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Thinking Out Loud: Despite brash style, Muhammad Ali worth admiring for standing by his principles 06.10.16 at 5:34 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to the “real” Rocky, Chuck Wepner?

— “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali

— To me, the above quote is precisely what encapsulates the person Muhammad Ali was. And they are words I’ve always tried to follow myself. I don’t have any personal experiences with Ali, as it seems countless thousands of sports writers and reporters were apparently blessed with, just my personal thoughts on a life and career that were beyond remarkable, but not without flaws.

— I didn’t even like Ali, who passed away last weekend at 74. I grew up rooting against him, instead choosing to cheer for Joe Frazier and even Jerry Quarry to give him his comeuppance. Competing in the ring many, many years ago with everyone trying to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I tried emulating Frazier I was so anti-Ali. His treatment of Frazier leading up to their first fight in 1971, calling him an “Uncle Tom,” was as insulting and unprofessional as it was racist.

— But it attracted the attention of the sporting world, if not the entire world. His introduction of trash-talking to the American sports consciousness was the complete opposite of how I was always coached to “behave” in competition. It took me a few years to realize what Ali probably was doing, and he used ABC’s Howard Cosell and guys like Frazier as whipping posts — or as straight men — for his literal punch lines.

— Despite his crass, loud and boisterous manner, Ali created a forum for many who could not speak, who could not find justice or equality, or who were disadvantaged merely because their skin was a different color. Early in his career, he went to extremes to make his points. But he stood up for his principles, which I later, grudgingly, learned to admire. After all, many still believe Ali was nothing more than a U.S. military draft-dodger in the early ’60s.

— Above all, however, he backed up his boastfulness like few others in history have managed to do. Like him or not, you have to respect his ability to walk the walk, after talking the talk.

— My admiration for his skills, in and out of the ring, grew considerably after Parkinson’s ravaged his physical self. Ali remained a world icon well into a new generation of fans and followers who knew little — if anything at all — about his boxing career. We may never see another personality like him, especially with our social media-driven world ready to chew you up and spit you out for outrageous comments, or standing up for your beliefs.

— “Don’t count the days — make the days count,” was how Ali lived. And I learned to embrace the philosophy.

— Here’s another one of my favorite Ali quotes: “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Amen. And rest in peace, champ.

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Thinking Out Loud: Bryant, URI headline 5 New England baseball teams in NCAAs 06.03.16 at 5:50 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Jim Foster and Charlie Hickey?

— Record-setting? Better believe it. Bryant baseball is traveling where no Bulldog has barked before, as a No. 2 seed at the NCAA regional in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. The Northeast Conference champs won a nation-leading 47 games during the regular season and are playing in their third regional tournament over the past four years.

— Not for nuthin’, but did I mention best winning percentage and best run-differential (beating opponents by about five runs per game) in the country, too? Didn’t think so. Not bad for a team that scooped baseballs out of 6-foot snow drifts while several opponents prepped for the season in the relative warmth south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

— The star of this “Can You Top That?” act just might be URI’s baseball team, as the Rams steamrolled through the Atlantic-10 tournament by a combined 38-7 over three games. The Rams are in their second-ever NCAA appearance (and first since 2005), playing as the No. 4 seed at the regional in Columbia, South Carolina.

— It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Two plane tickets to South Carolina to watch the Rams make history? $677. Two plane tickets to Virginia to see the Bulldogs try to beat a national title contender? $746. The chance to watch two baseball teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA Tournament in the same year? It’s never happened before. Priceless.

— There’s a true Rhode Island flavor sprinkled throughout the NCAA field this year, beyond just Bryant and URI. Fairfield features Brendan Tracy from Providence’s LaSalle Academy, with the Stags playing at Texas Tech. UConn, winner of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, plays at Georgia Tech with a former Hendricken Hawk, John Toppa, second on the Huskies in hitting (.314).

— Would now be a good time to mention I used to coach Tracy in the Rumford (Rhode Island) Little League? Just sayin’.

— Lest we forget, another former Hendricken star — Reed Gamache — leads America East champ Binghamton at Texas A&M this weekend. The senior second baseman hit .367 for the Bearcats and was a candidate for Player of the Year in America East, hitting just under .400 in conference play.

— Oh. Right. Boston College baseball made it, too, as an at-large selection from the ACC. That’s five New England teams among the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament — another first — on the road to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series.

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Thinking Out Loud: Ben Bentil’s decision to remain in NBA draft leaves hole at Providence 05.27.16 at 11:24 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Dave Stapleton.

— It’s very hard to root against someone in search of their dream, but count me among those believing Ben Bentil’s decision to enter the NBA draft as premature. Could he use more time at the college level? Of course. This is the problem inherent in the pro game these days — a lot of players just aren’t “ready” for the skills needed to be a long-term, consistently productive pro.

— This being said, Bentil has worked out well for several teams and had a great combine, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s now mentioned as a first-round possibility. Hopefully, someone sees his potential and signs him to a multiyear contract. We’ve seen this before around here, or have you forgotten Ricky Ledo and God Shammgod?

— I will say this: Providence has never had two first-rounders selected in the same year, so I’ll be rooting for that come draft day. A program first like that one certainly would stand out on the recruiting trail for Ed Cooley and his staff.

— And in case you needed a reminder, this is what it’s like for a college basketball blue blood. Wanna be like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas? Get used to losing players before their eligibility expires. The tough part is reloading. For true blue bloods, it’s simply, “Next man up.”

— It seems as if each of the past few offseasons, the Friars have had a need for new players to emerge, and so far they’ve managed to do just that. Consider the losses — Marshon Brooks, Bryce Cotton, LaDontae Henton, Carson Desrosiers, Tyler Harris, Kris Dunn and now Bentil — and each time a player emerges to be just what the program needs.

— My money is on Rodney Bullock to be the all-conference player PC needs him to be in order to have a shot at the postseason again. Jalen Lindsay, Kyron Cartwright and Emmitt Holt also will need to contribute in a major way. Hard to expect too much out of newcomers (Holt being a transfer), but Isaiah Jackson also will need to figure prominently for Providence to pick up next season where it left off this past March.

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Thinking Out Loud: NFL might be king, but NBA rules on Twitter 05.20.16 at 5:44 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering why ads on uniforms are such a big deal.

— Yes, yes. The NFL is king. On TV, and in the stands. In the hearts and minds of most sports fans, football has long been anointed as our true national pastime. But in the world of social media, apparently, synthetic rubber and cowhide hold an edge over pigskin. Especially when it comes to Twitter followers.

— Recent numbers compiled by Greg Auman of the Tampa Tribune bear this out, somewhat surprisingly. In Twitter’s current top 10 pro sports team accounts, the NBA beats the NFL with five teams represented, compared to four for football and one in baseball. In fact, the top three Twitter accounts in total followers all belong to basketball teams — the Lakers (4.82 million), Heat (3.35 million) and Bulls (2.6 million).

— The Patriots are No. 1 in the NFL, fourth overall, with 2.41 million Twitter followers. The Celtics are right behind at fifth overall with 1.86 million followers. The Yankees are baseball’s lone rep in the top 10, ranking ninth (1.65 million).

— Out of 122 professional sports teams in the four major leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL), there’s a bottom 10 in Twitter followers, too. Six hockey teams, four baseball teams. Dead last among the 122, the Miami Marlins with 198,000 followers, roughly the equivalent of a nice, long two-week homestand. Or, a four-game Sox-Yankees series.

— There still are games to play, but former Friar Billy Donovan has the defending NBA champ Warriors’ attention at the very least, don’t you think? The key to success, by my way of thinking, for a good college coach to transition successfully into the pros is for the coach to put aside his own ego. Or at least make his players believe he’s doing that.

— It’s something Rick Pitino, through my observations, couldn’t quite accomplish while in the NBA. Of course, you can make the argument Boston (and New England) wouldn’t let him, either.

— Donovan’s ego is so nondescript, did you even remember he was the coach in Oklahoma City before the last few weeks? The one-time student learned from the teacher in this case, and he has, so far, successfully applied those lessons to his present-day team.

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Thinking Out Loud: NBA draft combine will have big effect on Big East 05.13.16 at 5:41 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to the Olympic ideal.

— Junior Lomomba certainly could have been a part of PC’s backcourt mix next season. Fifth-year players can be found gold for many programs, because they often serve as “coaches on the floor.” In Junior’s case, however, the guess here is that he’ll need a chance to showcase or develop skills that might allow him to pursue pro ball — so he heads to Western Kentucky.

— Junior’s role for the Friars was to defend and rebound — worthwhile and needed, but not conducive to developing an all-around game. He’s a solid student, and a great young man. Hope he gets what he needs.

— Tyree Chambers’ departure shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. It’s simple — the younger guards coming into the program need the playing time in order to develop. They also probably give the Friars the best chance to win — now. Another good program kid who filled a need, and deserves to play somewhere.

— Don’t know if anyone noticed, but Providence was one of 12 college basketball programs with multiple players (2) attending the NBA draft combine this week. If you want to be one of the big boys, you’d best go recruit some big boys. Just sayin’.

— Thoughts on the NBA combine in Chicago? Early returns are mixed, at least where Ben Bentil is concerned. ESPN’s Chad Ford believes he could be a sleeper in the draft and potentially selected anywhere from 18 to 28 overall. Is that enough for him to stay in the draft? It shouldn’t be. On occasion, these “expert” opinions can do more harm than good, if the athletes (and those who are in their ears) pay them any attention at all.

— Hopes for next season are hanging in the balance of this week’s combine at three Big East schools — Providence (Bentil), Villanova (Josh Hart) and Seton Hall (Isaiah Whitehead). All three could return — unless they set the floor on fire this week and hire an agent. All three remain front runners for preseason Player of the Year in the Big East next season, too.

— An NBA scout told the New York Post this week, “It’s a big few days for [the three players] because it allows them to figure out who they are. It’s one thing to be the second-best guy at Providence, the best guy at Seton Hall, and a real good guy at Villanova. But that’s something totally different from being a first-round pick.”

— The Big East could be L-O-A-D-E-D once again, coming off of a national championship year, if these three players are around to lead the way.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Junior Lomomba,
Thinking Out Loud: Conference realignment set to rear its ugly head again 05.06.16 at 5:47 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to WPRO disc jockey Holland Cooke.

— Told ya so. The story that just won’t go away, like an oncoming tidal wave of inevitability, has returned to our shores. And no, it has nothing to do with air pressure in balls.

It has everything to do with balls, all right. Intercollegiate Armageddon (as I like to call it) began in the early 2000s and rose to a crescendo just a few short years ago (2013) when the old Big East disintegrated, thanks in part to the poaching abilities and inexorable greed from conference commissioners and school administrators in the current ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and, to a lesser extent, the Big 12. Football drives the economic bus on these schools’ campuses, and everyone was eager to pull up to the pump, ready for a fill-up.

For the most part, everyone got what they were hoping to get — especially when it came to their bank accounts. Perhaps except for Boston College, which received athletic irrelevancy and inadequacy in exchange for a big check. But forget the added expenses, forget the extra time spent for student-athletes away from their studies, forget the non-revenue sports thrown to the curb to cut expenses and lower budgets — this is life in the Power Five, or the Football Five. Their version of Collegiate Relevancy.

However, the Big 12 found itself reduced to just 10 schools, and while the conference boasted of being able to play everyone from within, it still was missing out on the Big Party. That soon could change, as a result of league meetings this week and the Big 12 presidents meeting at the end of this month.

The Big Party is the College Football Playoff. True, the Big 12 did have its first entrant in the four-team CFP this year (Oklahoma), but it missed out in Year 1 with two teams that arguably could have been factors (TCU and Baylor). Even though the NCAA has now said leagues with less than the previously mandated 12 teams can hold a conference title game (for more $$$, of course), the Big 12 has known for some time that to be a player in the current national championship chase every year, expanding back to 12 teams from 10 would need to be considered.

Why? Because new research (from CBSSports.com) says the Big 12 would have a 10-15 percent better chance (a chance, mind you) of reaching the CFP in a given year with 12 teams instead of 10. Well then. Drop everything for the almighty dollar, and get ‘er done. More power? More prestige? More money? The Big 12 finally is looking at expansion to get back to 12 teams, and it’s targeting the former members of the Big East currently residing in the American Athletic Conference — whose league office still remains in Providence.

Yes, Providence. The epicenter of Intercollegiate Armageddon then and now, with another earthquake about to shake down the landscape. As if having crime, political inadequacy and corruptness, and general business unfriendliness in Lil’ Rhody wasn’t enough.

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Thinking Out Loud: Patriots deserve Deflategate appeal to break judges’ tie 04.29.16 at 5:33 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while conjuring my inner Cecil B. DeMille.

— Patriots fans feel persecuted. I get it. Point your fingers in a lot of directions, if you must. But the court decision this week had nothing to do with air pressure in footballs, or even Tom Brady’s cell phone destruction. It had everything to do with legal process, and the fact that the NFL players signed away their rights to fair hearings with the NFL in the last collective bargaining agreement.

— So, in effect, as an NFL player Brady is guilty of screwing himself. That might seem a little harsh, but it’s reality.

— “You can’t handle the truth!” A classic movie line that seems appropriate, from “A Few Good Men.” Which the NFL does not seem to possess, btw.

— Here is where a problem exists with Deflategate droning on ad nauseam — legally speaking, we have a tie. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was the first to point this out this week — and he’s spot-on correct. Judge Berman originally sided with TB12. Judges Parker and Chin ruled for the NFL’s right (and Roger Goodell’s contractual right, thanks to the CBA) to become judge, jury and executioner in this case. Judge Katzmann, the Chief of the entire Second Circuit, dissented, siding with Brady.

— By my scorekeeping, that’s a legal, New England Revolution-like 2-2 tie. We need (and TB12 deserves) a tiebreaker. We need extended overtime. This screams for a Brady appeal — which he and his side undoubtedly will pursue — and ultimately will subject us all to another several weeks and months of Deflategate drivel.

— Conceivably, any appeals process also would allow Brady a stay of his punishment. Which would mean the current hand-wringing over Jimmy Garoppolo’s readiness or bringing in another QB is rendered moot. Until the courts un-moot it again.

— Unfortunately (or not, depending on your point of view), the process is going to win out over facts here. How the law is meted out wins over what the truth might actually entail.

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Read More: Blackie Sherrod, Deflategate, Roger Goodell, Tom Brady
Thinking Out Loud: Breakthrough win for Brown lacrosse 04.22.16 at 5:35 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to “Fireman” Bill Campbell.

— It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick — Brown’s lacrosse team was named as the NCAA.com “Team of the Week” as the fourth-ranked Bears defeated No. 1 and previously unbeaten Yale, 14-12, last weekend. A first-ever win for Bruno over No. 1.

— More than 3,400 fans packed Stevenson-Pincince Field on campus. ESPN3 televised it. And as a result, Brown climbed to No. 3 in this week’s rankings — and managed to keep from having a letdown with a 16-10 win over rapidly improving Providence. The victory over the Friars is Brown’s 22nd straight in men’s lax.

— That’s downright hoop-like, although Brown has managed a cross-check or two on the basketball court in recent years, hasn’t it?

— Not for nuthin’, but what makes this Bears team particularly tough? 1. Winning faceoffs. 2. Second-half defense, and the ability to score with a man up. Brown needs wins over Cornell this weekend and over Dartmouth next week to claim the outright Ivy League title. ESPN3 is, once again, all over these guys.

— The Las Vegas Review Journal reported this week that PC associate head basketball coach Andre LaFleur will join Marvin Menzies’ new staff at UNLV. It’s the second straight year for Ed Cooley to lose an associate HC, after Bob Simon left for Alabama a year ago. This is simply part of the drill in the coaching world — you never know where opportunity will knock. LaFleur wants to be a head coach, he’s originally from the West Coast (born in Los Angeles), and time is ticking for him. He’s a good guy and a good coach. Hope he finds his spot.

— Will graduate assistant God Shammgod find a full-time slot on the staff as a result of this move? It’s likely that avenue is being traveled as we speak. Or think. Ivan Thomas should assume greater responsibility as well.

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Thinking Out Loud: Ryan Gomes shines in D-League, waiting for chance to return to NBA 04.15.16 at 5:28 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering if I’m really too old to hunt for Easter eggs.

— The good news? Former Friar All-American Bryce Cotton did, indeed, sign a contract for the remainder of the regular season with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies under the league’s hardship rules. The bad news? It was a short-term deal, good only for the two regular-season games the Grizz had left on their schedule. He’s not eligible for the playoffs.

— Another former Friar who should be eligible for someone — Ryan Gomes. Gomes was named the NBA D-League’s Impact Player of the Year, averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 31 games for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. He shot 37 percent from 3, too, at age 33 competing against guys 10 years his junior.

— Susan Robinson-Fruchtl resigned this week as women’s basketball coach at Providence after four seasons to accept the athletic director position at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania. A former Wade Trophy winner as the top women’s player in the country while at Penn State, she never found the magic at PC she may have once had on the floor as a player, or as a one-time coach at Saint Francis.

— It will be tough for her replacement to find the magic, too, considering the athletic success other teams at PC have had — and still are having.

— Like the men’s hockey team, which had sophomore defenseman Jake Walman named this week as a first team All-American, and senior forward Mark Jankowski earningsecond-team A-A honors. Walman becomes the first Friar since Chris Terreri and Tim Army in 1985 to earn first-team All-America accolades.

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Thinking Out Loud: Villanova’s thrilling win in NCAA championship game should be boost for basketball 04.08.16 at 5:47 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering how novelist and golf writer Dan Jenkins’ sarcastic wit can be preserved for generations to come.

— Villanova’s national title game finish wasn’t just fun for the fans, terrific for the TV audience or historic for the school. It was good for the game of basketball, and specifically for college basketball. If you missed it, you missed an event — and a finish — for the ages.

— The irony here, however, is that it might have been the best game ever missed, too. Because of Villanova’s blowout win over Oklahoma (and UNC’s pounding of Syracuse) in the semis, overall viewership dropped from a year ago. Still, they were the third- and fourth-most-watched games of this past season on cable TV.

— There was plenty of interest in the stands. More than 75,000 showed up for the semis, which is the second-highest attendance number for a Final Four.

— But was it the best championship game ever? I’m old enough to recall some pretty good ones in my 40-plus years of closely following college hoops, but certainly the Wildcats’ win over North Carolina is every bit as good as N.C. State’s Lorenzo Charles dunking Dereck Whittenburg’s missed jump shot at the buzzer to beat Houston’s famed Phi Slamma Jamma in 1983, or Nova’s shocking 66-64 win over Georgetown two years later.

— What does the win mean for the Big East? It’s hard to quantify, exactly. Respect already should have been there, having been earned over the previous 36 years of on-court play. But relevance in today’s football-crazed world? Now you’re onto something. Eight national crowns in 37 seasons means you’re doing something right for the sport, and the schools involved are also doing things the right way — for them. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

— Villanova coach Jay Wright also pointed out this past week: “I just hope the Power Five sees a value in us as a part of all of this in basketball. We want to keep up with the Power Five. We want to do everything they’re doing, just do it in basketball. I hope this gives us a place at the table because basketball is really important to all these schools.” Amen. And just sayin’.

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