The most underrated performances of the Olympics belong to Ducks

The most underrated performances of the Olympics belong to Ducks

Yes, there was Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Simone Biles -- they turned in spectacular performances in Rio. But please let's not forget what a trio of former Oregon Ducks pulled off in the Olympics. We're talking about historically significant stuff from Ashton Eaton, Matthew Centrowitz and Galen Rupp.

Eaton, competing in an event that used to be the centerpiece of the Olympics, won his second gold medal -- only the third man to take gold in the decathlon in back-to-back Olympics. Humble, polite and poised, he doesn't even like that "World's Greatest Athlete" label that usually goes with winning an Olympic decathlon gold medal. I hope he finds a challenging and fulfilling next chapter in his life. Certainly he's got the kind of versatility and poise to succeed in many different pursuits.

Centrowitz won the gold medal in the 1,500 meters, something that hadn't been done by a U.S. runner in more than a century. That's difficult to believe, in that this country has produced some terrific milers. Seriously, Centrowitz did something that Jim Ryun, Wes Santee, Steve Scott, Marty Liquori and so many others couldn't do. The list of great U.S. milers and 1,500-meter runners includes so many Ducks, too. I'll list just some of them, knowing full well I'll think of a few more later: Dyrol Burleson, Jim Grelle, Keith Forman, Roscoe Divine, Wade Bell, Dave Wilborn, Steve Prefontaine, Paul Geis, Rudy Chapa and even Matt Centrowitz Sr.

To do something that hasn't been done by an American since 1908 by is pretty amazing.

Rupp didn't come away with a gold medal. He settled for third in the marathon but considering it was just the second one he's ever run it was an amazing performance. Rupp has seemed to be searching for his best race and perhaps he's found it in the marathon, which is such a punishing discipline. He's successfully run every distance from the mile through 5,000 and 10,000 meters before trying 26 miles. He's got charisma and obvious toughness and someday he's going to bring a gold medal back to Portland.

There were other Ducks in Rio, of course. But this trio was the most special.



Dansby Swanson's hop to the big leagues was a short one


Dansby Swanson's hop to the big leagues was a short one

Dansby Swanson was the No. 1 player taken in baseball's June free-agent draft in 2015, by the Arizona Diamondbacks and when he arrived at midseason with the Hillsboro Hops, all eyes were on him.

Swanson didn't disappoint. After a slow start, he hit .289 with a .394 on-base percentage and helped lead the Hops to a Northwest League championship. The D-Backs traded Swanson, part of a deal that brought them pitcher Shelby Miller, during the off-season to the Atlanta Braves. He became a symbol of hope for the fans of the hapless Braves -- a player the franchise could build its future around.

The Braves traded shortstop Erick Aybar to Detroit Tuesday, opening the door for Swanson -- who was hitting .261 in Double-A -- to make the jump to the big leagues, where the Braves are saying he will be in the starting lineup tonight.

I hope he can handle it. Players -- even college players like Swanson -- can react in different ways to being rushed to the major leagues. Last season the New York Mets got former Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto into their lineup in the latter stages of the season and he was a big help in their pennant push and performed well in the post season. But this year, for whatever reason, he has struggled mightily, hitting just .218, and was recently optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas for the second time this season.

Swanson is a charismatic player who exudes confidence and ability. We saw this last season in short-season Class A baseball. The fans loved him and so did his teammates. His ability to handle the spotlight mentally is probably beyond question. But his ability to handle big-league pitching? That's another matter. But this is just a six-week trial period for him to get accustomed to the big leagues and the real pressure will come next season as the Braves move into their new ballpark and more will be asked of Swanson.

Can he be the savior of what's become a downtrodden franchise? Maybe, but that's a lot to ask.

Especially when he's been rushed into this role so quickly without the lessons most players learn from a minor-league apprenticeship.


Ex-Hawk assistant Travis Green mentioned as candidate for Av job

Ex-Hawk assistant Travis Green mentioned as candidate for Av job

Travis Green spent five seasons as an assistant to head coach Mike Johnston with the Portland Winterhawks before heading to the American Hockey League for more experience to better prepare him for his goal of being a head coach in the National Hockey League.

His success says he's going to get a shot soon -- and could it be with the Colorado Avalanche?

The Denver Post is listing him as a possible candidate for the vacant head-coach job there:

Green, 45, played 15 seasons with six NHL teams and got into coaching as an assistant with major junior’s Portland Winterhawks. After head coach Mike Johnston was suspended for player-recruiting violations, Green was the interim coach when the Winterhawks advanced to the Memorial Cup finals and lost to Nathan MacKinnon and the Halifax Mooseheads. Then he joined Utica, and the Comets have been 120-78-30.

Green has one year remaining on his contract, with an out clause for landing an NHL head-coaching job, so in his case, asking for permission to contact him is as much of a courtesy as an obligation. He interviewed for the vacant Anaheim job in the off-season before the Ducks hired veteran Randy Carlyle.

“I think it came right down to the wire,” Green recently told Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province. “They had to make a tough decision and they went with a guy who has had success in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup. He’s a very good coach and I have a lot of respect for a lot of coaches, and you hope one day that you find a fit.

“Timing is everything. It’s not a sprint for me. There’s a reason I went to junior (Portland) for five years and a reason I went to the AHL and have stayed on as a head coach. I talk about the process a lot and I preach it.”

From what we saw in Portland, Green is going to be a good one. He's a great communicator and has had success wherever he's been -- including that season in Portland when he took the reins from Johnston because of the suspension.


U.S. Olympic basketball has some issues with selfishness

U.S. Olympic basketball has some issues with selfishness

The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team is struggling and everybody has an opinion about it.

We've probably heard all the excuses by now and there is some merit to most of them:

  • The rest of the basketball world is catching up.
  • Those other teams have the same group of guys playing together for many years.
  • The U.S. players haven't had enough time together as a unit.

Certainly there is truth in all of those things. But let's face it -- this group is playing nowhere near its potential and is way more talented than any of the teams that have come close to beating it in Rio. Seriously, that French team with Tony Parker on the sidelines comes within three points of the U.S.? That's not right. The Australian team is full of NBA players, plays hard and smart -- but come on, Aron Baynes? Yes, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellevadova are solid guards but not NBA all-stars.

Actually, most of the other teams in the field are experienced, but several of them are on the edge of being old. Yes, we've seen those Aussies together for years -- but many of them are on the downside of their career. Same with the team from France.

At the World Cup two years ago the Americans went 9-0 and nobody came within 20 points of them. Was that a better team than this one? Yes. But this team is still full of NBA all-stars.

The truth is, the best player on this U.S. team is Kevin Durant. Hands down. But he's gotten just 10 shots over the last two games. The U.S. is not moving the ball and thus not shooting well. There's been way too much hero-ball and not enough ball movement. That's obvious. My theory is that there's a degree of selfishness that may pop up when Carmelo Anthony is your team leader -- even though Anthony's play has been a bright spot.

Could you really expect Anthony to be preaching unselfish play to his teammates?

But the team's real problem is on defense. When the U.S. coaching staff added Tom Thibodau I figured he'd take care of that department. He's supposed to be the defensive guru, right? But it hasn't turned out that way. Pick-and-roll defense has been a complete disaster and I'm not seeing a lot of energy being expended at the defensive end.

Yes. it helps when your team has been together a while, but basic NBA defense is the same for just about every team. Pick-and-roll coverage is pretty basic and certainly we know that every NBA player has an idea of what is expected of him based on what type of defense his team plays.

But these players are not meeting those expectations and I don't believe it has a lot to do with how long this bunch has been together.

It appears to me the coaches are not getting through to their players. The effort level is not what it needs to be and that has to change. Oh well, the medal round is about to begin and my guess is that we will soon see an uptick in the interest level of the American players, who may not take the early round all that seriously.

It's time the coaches find a rotation of players who will bring energy and intelligence to the floor and then stick to that rotation. If you don't get it done on defense, you don't play. So far, this thing reminds me of an all-star game with the coaching staff attempting to make sure everybody gets a chance to play and everyone's happy.

All-star games don't mean much to NBA players. And when you think about it, that's the type of defense we're seeing -- the kind you see in an all-star game.

That has to change.


No game on Christmas Day but holiday season not kind to Blazers

No game on Christmas Day but holiday season not kind to Blazers

Rumors of a Christmas Day game proved to be false but the announcement of the NBA schedule Thursday brought little holiday cheer for the Portland Trail Blazers.

The holiday season brings a rough patch of games, both home and road.

Consider this: Beginning Dec. 5, Portland embarks on a five-game road trip to Chicago, Milwaukee, Memphis, Indiana and the Los Angeles Clippers, returns home for ONE GAME against Oklahoma City, then heads right back out for road games at Denver, Golden State and Sacramento. Then there are four straight home games over Christmas, but they're against Dallas, San Antonio, Toronto and Sacramento. Then, to complete the holiday season, the Blazers head out to road games at San Antonio, Minnesota and Golden State. The contest against the Timberwolves is scheduled for Jan. 1.

That game is also in the midst of a wacky zig-zag trip that seems to be more common in recent years in the NBA -- a trip to San Antonio, then up to Minneapolis and then back to Oakland. Portland has a similar three-game trip in February that calls for a stop in Orlando before heading to Toronto and Detroit. Then in March Portland has a trip that features Phoenix-to-New Orleans-to-San Antonio-to Atlanta-to Miami. It's not often a west-coast team doesn't play Orlando and Miami on the same trip to Florida.

If your travel agent booked you on these sorts of trips you'd ask for your money back. What an enormous waste of jet fuel.

The redeeming feature of the schedule is its closing days. The Trail Blazers get 10 of their last 12 games at home.

There's something cool about big-league has-beens still playing ball

There's something cool about big-league has-beens still playing ball

I can't help but find something kind of cool about that bunch of former big-league players getting together for a run in the National Baseball Congress World Series -- which for many years was a very big deal in the world of amateur baseball.

Semi-pro baseball, which was filled with a combination of ex-pros and hotshot college players, was once a very big deal -- locally and nationally. A few decades ago southeast Portland's Sckavone Field was a mecca for semi-pro baseball, as teams such as Archer Blower, Beall Pipe and the Portland Lobos played for national championships with rosters filled with ex-college and pro stars. It was a great era.

The NBC World Series has survived for all these years in its home in Wichita, Kan., and this year is drawing a lot of attention because of the team of former big leaguers put together by Roger Clemens and Adam LaRoche that includes 11 former all-stars. That team is still alive in the tournament, even though it was earlier tagged with a loss by a team of junior-college all-stars.

Thursday night it defeated the defending champion Seattle Studs (yes, old timers, an apparent descendent of Tacoma's Cheney Studs) behind the pitching of former Ashland High and Stanford big-leaguer Jeremy Guthrie.

These guys are playing because they miss baseball, not because they are getting paid. And I get it. I went back and played in a 38-and-over league a few years ago and had a blast for a couple of years with some good friends. There were some ex-pros in the league and I can tell you there's nothing more fun than facing an ex-big league pitcher. Even if he strikes you out.

I would think those guys in the NBC tourney feel the same way about facing the likes of Tim Hudson and Clemens.

Good luck to these guys, who still have enough little boy in them to play the game they love.

Most painful interview of my career? No doubt it was "Pistol Pete"

Most painful interview of my career? No doubt it was "Pistol Pete"

I was interested to read about Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins revealing his most painful interview -- former NBA player JaVale McGee.

That got me thinking about my most painful interview and there's never been any question about it. Through all my years in this business one interview still makes me shudder when I think about it, because I've never had this happen, before or since.

As a young reporter at the Oregon Journal I was sent to Memorial Coliseum to do a sidebar story at a Trail Blazer game. I was still covering high school sports in those days and this was my first time getting to go near an NBA game as a reporter. Being assigned to sidebars at that time usually meant interviewing someone on the opposing team after the game.

There was no doubt who I wanted to interview and he was probably my favorite basketball player up to that time -- the great Pete Maravich. I knew, of course, that Maravich was a prickly personality, not given to being cordial to those who wished to speak with him. As I recall, his team lost the game that night, too. I was ready to take the challenge.

But as it turned out, Maravich didn't turn down my request. He didn't snap at me. He didn't swear at me. None of that -- those are things I would get later from J.R. Rider and they were easy to deal with.

Maravich did something nobody has ever done -- he absolutely refused to acknowledge that I existed on the planet earth. He went about his business of getting dressed, packing up a bag and shuffling out of the locker room, expertly acting as if I wasn't even there as I attempted all sorts of questions and conversation-starters! I followed him all the way to the bus trying to get an answer out of him, but not once did he look at me, slow down or even act as if I was as important as a pimple on his backside.


And for somebody doing an NBA locker room for the first time, it was about as embarrassing and humiliating as it could have been. And this is coming from someone who was once called "the devil on earth" by Rider, whom I actually thought I was going to have to fight at one point.

Maravich passed away years ago and by then he'd started to be a little more welcoming to the media's requests. But I'll never forget "Pistol Pete" and his his vacant stare over the top of my head.

It was excruciating.

Michael Phelps had a baseball moment during medal ceremony

Michael Phelps had a baseball moment during medal ceremony

If you were watching Michael Phelps on the medal stand Monday night, you could see he was fighting back tears for a few seconds.

But then, as the national anthem played, he almost completely lost control in a laughing fit. Obviously, something struck him as uproariously funny.

And it had, believe it or not, to do with the Baltimore Orioles, his hometown baseball team.

If you've ever been to a ballgame in Baltimore you know what I'm talking about. Baltimoreans put their own spin on the national anthem when they sing along prior to games:

"Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave," becomes "OOOOO-HHHHH, say does.." in Baltimore, with fans screaming the "Oh" as loud as possible. It's a tribute to the Orioles, the baseball team that moved to Baltimore in 1954 and helped many a sports fan get over the loss of the beloved Colts when they relocated in the dead of night to Indianapolis in 1984.

Turns out that some of Phelps' buddies from Baltimore made the trip to Rio to watch him and they hit the "OOOOO-HHHHH" pretty hard during the anthem. As emotional as the win was for Phelps, you can imagine how well it must have felt in that moment to hear his boys from home make their presence felt in a special way that he'd immediately understand.

It was quite a night for Michael Phelps, perhaps the best ever in a wondrous Olympic career.


The case of Portland State's incredible new shrinking arena


The case of Portland State's incredible new shrinking arena

Portland State has begun construction of it's new "pavilion" on campus, in case you haven't noticed. But I find it interesting how much the vision for the new arena has changed over the last few years.

This project is a little more than half of what I remembered it was supposed to be.

Webster's has a definition for "pavilion" that is "a large building that is used for sports or public events." As such, I'm not sure the "pavilion" part of "Viking Pavilion" applies these days. I wouldn't call this new structure "large."

At one time, I seem to remember the seating capacity of that building was going to be somewhere near 7,000. But I couldn't find any written evidence of that. But I have found various accounts listing the projected seating capacity of the arena as 5,500, and then "nearly 6,000-seat," and 5,000, then it dropped to "4,700 for sports," then I found 4,800, and now I'm reading mostly 3,000. On top of that, the early renderings of the building always showed what appeared to be a new arena sitting atop the previous Stott Center -- a spanking new top floor for the building.

The drawings I'm seeing now aren't so grandiose. Mike Lund, Portland State associate athletic director media/communications, provided the latest rendering, which is used with this post. And he explained the loss in seating capacity:

"When the project was first introduced the thought was we would be able to get about 5000 seats," he wrote in an email. "As plans evolved and space was actually worked out that was reduced down to 3000-3500. We do have to provide for a lot of academic space, larger sports medicine facility, more offices and some classrooms. I don't really think the seating will be a big issue for us."

And about the different look of the structure:

"As for the structure, the arena will not be on top. The building is being gutted on the east side. When reconstruction begins the final project will be taller than the original building so it is going up."

The Stott Center seating capacity previously was barely more than 1,000 so anything larger is an improvement. But I must say I'm disappointed that PSU is going to so much expense and trouble to build an arena for its Division I basketball program that is apparently going to seat just 3,000. That's too small. And yes, I know the program struggles to draw a thousand people to its games now.

But really, I had hope that the Portland State vision for the future would be something more than 3,000 fans per game.



Let's not forget: as a young player in Seattle, A-Rod was something special

Let's not forget: as a young player in Seattle, A-Rod was something special

When Alex Rodriguez announced his retirement Sunday morning I happened to be watching his news conference. And as fans all over the country were probably thinking about how much they hated him, I couldn't help but think about the good days, A-Rod's good days in Seattle.

And what a tremendous young player he was for the Mariners.

I was there watching him frequently, covering baseball and writing columns for The Oregonian. And I must say, in those days I thought he was much easier for me as a media person to deal with than was Ken Griffey Jr. He was a bit shy, but cooperative, bright and very charming.

But what I remember most is that he played hard. He ran hard on routine ground balls. He played the game the right way and you could tell that he loved it. He loved playing baseball.

And if you don't recall how good he was, I invite you to take a look at his numbers. Oh man, did he run up some numbers. And, as people always say about Barry Bonds: He was very, very good before he probably ever took any performance enhancing drugs.

The season I can't forget was 1996, when, as a 20-year-old, he hit .358 with 54 doubles, 36 home runs and an OPS of 1.045. As a shortstop. I mean, are you kidding me? And people forget what a terrific shortstop, as two gold gloves will attest, he once was. When he went to the Yankees, he took it upon himself to move to third base in deference to Derek Jeter. But at the time, a whole lot of people would tell you he was a better defensive shortstop than Jeter.

Yes, I know all about A-Rod's PED stuff. But I must tell you, I come at those issues from a different place than most people. A big part of my youth was spent as a clubhouse boy for the Triple-A Portland Beavers, way back in the mid- to late-1960s. At that time in those clubhouses I watched players -- many of whom had been or would later be star players in the big leagues -- obsessively use amphetamines. "Greenies" is what they were called in those days.

And they were everywhere. Nobody even attempted to hide them. Some of these guys got so geeked up on those pills that they'd stick around the clubhouse for hours after the game drinking beer to wear them off. And really -- these were not isolated incidences. I saw it constantly. And heard stories about some of the biggest players in the game doing the same things.

And so when players of previous eras talk about use of steroids or HGH I think back to those days and figure that if the guys in the old days had been offered a needle that would have enhanced their performance, they wouldn't have hesitated to use it.

Yes, there was always a lot of money at stake and A-Rod got his share of that. But I also saw the way he attacked the game as a young player and figure that he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to be even better. Especially when so many other players were doing it. These guys are driven to achieve.

We're going to have to come to grips with that some day. Cheating has been a part of baseball since the first sign was stolen, since the first spitball was thrown, since the first bat was corked. It happened. And you can choose to hate that if you want.

And you can certainly hate the ones who did it. I'm just going to remember Alex Rodriguez in 1996 -- watching him and thinking that the position of shortstop had just been changed forever.