Saturday, January 31, 2009

Providence Faces UConn In Big Game Today

The surprising Providence College Friars have a big game today versus the #2 ranked UConn Huskies at 4 PM. PC has won the last 4 times they have played on the road against UConn. The question is can they make it 5 in a row today? I personally think UConn is the best team in the country this year, so it will be a difficult task for the Friars to win this game, but it's certainly not impossible. With all the animosity these two teams have for each other, this one could be a classic, so make sure you tune in.

Here's the scoop on the game, via ProJo Sports:

There are several key reasons why today’s Big East showdown between Providence College and the Connecticut Huskies can be called a big game.

First, UConn owes the Friars. Bigtime.

Secondly, a win would probably bring the Huskies a No. 1 national ranking on Monday.

And lastly, and maybe most important, coach Jim Calhoun says so.

“I tell our kids all the time that when you come to UConn, you’ll play in a lot of big games. This is a big game,” Calhoun said. “It takes two teams for a big game, and Providence has put themselves into a big game.”

Calhoun says this all without a trace of bravado. He has every reason to respect what the Friars and coach Keno Davis are doing. The Friars have beaten UConn the last three times the schools have met and five of seven games stretching back to 2003. PC has won on its last four trips to Connecticut, winning three times at the Hartford Civic Center and once at Gampel Pavilion, where today’s game will be played. Surprisingly, the Huskies haven’t beaten the Friars in Storrs since Feb. 6, 1996.

“They’ve beaten us three straight and disrupted things last year to take us out of the running for the top spot (in the Big East),” Calhoun said. “Providence has turned their season around after a rough start. They need more wins over good people and we seem to qualify.”

The Friars hope to serve as a roadblock to the top of the polls today. With No. 1 Duke losing at Wake Forest on Wednesday, the second-ranked Huskies are in line for the top spot if they can get by PC. UConn (19-1) has lost only to Georgetown, in its Big East opener.

“I don’t want them to be number one because that would mean a loss for us,” PC’s Jeff Xavier said before practice yesterday.

Players on both teams have verbally jarred over the last year. The Friars openly celebrated on the court in Hartford last January, when they poured home a stunning 14 3-pointers in a 77-65 victory. The antics didn’t sit well with the Huskies.

“Real disrespectful,” guard A.J. Price said at the time. “They don’t know how to win, and it showed. They were laughing, mocking. I usually have a lot of respect for other teams, but they showed a lack of respect. They beat up on us and made a mockery of it.”

Price then said that UConn wanted “to blow them out” in the rematch last March in Providence. It didn’t happen. The Friars grabbed control of the game in the second half and scored 53 points after halftime in a 85-76 win. Asked yesterday whether he still held any ill will towards the Friars, Price said, “I did the second game when we played them at Providence, but they beat us there, too. I can’t have any animosity towards them, other than they’ve beaten us a couple of times and we need to win this game. This is a big game for the Big East standings; they’re right behind us.”

UConn forward Jeff Adrien pointed out that PC didn’t build on its two wins over UConn inasmuch as it finished 15-16. UConn was 24-9 a year ago but fell in the first round of the NCAAs, to San Diego.

“They won, they enjoyed it, (but) they didn’t do too much after that. It’s what you do after that,” Adrien said. “You beat us and you’ve got to build from that. I don’t think they really did that last year.”

While it’s clear the Huskies have plenty of motivation to snap their losing streak against PC, the Friars hope to keep rolling as well. They’ve won seven of nine games and need to keep stockpiling good wins for postseason consideration. Winning at UConn would be the biggest possible win of the season.

“We’ve had their number but it’s just another game for us,” PC’s Xavier said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to win. We’ll always push (the ball) and we’ll take the first good look just like we have all season.”

The two keys to the game appear clear. PC must continue to shoot the 3-pointer well. The Friars lead the Big East with 8.4 threes per game and their offensive versatility has impressed Calhoun. Also, PC must find a way to keep the 6-7 Adrien and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet from dominating off the glass.

“You start at 7-foot-3, that’s NBA size and more,” Davis said. “They’re a top-10 team that will try to force us to play their style, but we have a motivated team and a dangerous team right now. It should be a fun game.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

West Virginia's Joe Mazzulla To Request Medical Redshirt

It looks like RI native Joe Mazzulla has been shut down for the season and will request a medical redshirt, via The Journal :

Huggins said Tuesday that in all probability Joe Mazzulla will apply for amedical redshirt as a member of the West Virginia University men's basketballteam, but he can't do that until the season ends. The junior point guard has played in only seven games this year, and Huggins said whether Mazzulla would return to resume play depends on how his shoulder is progressing. He still could save the year if he plays in no more games in 2008-09. Mazzulla can't raise his arm to a level with the shoulder because of a problem traced back to his birth. "You can't really tell whether his shoulder has made any progress in the last two weeks or so," Huggins said. "It's a total rest situation." Mazzulla last saw action in the Davidson game on Dec. 9. For the seven games, he averaged 5.6 points per game and had 26 assists and 16 rebounds.

More: RI Sports

Providence's Jonathan Kale Is Becoming A Prime-Time Player?

Via Kevin McNamara of ProJo Sports:

Jonathan Kale is picking the perfect time to play the best basketball of his career at Providence College. After three seasons of inconsistent play (and minutes), the former St. Andrew’s School big man has become a rock inside for the Friars as a senior. The 6-foot-8 big man played one of his finest games last night as he pounded his way inside for 14 points and six rebounds as the Friars more than held their own against Syracuse’s physical front line.

Kale said once the Friars discovered that SU center Arinze Onuaku may not play or may not be 100 percent, he knew the PC big men needed to step up. That’s what happened as Kale, Geoff McDermott (15 points, 6 boards) and Randall Hanke (12 points, 6 rebounds) all contributed. “It’s a credit to our guards and our point guard. They did a great job of finding us,” said Kale. The three post players did a fine job of gaining position inside Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 defense. That’s the same defense that the Friars used an awful lot over the last few seasons under former coach Tim Welsh. “We knew that we would find a lot of little creases because we’re used to playing against that (zone) because we used to play it the last few years with coach Welsh,” said Kale.

Kale was a 50 percent career shooter in his first three seasons, but he’s much more productive this season. He’s hitting nearly 60 percent of his shots now, and also expanding his game a bit more with a 12-foot jump shot. “Day by day, just getting some shots up,” is how Kale says he has improved his offensive game.
Kale has improved this season, but calling him a PTP'er is a little far in my mind. Kale is a nice role player, but he isn't someone who can take over a game or create his own shot. He is averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, while shooting 59.7% from the field, so he has been efficient for sure and has certainly helped the Friars. However, to me the closest thing to a prime time player on this team has got to be Marshon Brooks, who has been excellent this season for the Friars. I expect as the season goes on, we might see Brooks be the go to guy at the end of games for PC.

Red Sox Minor League Prospect: Portsmouth’s Ryan Westmoreland

I had forgotten that this kid was drafted this year by the Red Sox in the 5th round. That's pretty damn good and I will keep track of his performance in the minors throughout the season. Westmoreland has also been compared to Rocco Baldelli because he is from Rhode Island:

As a Rhode Island product you have often been compared to Rocco Baldelli. Do you think that's an accurate comparision and why?
I have heard many people compare me to Rocco, and I think you could say that is a fair statement. I believe we have similar tools, and ever since I started playing the outfield (about 2 years ago -- I was always a middle infielder. I switched to the outfield when college recruiters saw that my speed could be used better in the outfield), I've always strived to be like Rocco, so its very rewarding to know people make that comparison (Fire Brand).

I'm sure Westmoreland gets a lot of comparisons to Rocco Baldelli because they are both speedy OF's from Rhode Island, but supposedly Westmoreland has very good patience at the plate, which is something Baldelli has always lacked. Rocco is pretty much a hacker up there and has never walked more than 30 times in a season. So patience at the plate might be something that Westmoreland has that can separate him from Baldelli.

Here is a scouting report on the 6'2, 185 lbs. Westmoreland:

Local product was one of the top New England high school players in 2008. Slim, athletic build with the ability to add strength. Strong arm with nice outfield range. At the plate, "Westy" has above average power potential with outstanding plate discipline. Elite speed on the basepaths. Very intelligent, has a full ride to Vanderbilt. Also a great pitcher, he pitched a perfect game in April 2008, striking out 19 of 21 batters. Westmoreland had shoulder surgery in November 2008, and is expected to be out until June 2009 (Sox Prospects).

Finally, here is an article from ProJo Sports on how Westmoreland is adjusting to life in the minors:

Ryan Westmoreland never envisioned his professional baseball career would begin like this.

Since the Red Sox selected the Portsmouth native with their fifth-round pick (172nd overall) in last June’s draft, the 18-year-old outfielder has

• Traveled to the Dominican Republic

• Had surgery on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum

• Lived in a team hotel in Fort Myers, Fla., for much of the winter

• Contracted pink eye from a roommate.

Ah, life as a minor-leaguer.

And, spring training is still a few weeks away.

Westmoreland officially became a Red Sox prospect last August when he signed a five-year deal worth $2 million. The ink wasn’t even dry on the contract when the Sox shipped him to their rookie Gulf Coast League team in Fort Myers.

It was then he was told there was a minor problem with his shoulder.

Before he arrived in Florida last August, he hadn’t experienced any pain or discomfort in his shoulder. He was put through a battery of standard tests, and the results showed his shoulder was a little weak.

Immediately the Red Sox development staff shut him down and put him on a rehab program.

"Things progressed for the worst as the weeks and months went on," said Westmoreland. "Finally I found out I had to have surgery after I came back from the Dominican. It’s good that I got it done while I was young because I wouldn’t want to go into spring training feeling iffy about my shoulder and then something bad happens where I would miss an entire season."

He hit extremely well during his stint in the Dominican Instructional League, going 10-for-15 with two triples, a double and a home run in four games. But he felt discomfort in his arm all the time. When he returned from the Dominican he met with Red Sox team physician Dr. Thomas Gill, and it was determined Westmoreland would have immediate surgery.

The procedure went very well and Westmoreland arrived in Fort Myers a few days after Christmas to continue his rehab at the minor-league complex. From a shoulder standpoint, he’s been concentrating on his range-of-motion and stretching. He just began to work on strengthening his upper body, mainly his bicep and tricep, and he’s been doing a lot of leg work.

"I feel good," he said. "It’s been a pretty hard and long road so far, but everything seems to be coming along very smoothly. Chip Simpson, who is the head physical therapist down here, is doing a really good job keeping everything on schedule. I’m just working as hard as I can to get ready to play again."

Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen keeps tabs on all the minor-leaguers in Florida by having daily communication with the staff.

"He’s doing well and he’s getting back all of his range-of-motion at this point," said Hazen. "He's very much on target and we know he’s getting great care. Everything seems to be progressing very well."

If things continue to progress, Westmoreland should be able to start swinging a bat in March and could begin to throw soon after. That means he could return to game action in late April or early May. At that point the development staff will determine whether Westmoreland will join a full- or short-season club. There’s a very good possibility he will play for the Lowell Spinners this summer.

Rehab aside, Westmoreland can’t wait for spring training to arrive for a lot of different reasons.

The fact that he’s playing for the same pro organization as his childhood baseball hero makes it even more special.

Westmoreland first met fellow Rhode Islander Rocco Baldelli a few years ago when Westmoreland would hang around the Tampa Bay Rays because his uncle is the clubhouse manager at Tropicana Field, the home of the Rays.

The two spoke a couple of weeks ago and Westmoreland also sent him a congratulatory text message when Baldelli signed with the Sox.

"It’s great," Westmoreland said. "Never mind that there’s two Rhode Islanders playing in the Red Sox organization, he’s the guy I looked up to my whole life. He’s an outfielder from Rhode Island who made it. I started to be like him everyday since I was 13 because of where he’s from. I’ve always looked up to him. I can’t wait to see him."

Westmoreland has already experienced some of the pros and cons of a minor-league player even before his first spring training. Red Sox players and staff will slowly begin to arrive in Fort Myers in the coming weeks, and Westmoreland will be one of them.

"I’ve always wondered what actually went on during spring training," he said. "Now I get to see what spring training is like."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Providence Scores 100, Upsets #15 Syracuse

The PC Friars got a huge victory tonight over the Syracuse Orange defeating the #15 ranked team in the country 100-94:

Sharaud Curry scored a season-high 22 points to lead six players in double figures, carrying Providence to a 100-94 upset over 15th-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Marshon Brooks scored 17 points, and Geoff McDermott and Jonathan Kale each scored 15 for Providence (14-6, 6-2 Big East), which won for the seventh time in nine games and matched its best Big East start since 2000-01. Randall Hanke & Weyinmi Efejuku had 12 points apiece for Providence. Jonny Flynn led Syracuse (17-5, 5-4) with a career-high 35 points and Eric Devendorf had 27. The Orange lost their fourth in five games. Providence opened a 14-point lead after consecutive 3s by Curry and Brooks 22 seconds apart midway into the second half and Syracuse never moved closer than five points the rest of the way (ESPN).

The Friars came out in this game with a ton of energy and aggressiveness and were in full attack mode from the start. I have to say I haven't seen a Providence team come out on the court with so much heart in a long time. I think that has to be partly credited to new coach Keno Davis and also a sense of urgency for the seniors on Providence. I loved the way Sharaud Curry, Weyinmi Efejuku, and Marshon Brooks all came out aggressive and attacked the basket relentlessly. It was also nice to see the Friars knock down some three's, because they have struggled in that area this season, but were able to connect on 10 triples tonight.

I was definitely impressed with PC's effort more than anything and I now believe more than ever that they will have an excellent chance to beat Notre Dame, West Virginia, and Villanova and possibly finish better than .500 in the conference. With 6 wins already, they would need to go just 4-6 in their last 10 games to get to 10 wins in the Big East, which would give them a strong case for the NCAA Tournament. To get to those 10 wins, they most likely will have to beat one of the three teams I listed above plus their 2 matchups with Rutgers and a game against South Florida. That is certainly a strong possibility.

Next up for the Friars is UConn, who they will travel to play on Saturday.

URI Defeats Temple 67-59

The Rhody Rams got a much needed victory by beating Temple at home 67-59.

Rhode Island had struggled in A-10 play coming into this game with just a 2-3 record, but was able to pull to .500 in the conference with their victory tonight. Kahiem Seawright led the way for URI with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Jimmy Baron struggled with his shot on the night going just 4 of 14 from the floor, including just 1 of 7 on 3-pointers. He still was the second leading scorer on the night for the Rams, chipping in with 13 points. Marquis Jones and Ben Eaves were both 3 for 3 from the floor and scored 9 points each to help in the winning effort for URI. The Rams won despite the sharp shooting of Temple's Dionte Christmas, who finished with 27 points on 8 of 17 shooting, including 5 of 11 from downtown.

The Rams still face a long road to be able to make the NCAA Tournament, since their conference does not give them many chances to get a signature victory. However, a win is a win and they will take this one and move forward. Next up for the Rams is the LaSalle Explorers on Saturday at the Ryan Center.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Providence Off To Fast Start In Big East

The PC Friars are off to a hot start in the Big East going 5-2 in their first 7 games to improve their overall record to 13-6. This is certainly a surprise to some, because the Friars were picked to finish near the bottom half of the Big East.

The Friars are currently ranked 72nd in the nation in Overall Efficiency. They have been more efficient on offense(65th), than defense(95th), which is pretty much where the stood at the end of last season when they ranked 60th in offensive efficiency and 95th in defensive efficiency.

So how has a team that has pretty much been the same as last year improved so much? Well, PC has gotten off to a hot start due to their ability, for the most part, to beat the teams they are supposed to beat. Here is a look at the overall efficiency rankings of all the teams that PC has played this season:

Wins: Rhode Island(60), Cincinnati(83), Seton Hall(99), St. Johns(126), Charlotte(162), Depaul(166), Jackson State(224), Sacred Heart(244), Brown(272), Maine(282), Bryant(330), Dartmouth(331)

Losses: Georgetown(13), Marquette(22), Baylor(28), St. Mary's(36), Boston College(79), Northeastern(84)

As you can see, the only team that PC beat that was ranked higher than them was URI at 60. In the losing column, they lost a couple games to BC(79) and Northeastern(84), but those two teams are not that far off in ranking than PC who is at 72. It's definitely conceivable that the Friars would lose to those two teams.

So the good news for PC is that they have taken care of business and beat the teams they should beat, especially in the Big East. However, there is some bad news if you look at the rest of the Friars schedule and check out the overall efficiency rankings of their opponents:

West Virginia(10)
South Florida(89)
Notre Dame(50)

If PC holds true to form and only defeats those opponents that rank lower than them, then it's possible that they may only be able to defeat Rutgers(152) twice and South Florida(89), which would mean only three more wins and a 16-14 record overall. PC might be able to beat Villanova once at home and maybe Notre Dame, Syracuse, or West Virginia at home, or maybe the success of the Friars will give them more confidence once they go up against tougher opponents and they'll pull some upsets and surprise us. It's certainly possible, but I think at best the Friars make it to 20-10 and that is pushing it big time. They probably have to win the Big East tournament to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament regardless of what their final record is.

Jonathan Xavier Held Without Bail For Violation Of Probation

The latest on Jeff Xavier's brother Jonathan Xavier, via International Herald Tribune:

PROVIDENCE, R.I.: The brother of a Providence basketball player who ran onto the court to confront a referee was ordered held without bail Tuesday for allegedly violating his probation from a 2005 drug conviction. Jonathan Xavier came down the stands and jumped over the Providence bench during a nationally televised game on Jan. 17 to confront a referee. He was upset no foul was called after his brother, Providence guard Jeff Xavier, was hit in the face by a defender's arm while he was driving to the basket. Xavier, 24, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the disorderly conduct charge. Bail for that charge was set at $10,000. A hearing has been scheduled Feb. 10 for a judge to decide whether he also violated probation. State prosecutors said Xavier pleaded no contest in 2005 to three drug charges. He received a six-year sentence but only had to serve eight months, with the remainder suspended. If a judge finds he violated the terms of probation, which required him to stay out of trouble, he could have to serve some or all the remaining years behind bars. Providence officials said they would beef up security at games, posting uniformed police officers behind team benches.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mount Pleasant's Billy Soriano Has Big-Time Hoop Dreams

Nice story right here on the Hoop Dreams of Mt. Pleasant High School's Billy Soriano. We all know that some kids put all their stock into their hoop dreams the same way others put it all in their street dreams, so let's hope this kid has success in hoops, but also get that college degree as well. Story is via Bill Reynolds of ProJo Sports:

PROVIDENCE — The basketball dream starts early.

It started for Billy Soriano back when he was just a young kid in South Providence, back before his mother died, back before he began to see things no kid should ever see, back before all the AAU teams and all the people were in his ear, back before all the dreams that now lie out there in the distance like the Emerald City.

It started for Billy Soriano back before he could handle the ball as though it’s a yo-yo attached to his hand, back before he learned to throw passes that speak of some gifted basketball IQ.

The basketball dream starts early.

It started for him when he was only 5 or 6. He had been born New York, but already was living here by then, the son of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother. He was going to be a basketball player.

No matter that he was small and slight, just a wisp of a kid. No matter that the inner city is full of kids whose basketball dreams are sacrificed on the altar of crime and dysfunction, a Darwinian world of no grades and limited opportunity.

Virgilio Soriano, whose mother always called him Billy, was going to be a basketball player.

“My mother died when I was nine, and one of the last things I said to her was that I was going to be rich and famous and be on television some day,” he said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. This is why I’m doing what I do. I’m doing it for her.”

The words come out in a verbal fast break, the words all but tumbling over themselves. It was Thursday night, minutes after his Mount Pleasant team had beaten Central, a game the sophomore hadn’t played in because he had missed practice the day before.

For the basketball is just part of it in the Billy Soriano story.

The easy part.

Even if to be a kid now with big basketball dreams is to be in maze, a complicated journey that includes AAU teams and showcase tournaments and college recruiters with the power to change lives. A journey that can be a minefield even in the best of times, not just for an inner-city Providence kid who lives with a father who speaks Spanish.

The basketball dream is complicated.

But it’s the real life that’s the most difficult.
Video: Soriano, Mount Pleasant dismantle Cumberland

Three years ago, Soriano played for an AAU team called Team Providence, one whose mission statement was to increase the classroom skills of inner-city youth, a team that was all about trying to get their kids to understand that education is the passport to a better life, not basketball.

He surfaced a year later in a column colleague Bob Kerr wrote about a Providence middle school team called UCAP that beat a South Kingstown middle school team called Broad Rock for the state title, even though UCAP had no gym. Seems the team had been on their way to the game when Soriano discovered he’d forgotten his sneakers. So they turned around, went back and got Soriano’s sneakers, arrived just minutes before the game started, shedding clothes as they walked into the gym, and won the game.

And Soriano?

“He is rail thin and incredibly quick, and he just kept driving through the Broad Rock defense,” Kerr wrote. “He is a player to keep your eye on.”

The basketball dream is a long process.

Soriano had missed practice last Wednesday because he had been at Notre Dame Prep, the Massachusetts school that is one of the region’s pipelines to college basketball. Suffice it to say that Chris Coleman, the Mount Pleasant coach, hadn’t been overly thrilled with the news.

“I’d like him to take things a little slower,” Coleman said. “He’s out there. Everyone knows him. It’s going to be there.”

Then again, it’s probably not surprising Soriano’s in a rush.

“I became a man before I should have been,” he said. “When I was 12 on the playground, I was playing with gangsters, guys who had been in jail. But basketball was my savior. It kept me out of trouble. It kept me out of gangs. It kept me off the street. Instead of going out, I’d run suicides by myself. I’d work on my handle.”

Basketball as life raft in a swirling societal sea.

He pauses, and again the words come out in a flood.

“I can’t be here,” he said, looking around. “Too many distractions. And I get so easily distracted. I’ll be sitting there in class and someone will tell a ‘yo mama’ joke’ and I’ll just go off. There are just too many things going on in my neighborhood. I’ve had coaches tell me I’ll never make it because I’m too ghetto, too in-the-street.”

The men around him, the ones who coach him, say it’s not a matter of ability, only a matter of maturity. From his high school coaches, to Jason Elliott, who coaches the Rhode Island Hawks AAU team, they see his basketball gifts, his quickness, his ability to pass, the things you can’t teach. They see the potential, even if he’s only 5-foot-9, and that might be on a good day.

“He has a very high basketball IQ,” says Tom Conner, the former La Salle All-Stater who is the Mount Pleasant assistant coach. “He’s got the ability to create. But he’s got to listen to the people trying to help him, and not just the people talking to him.”

They all know it’s all about maturity for him now, both off and on the court. To make good decisions. To realize it might be more important what you do off the court than on it. To realize that the line between those who make it to college basketball and those who don’t can be a very thin one, one that often has little to do with whether your jump shot goes in or not.

The basketball dream is not an easy dream.

Even for kids who have grown up with it.

“I’m going to make it,” says Billy Soriano. “It was the last thing I said to my mother. And she’s always in my memory, always in my head.”

The words seem to hang in the empty gym.

R.I.’s Chris Iannetta Is Earning His Major League Keep With Rockies

Nice article here on Colorado Rockies catcher, Chris Iannetta, who I played against/with in high school, via John Gillooly of ProJo Sports. Kid had a cannon behind home plate. Figured he would have a good shot at the bigs:

The first time I talked to Chris Iannetta was on a late May day in 2001.

At the time, he was a senior at St. Raphael Academy and on his way to becoming one of the few Rhode Island high school catchers to earn three first-team All-State honors.

We talked that day while standing on the baseball field at Vets Park in Pawtucket, just a few miles from where Iannetta had grown up playing with a taped-up Wiffle ball in the backyard of his Providence home.

“My friend, John Marano, and I were always playing in our backyards,” Iannetta said that day. “I couldn’t count the number of games we played. Every kid dreams of some day being a professional athlete, but you never really think it’s going to happen,”

But that day Iannetta’s childhood dreams were starting to take on a sense of reality.

The next day, he was going to Lowell, Mass., where the Boston Red Sox had asked him to join about a dozen other top prospects in a pre-draft workout session. A few days later, he was headed to Yankee Stadium with some other top East Coast prospects to demonstrate their talents for the Yankee scouts.

He was on pro baseball’s radar screen.

So a few days after we talked, I wrote a column saying the kid who grew up playing Wiffle ball in his backyard pretending he was playing in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium was only a few weeks away from the pros telling him they wanted him.

I ended the column with the line, “Baseball dreams do come true.”

But a few weeks later, they held the 2001 major-league draft, and Iannetta’s name never was called.

“I remember. I was disappointed,” Iannetta said about the draft snub when we talked again last week. “But knowing what I know now, maybe it was better that I went undrafted in high school.”

Of course, minimized teenage heartbreak probably is a little easier when you’re actually living out your childhood dream.

He’s 25 now, 6-foot, 225 pounds, and one of Rhode Island’s great athletic success stories.

Last summer, in his third season with the Colorado Rockies, he played in 104 games, including being the starting catcher in most games from mid-May on.

He hit .264 in 333 plate appearances, including 18 home runs. For a little catcher comparison, the Red Sox’ Jason Varitek hit .220 in 423 at-bats and had five fewer home runs than Iannetta even though Varitek had 90 more plate appearances.

The former backyard Wiffle ball player now is a bona-fide major leaguer, and last week his professional credentials were further certified when he was named, along with Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann, one of the catchers for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, to be played in March.

The journey from Pawtucket’s Vets Park to Colorado’s Coors Field wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t guaranteed.

“For me, it’s a lot of hard work; working hard to get what you want. Compared to some extremely gifted people who may have an edge because of genetics, I need to do a little more work,” said Iannetta.

“That doesn’t bother me,” he added. “I enjoy doing it. I love practice.”

He now knows that not being drafted in his senior year in high school was almost a forgone conclusion. In the fall of his senior year at St. Raphael he had signed a national college letter of intent with the University of North Carolina.

People have told him that the feeling among baseball personnel in 2001 was that he would need to be a first- or early second-round draft choice to pass up the North Carolina offer. Eighteen-year-old catchers from Rhode Island, even three-time All-Staters, are not first-round draft choices, and the major-league teams didn’t want to waste a selection on somebody who would go to college rather than immediately turn pro.

So he went to North Carolina in the fall of 2001, which, under major-league rules, immediately made him ineligible to be drafted until the end of his junior year, in the spring of 2004.

He enjoyed enormous success in the college ranks. He was named a freshman All-American in 2002 and earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in his sophomore and junior years, in 2003 and 2004.

Finally, in June 2004, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Rockies and immediately signed a pro contract.

He spent the summer of 2004 playing at Class A Asheville, and that fall in the Florida Instructional League. He started the 2005 season in a high Class-A league but quickly moved up to Double A. In 2006 he started in Double A, moved up to Triple A after the All-Star break, then was called up to the Rockies for the final month of the regular season.

Five years and a few months after playing in the R.I. Interscholastic League, he had reached the majors.

In a sense, it has been a storybook ride, but like most life journeys there were some potholes along the way.

Like the summer after his freshman year at North Carolina, when he and several other players from ACC teams were teammates in the Cape Cod League.

“It was considered an ACC all-star team; everybody expected us to be a great team,” said Iannetta.

But the results didn’t match the expectations, and most of the players on the team, including Iannetta, were not asked to return to the Cape Cod League the next summer.

Instead, Iannetta spent the summer of 2006 playing for the Newport Gulls in the New England Collegiate League.

He could have bemoaned his fate, but instead worked on creating opportunities for himself.

“It was a great atmosphere,” Iannetta said about his summer in Newport. “I was able to work on things. I learned how to pull effectively with power.”

Then there was his first venture into pro ball.

“I hit .170 my first month in Asheville. I thought I was done,” said Iannetta. “But I was able to overcome it.”

“The failures made me a better player,” Iannetta added. “If I hadn’t experienced failure at certain times — like not being drafted in high school, not being invited back to the Cape League, my first month in pro ball — I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

That fortitude has been a mainstay of his career.

He had come out of 2007 spring training as the Rockies’ starting catcher, but shortly after the start of the season he began having problems at the plate. After getting a hit in each of the first two games of the season, he batted only .184 for his first 31 games, through June 3, and lost his starting job. From late June to late July, he went through a 0-for-29 stretch at the plate.

“I was awful,” Iannetta said. “I struggled the first two weeks, and I don’t know what happened. I tried taking more batting practice, but it got worse. I actually hurt my hand because I took so much batting practice.”

In early August he was sent back in Triple A.

“I was upset, but I understood,” Iannetta said.

“I was packing in the locker room heading back to Triple A and I didn’t know if I would play another day in the majors. I was going backwards for the first time. You start questioning yourself. But I was only down for 20 days, and it was the best thing for me.”

“Much of the time, a lot of people are telling you how good you are. My job is finding out where I’m terrible. You need to be aware of your weaknesses so you can work on making your weaknesses your strengths.”

He came back up to the Rockies for the final month of the 2007 regular season, but didn’t see any action in the playoffs, including the World Series, when the Red Sox swept the Rockies.

So he went to spring training last year fighting to be the No. 2 catcher on the depth chart, hoping to just stay in the major leagues. Not only was he on the major-league roster, but by mid-May he was the starting catcher, and he kept the job for the rest of the season.

The Rockies’ fans — and the Colorado media — love his gritty approach to the game.

“Iannetta is a keeper at catcher,” read the headline on a Denver Post story last August that claimed “Iannetta works behind the plate with stoicism befitting a New Englander.”

With Colorado playing in the National League and their home games starting later (East Coast time), he knows most Rhode Islanders never get a chance to see him play. But even if he’s Rhode Island’s Unknown Major Leaguer, he still considers Little Rhody his home.

He and his wife own a condominium in Denver, but they spent most of the offseason in Rhode Island before heading to Colorado early last week.

“Home is home. Rhode Island, for me, is home,” said Iannetta.

In a few weeks he will head to spring training in Arizona, where he will spend about three weeks with his Rockies teammates before joining Team USA for first-round pool play of the World Baseball Classic at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, March 7-11. Depending on how the U.S. team does, he could be playing in the tournament until the title game on March 23 at Dodger Stadium.

“I love it. I love the game. I love all the work involved with it,” said Iannetta. “They’re going to have to tear the uniform off me.”

This time, the baseball dream definitely has come true.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Saturday’s Incident A Reminder of Life PC’s Jeff Xavier Is Trying To Escape

Here's a little background information behind the incident where Jeff Xavier's brother walked onto the court at the Providence-Marquette game, via Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal:

PROVIDENCE – I always root for Jeff Xavier.

That’s because I first met him long before he became a Providence College basketball player, and certainly long before he became an unfortunate centerpiece in last Saturday’s night’s bizarre drama when one of his older brothers inexplicably walked onto the court at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center after he had been poked in the eye and was in pain on the PC bench. An incident that happened on national television, no less, and has since taken on a life of its own on the Internet.

It was in the spring of 2004, Xavier was an All-State player at St. Raphael in Pawtucket then, and he said something I’ve never forgotten.

“I don’t like the ghetto,” he said that day. “I don’t like anything about it.”

He didn’t like ghetto life because he had grown up in Pawtucket’s Prospect Heights housing project, had grown up one of five kids with a father who was never around and there was never any money. Had grown up in a world where violence and drugs were always there, a childhood world of gunshots and too many kids hanging on too many corners, their futures stopping at next week.

Xavier had survived all that, complete with the scars to prove it. To this day he still has a scar on his right hand and another on the side of his head, the legacy of being jumped once on a Pawtucket playground because some kids thought he was someone else.

Survived despite spending two years in middle school living with a family in Lincoln, because his own family had unraveled.

“When I look back on my life, I don’t know how I came to be the person I am today,” he said that day.

I was thinking of all this Saturday night, of how unfair life can be. How Xavier once had been one of those Rhode Island high school stars who had gone to sleep at night, his head full of dreams about one day playing for the Friars, and how the Friars didn’t want him. And how he had gone to Manhattan for two years, had proven he was a better player than anyone ever thought he could be, and how he had transferred back here, like waking up in the middle of a childhood fantasy.

And then this . . .

He gets poked in the eye in the nationally televised game against Marquette, his brother walks out on the court to confront one of the referees, and everything gets complicated, flashed across the country as one of the big stories of the day.

So there he was in the hallway of the Dunk late Monday night, at the end of what had been an emotional 48 hours. He had spent Saturday night at the hospital, where he had undergone minor surgery on his injured eye. Now he had just finished playing in the win over Cincinnati, even if the original thinking had been that he would have to sit it out. But his eye had been better than expected when he woke up, and he wore goggles during the game, toughing it out.

“Playing here means the world to me,” he said quietly. “They’re going to have to cut the uniform off me.”

That’s the other thing to remember.

Playing for the Friars was the dream, and not just his dream, either. Every game he’s got about 20 relatives that come to watch him, and it’s their dream, too, as if he plays for them as well as for PC.

“You have to understand how we grew up,” he said. “How difficult it was.”

For it wasn’t just the unrelenting poverty and the dysfunction. It also was the little things. Like going to the playground to play a little ball and some guy’s trying to sell you drugs. Like trying to go to school and some older kid is hassling you. The everyday violence, both the reality of it and the promise of it. It was the constant drama of ghetto life.

One of his brothers was shot. He’s seen other family members just trying to get by, just trying to survive in a diminished world where they grew up with few advantages.

“I was always getting jumped as a little kid and my older brothers were always trying to protect me,” he says. “They became overprotective.”

Wasn’t that what happened Saturday night in the Dunk?

He got poked in the eye on a drive to the basket, all but writhing in pain on the bench, and his older brother Jonathan came out on the court to make things right, to protect his little brother.

Wasn’t that his motivation, to protect his little brother, however wrongheaded it turned out to be?

“It was unfortunate,” Xavier said. “I wish it didn’t happen.”

He says this softly, for this there is nothing loud or dramatic about Jeff Xavier. There wasn’t that April afternoon four years ago when I first met him. There isn’t now. Instead, there’s the sense that he’s grounded. He’s been engaged for nearly two years to Marisa Seander. He has come so far from his childhood, living a life that once would have seemed unable to imagine.

Which is why I always root for him.

So it’s understandable Xavier wants to put Saturday night’s drama behind him, not only for his brother but for himself, too. To get back to this senior season of his, in this experience that means the world to him.

To get back to the life he never thought he was going to have, back there when he was growing up in ghetto world he was trying to get away from, the scars of which he carries to this day.

Classical Wins Without RI Gatorade Player of The Year Ashton Watkins

It looks like the basketball team at my old high school could be on it's way to another state championship, via Projo Sports:

PROVIDENCE –– The odds seemed to be stacked against Classical last night. The Purple’s leading scorer, Ashton Watkins, last year’s Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year (20 points, 19 rebounds per game), injured his knee against Pilgrim on Monday and did not suit up. In addition, head coach Todd Keefe missed the game with the flu, and sharp-shooting point guard Michael Palumbo played despite having a lingering left-knee injury. The defending state champions were playing a Shea team that was focused on moving into a first-place tie atop the Division II-North standings with a victory over the undefeated Purple. But Classical (6-0) wasn’t ready to lose its first league game in more than a year. Despite a heavy protest by the upset-minded Raiders (4-2), Classical survived a thrilling, 86-81 overtime contest. “It was a good win but we never should have been in that position to begin with,” Classical assistant coach John Kavanagh said. “We should have been able to take care of it in the second half, but they really put the pressure on, pulled up on the lead and we couldn’t close it out then. Give Shea credit: they played a great game. They fought hard.” Kavanagh said he was proud of his players because the Purple beat a good team without Classical’s best player. “Ashton is a really good player, but we are not just a one-man team,” Kavanagh said. “We have other options and I think we showed that tonight. Ashton Watkins is a really good player, but we have five or six other guys on this team who can get it done to.” Palumbo, who was carried out of the gym by the fans who rushed the court chanting “M-V-P,” scored 22 points, as did Jordan Jones (14 rebounds). Lavon Waite (16 points) and Marquise Frazier (14 points, 16 rebounds) also starred for Classical. After trailing almost the entire game, the Raiders nearly stole it in the final minute of regulation. Shea overcame a 14-point deficit with six minutes to go to send it into overtime, thanks in large part to Kevin Walker (19 points), Malcum Moniz (18 points), Orlando Whitaker (13 points) and Bravilio Silva (11 points). “Moniz and Walker are both tough guards,” Kavanagh said. “Moniz is an aggressive guard who can shoot it from the outside, and Walker is athletic.” Rudy-Louis Brito (9 points) drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Raiders a 68-66 lead with 43 seconds remaining in regulation. Frazier scored on a tip-in with 21.1 seconds left, and Shea called a timeout with 10.7 seconds left to try to draw up the game-winning shot. Brito received an inbounds pass on the right baseline and beat his defender to the basket, scoring on an acrobatic layup with 5.4 seconds left to put Shea ahead, 70-68. Classical got the ensuing in-bounds pass to Palumbo, who dribbled the length of the court and connected on a 12-foot pull-up jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The two teams went shot-for-shot in the early portion of overtime, but a crucial foul with Classical in the bonus, along with a technical foul for arguing the call, gave the Purple the momentum it needed to go on and win the game. Gregory Holt knocked down the technical free throw and Palumbo added two more to give Classical a 78-72 cushion with 2:10 remaining in the game. Classical made 10 of 12 free throws in the extra period to seal the victory. “Shea is an athletic team and they shoot the ball well from the outside, so I told the guys at halftime that we had to get back in transition and we had to box out, and they ended up getting a lot of easy layups and second-chance points in the second half,” Kavanagh said. “We have to do a better job in transition and boxing out.” Shea will look to bounce back against Toll Gate tomorrow at 7 p.m., while Classical looks to remain perfect tomorrow when the Purple visit North Providence.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Better - Jon Hope feat Taktix

New joint from Jon Hope with my boys younger brother on the hook. He produces too, so I'm guessing he did the beat as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fan & Brother of Jeff Xavier Walks On Court At Marquette-Providence Game

If you haven't been to my home city of Providence, then this is the type of shit you can expect. Nice security at The Dunk. After this poor no call, I'm surprised the whole arena didn't rush the court. Story via Projo Hoops Blog and video via College Fast Break:

Keno Davis grew up going to basketball games and has coached at the collegiate level since 1995. He's seen a lot of things but never what he saw last night early in the second half of PC's 91-82 loss to Marquette.

With 17:15 left, Jeff Xavier drove to the hoop and was scraped in the face. No foul was called and Geoff McDermott scooped up the loose ball and was fouled by Joseph Fulce.

Xavier rolled on the court in pain, holding his right eye and continually kicking his legs as trainers rushed to his aid. Xavier made it to the PC bench but as McDermott waited to take his free throws, a man brazenly walked onto the floor and up to referee Todd Williams. The man was later identified by Dunkin' Donuts Center general manager Larry Lepore as Jonathan Xavier, a brother of Jeff Xavier. The man began to yell at the referee but never touched him before security guards finally grabbed him and pulled him off the floor. Lepore said Jonathan Xavier was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

PC's Davis, as well as Marquette coach Buzz Williams, could not believe their eyes.

``Scary,'' said Williams. ``I've never seen anything like that. I just wanted to pull my team off the court and get them away from that.''

Davis was equally amazed. ``I've seen some interesting things,'' he said. ``I've been going to games since I was born so I've seen some really unusual things but that one probably doesn't even make the list.''

Players from both teams were remarkably unfazed. Marquette senior Jerel McNeal said he's seen fans walk onto the floor in high school games back home in Chicago. PC guard Marshon Brooks replaced Xavier in the Friar lineup and while he said he wasn't sure what was going on, he said he knows Jonathan Xavier. ``I know him. I wasn't scared. He thought that his brother got fouled, I guess. He wanted to get an explanation.''

Davis said he was concerned about his team's safety and is hoping that The Dunk's security force can be improved. ``I'm sure that the staff here at the Dunk will work to be better prepared,'' he said. ``Just like we go through a game, you try to get better for the next time. We've got to make sure that we increase the security and how are they going to handle things (in the future). It's just unique.''

Jeff Xavier's status for PC's game against Cincinnati on Monday night is unclear. He did not return to the game last night and was sorely missed.

``I haven't talked to our trainer but his eye was completely closed in the locker room,'' said Davis. ``It looked like he had been in a fight. I don't believe there was a foul called on that play. It was that type of scrappy contest where guys were fighting as hard as they could.''

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Intro (Prov City) - Mista Mista

Another tight new joint from Mista Mista rhymin' about my home city of Providence.

Intro (Prov City) - Mista Mista

More: New Joints

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rocco Baldelli Signs With Red Sox

The Red Sox signed OF Rocco Baldelli to be their 4th OF this week. I like this signing for the Red Sox, because Baldelli definitely has the talent of a starting OF, so to be able to play him when need be is definitely a positive. I think he might play some CF against lefties in place of Jacoby Ellsbury and will probably fill in for J.D. Drew whenever he gets hurt like he usually does. Hopefully Baldelli will be able to stay healthy for the full season.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Good Morning - Jon Hope (Video)

New video from Jon Hope for a freestyle over DJ Premier's "That White" beat he did for Fat Joe. You probably won't get most of the lyrics in here unless you're from Providence. Hope gives a RIP shout out to Bubba Tutt at the end, who also happens to be my best friend's cousin.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Unheralded Player of The Week - Keith Cothran

Unheralded Player of The Week

Keith Cothran , Rhode Island: Cothran is a 6'4 Junior for the Rams who is quietly putting together a solid season. Cothran is not someone who will put up big numbers, but he is consistent on a night to night basis for a Rams team that has a high octane offense. Cothran has also improved his outside shooting hitting on 38.6% of his three-pointers after connecting on just 23.9% last season. If the Rams are successful this season, look for Cothran to play major part in that success helping out sharp shooter Jimmy Baron with the scoring load.

Stats: 14.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 50.6% FG, 38.6%.

More: NCAA Basketball

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Night Like This - Mista Mista

I swear I know some cats who used to chill with this dude in high school. Hot joint though. Don't sleep.

Night Like This - Mista Mista

More: New Joints