About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

Despite a low-hanging investigative cloud over the college game, March Madness is at full tilt right now after a fun winter of hoops at all levels.

Yesterday, I went to the campus of St. John’s University for New York City’s big-sized public high school semifinal games. I arrived about a half hour before tip of the first matchup: Cardozo (Queens) vs. Jefferson (Brooklyn).

A line of at least a hundred deep waited to purchase $5 tickets at the Johnnies box office. We passed through a metal detector and some of us got the pat-down treatment on the way in. Both school safety officers (without guns) and community affairs cops (with guns) patrolled the event in numbers that have grown excessive ever since the PSAL got spooked from the post-title game ruckus outside the Garden in 2007.

The PSAL’s freaked-out overreaction to that Sunday night in Times Square a decade ago remains firmly in place all these years later in the form of ridiculously restrictive policies that keep city hoops fans out of their own school’s games. As an example, South Shore HS (a finalist for the city title) has posted a “spectator policy” on its home page that says “all visitors must have identification” and pay a $10 fee to enter. That’s fine, I guess. But it goes further. Signed by head coach/athletic director Pat Trani, the policy states that “students from the visiting school may be admitted, ONLY if an administrator from the visiting school is present.”

In other words, we don’t trust kids from the other school to behave so you have to bring a babysitter if you want to see your team play.

The other finalist for the city title this weekend is Cardozo HS here in Queens. Their 2017-18 attendance policy for home basketball games is even worse. Written and approved by Cardozo administrators Joseph Cavallo, Danny Scarola and Kevin Witt (dated 9-1-17), the school puts an outright ban on fans saying: “No visiting team spectators will be admitted to Benjamin N. Cardozo H.S.” And…”No visiting cheerleaders or boosters will be admitted to any games.”

I’ve harped on this problem a bunch here in recent years but my goodness, we must allow any and all city residents young and old to attend all public school athletics events if for no other reason we must support this endeavor and its participants robustly.

I saw Cardozo’s senior point guard Marcus Hammond put on a remarkable display of athleticism and talent yesterday at Carnesecca Arena in a charged environment that is as good as it ever gets for a sports fan. We must encourage attendance and involvement from the community rather than lock the doors out of fear there will be a rumble.

Hammond delivered a long pass to a teammate for an alley-oop slam early in the second half of Cardozo’s 79-67 win over Jefferson. The play turned the place upside down. Everybody looked at the person seated near them and laughed in disbelief. There was a deafening roar. Hammond also blanketed Jefferson’s highly-touted freshman point guard Jaquan Carlos with a man-on-man coverage so tight that Carlos couldn’t do much.

Next year, Hammond plans to attend school and play basketball at upstate Niagara University, a good division 1 program. He plays for the city championship on this upcoming Saturday. I wish him luck and hope people enjoy watching his college career whether they’re fans of the home team – or not.

A few other hoops highlights for me the last few months:

-Marc and I saw the rising Sixers beat the Knicks in Philly from great seats on Feb. 12. TJ McConnell had a triple-double off the bench and Allen Iverson rang a replica of the Liberty Bell in a ceremony before the game at half court. Earlier that day, Marc and I saw the actual Liberty Bell up close. It was impressive.

-My parents and I saw DePaul’s brand new arena on Chicago’s near-South side for a Sunday afternoon tilt against Seton Hall. The cheapest available tickets were overpriced ($28), there were very few students on hand and security would not let my Mom bring her normal-sized purse into the building. Seeing what I saw, I would now agree with Cub Fan Dan who argues the new Wintrust Arena should not have received a penny of government subsidy.

-My Dad and I saw junior forward/center Kayla Caudle dominate inside for Vernon Hills on a chilly suburban Chicago night in late January at Grayslake Central High School. Kayla Caudle is the daughter of my high school classmate Brian. While Caudle was muscling inside for short put-backs, Rosie Drevline was launching from outside for Central. Rosie is the daughter of another high school classmate Tim – and so here it was – Drevline vs. Caudle a generation later. To complete the circle, Steve Gibble (a teacher and coach at my high school at the time) was a referee for this game. His errant toss on the opening jump ball elicited a howl from my pal Photo: “C’mon Gibbs! Throw it up straight!” A smile from Gibble came soon after – once he realized it was the old jokester from the class of ’84 making the jeer.

There were a whole lot of intense, fun-to-watch performances from the just-completed Winter Olympics in South Korea. For me – and probably for many – Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka will be remembered for the most remarkable achievement of the games with her totally unexpected victory in the Super G skiing event.

NBC’s prime time coverage of the women’s Super G aired live here in the states the night of February 15 (it was the afternoon of the 16th in PyeongChang) but had cut away for other programming prior to Ledecka’s run. NBC’s primary skiing voice Dan Hicks proclaimed Austrian superstar Anna Veith the gold medalist after some twenty skiers had gone down the hill. Based on a variety of historical data and knowledge of the women’s field for the Super giant slalom, Hicks (with likely encouragement from network producers – and no disagreement from his sidekick Bode Miller) fully expected entrants outside the event’s first group of 20 to be too slow to crack the medal stand. Ledecka was the 26th skier down the steep course – which by then was chewed up and would make for slower finishing times. Add to that Ledecka had come to the games as a snowboarder – a completely different discipline.

Blame NBC’s America-centric spin on the women’s Super G and their obsession with condensing to fit our short attention spans for the blunder. They got the interview with Lindsey Vonn who commented on a run that went bad for her near the bottom of the course – and then NBC bailed out. I can’t remember if it was Tirico on the studio set later – or the primary figure skating voice who announced that there was a “surprise” on the slopes and the viewers would learn more after a commercial break. Out of the spots came tape of Ledecka’s gold medal run which was one one-hundredth of a second faster than Veith’s. Amazing.

Eight days later, Ledecka won the parallel giant slalom event. She was riding a snowboard – instead of skis. And this result was not unexpected given her status as defending world champ in the event.

The miss on Ledecka’s Super G run does not diminish the excellent job NBC did with these games over two and a half weeks. I watched a lot of it. Figure skating. Hockey. Speed skating. Skiing. The board events. The jumpers. Pretty much all of it except curling and biathlon.

It makes me uncomfortable knowing the body governing the Olympic games moved figure skating to late morning/early afternoon in South Korea so NBC could show the competition here in prime time. If I was running the games, I’d insist NBC’s billion dollar infusion not dramatically alter the schedule for attendees and participants on the soil of the host country. Yeah, the rights deal would get slimmer without such undue deference to the US broadcaster but this is a global competition. Figure skating is the crown jewel of the winter games and it should be slotted naturally for both the live attendees and competitors on normal local time. Heck, the US doesn’t even win gold in this event these days. Run it compatible with the body clocks of the athletes and the people who go to the arena.

The individual figure skating winners on both the men’s and women’s side were unbelievable. Wow. The stuffed dolls raining down on Hanyu’s short program and the dazzling, dueling free skates of the two young Russian women Zagitova and Medvedeva will be remembered forever by fans of the sport.

Johnny and Tara are the US voices of figure skating now for NBC. Their calls from the Gangneung Ice Arena were excellent although their unlikely ascension has coincided with the demotion of Scott Hamilton. Late in the games the Times profiled Hamilton – and further solidified the total class of his act – even as he battles a brain tumor. Hamilton stayed positive – and insightful on the “Olympic Ice” show – which devoted lots of time on NBC Sports Net to detailed analysis of figure skating which this year included a team event. The Times profile of Hamilton (written by Juliet Macur) said he watched the skating events in close proximity to Johnny and Tara – “often peeking at them over his reading glasses.”

“Let the fireworks begin,” said Johnny as Zagitova took to the ice for the long program. Tara knew what was coming and said the jumps would all come in the second half of the routine because the scoring system had incentives for that. “Hold onto your horses,” she said just before the jump sequence. “Every jump is accented on the music!”

The US women’s hockey team shootout win to take gold was a thriller. I actually listened to it on the radio. It was after 2 AM here when it ended.

Mr. Versatile Ted Robinson was solid as the main announcer on the speed skating events and NBC gave us a great documentary on the 1968 summer games to close their coverage. Narrated by Serena Williams, I’d highly recommend watching the 90-minute or so film on the ’68 games. It’s amazing. And it’s up on NBC’s Olympics web page now for streamers.

Nor’easter number two in six days comes tomorrow. We’re at 21.3 inches of snow for the season at LaGuardia. Wednesday’s accumulation will put us at a number that’s a bit above average for a NYC winter and then hopefully we can move on to the spring season.