing:

Us media folks got to see a bit more than we usually do, as we’re generally only allowed in during the last 15-20 minutes.

In any event, plenty of notes from today’s on-field action.

Freshmen everywhere

Due to some scheduling conflicts with morning classes, a good number of true freshmen were able to take the field with the veterans this morning – and several of them looked impressive in doing so.

A few that caught my eye:

TE Mitchell Henry – the former Elizabethtown product looks the part at 6-4, 247, and he’s got the early makings of becoming a Jack Doyle clone.

Henry was quick enough to run by linebackers in coverage, and showed strong hands by making a few nice catches in traffic over the middle in front of defensive backs.

WR Tyler Higbee – Higbee was originally labeled as a tight end when he signed, but the 6-5, 219-pounder is now listed as a wide receiver.

There’s one obvious thing that sets Higbee apart from everyone else at wideout – he’s 6-5.

He got several reps in with the first-team unit today and made some nice in-traffic grabs from quarterback Kawaun Jakes. Freshmen receivers Cameron Brown and Boe Brand also got reps with the first unit today, but it was Higbee who seemed to take the most advantage of the situations.

OT Delryn Wilson and OG Cliff Burns – Wilson was lined up at tackle and Burns (who is actually a JUCO transfer junior) played inside at guard for most of the day. During individual one-on-one drills, both players were able to hold their own against returning defensive linemen.

Burns, meanwhile, got plenty of reps with the first-team unit inside at guard – and at 6-8, 335, appears to be in a good position to earn a spot.

Wilson is still growing into his frame (6-3, 289), and I’d almost bet that the staff takes advantage of his redshirt year – but he appeared to have some serious natural ability.

QB James Mauro – Mauro got the lion’s share of the No. 2 reps Monday because redshirt freshman Brandon Doughty was in class.

Mauro didn’t look outstanding, but didn’t look terribly lost either.

He seemed comfortable with almost all of the underneath throws, but seemed a bit more out of his element with more complex routes that took time to develop.

DT Jamichael Payne – Payne is obviously huge at 6-1, 350. And he did spend time working in with the first-team unit today. But he appears to have plenty of work to do – as defensive coordinator Lance Guidry commented after practice that he’s very impressive during the first half of practice, but not as much toward the end.

Meaning that he’s got to get in better shape. The same was said about freshman DT Bryan Shorter – who has the size to make an impact at 6-2, 272 – but just needs some refining.

RBs Quartterrio Morgan, Marquis Sumler and John Evans – All three of these guys ran very hard when given a chance.

And all three showed off solid hands during skeleton drills.

Morgan and Sumler are true tailbacks – and let’s be honest, they’ll have to wait for Bobby Rainey to graduate before competing for a starter’s share of carries.

But Evans is interesting. He spent time returning punts, ran a lot of routes from the slot and spent some time in the backfield. He’s not big at 5-11, 159, but has the makings of a very effective third-down scat back.

Linebackers taking shape

Guidry took some time to speak to the media following today’s workout and spoke a great deal about the linebacker competition.

As most of you know by now, WKU’s three linebacking spots are basically up for grabs this fall – as the club lost three starters from a season ago.

Junior Tye Golden emerged as the front-runner in the middle during the spring, but Guidry said today that he’ll have to push harder to keep sophomore Andrew Jackson from taking his spot.

Outside, it appears that sophomore Xavius Boyd is well entrenched at one spot – while senior Ben Duvall and junior Tyler Julian are shifting in and out on the other side.

Also getting plenty of reps at linebacker early this fall is senior Tenerio Davis and sophomore Mike Federspiel.

When WKU gathered for a full scrimmage drill toward the end of practice, the first-team unit consisted of defensive ends Quanterus Smith and Bo Adebayo, defensive tackles Jamichael Payne and Bryan Shorter, linebackers Golden, Boyd and Duvall, safeties Ricardo Singh and Kareem Peterson and corners Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright.





Bobby Rainey on Paul Hornung Award watch list

8 08 2011

Western Kentucky senior running back Bobby Rainey has grabbed more national pub this morning by landing on the Paul Hornung Award watch list.

Rainey – part of a group that includes 20 seniors, 20 juniors and 10 sophomores – lands on the Hornung list for the second straight year.

The award – which is given by the Louisville Sports Commission – goes to the country’s most versatile player in college football.

Rainey is the only player from the state of Kentucky to land on the list, and is joined in representing the Sun Belt by  T.Y. Hilton of Florida International and Jyruss Edwards of Louisiana-Monroe.

The WKU senior running back is also on the Maxwell Award watch list, as well as the Doak Walker Award watch list.