The triumphs, trials and tribulations of Trae Young

Justin Norris | Staff Writer

Freshman phenomenon Trae Young, a point guard for the Oklahoma Sooners, has easily been the most talked about player in college basketball this season. Young is currently averaging 29.1 points per game and 9.3 assists per game, which both lead the NCAA. If Young maintains these gaudy averages, he will become the first player in the history of college basketball to lead the nation in scoring and assists in the same season.

His dazzling game has been one of the most polarizing subjects in recent college basketball memory. His supporters swoon over his seemingly limitless range and electrifying playmaking ability, which has drawn comparisons to two-time MVP and NBA champion Steph Curry. His detractors acknowledge his incredible talents but doubt that he can continue to play at such a high level in the NBA.

NBA legends LeBron James and Oscar Robertson heaped effusive praise upon Young. After the Sooners lost their fourth straight game, and seventh of their past nine games, Robertson called Young to give him some advice. According to ESPN, Young said that Robertson told him “how much he loved my game, how he enjoyed watching me play. He gave me a lot of encouragement.”

Although Young would not elaborate on his conversation with Robertson, he tweeted his gratitude and appreciation for Robertson’s advice.

If that was not enough approval from an all-time great, James weighed in on Young’s future. According to Sam Gannon of KOKH Fox 25 in Oklahoma City, James said that Young “better go pro,” and that the only adjustments he will need to make upon entering the NBA are “how much money he’s [going to] spend” and “how much he’s [going to] save.”

James went on to say that Young “is a very special player” who “can add a lot to any team [in the NBA].” The Cavs’ leader has known Young since he was in the eighth grade and has watched his game evolve to where it is now.

However, critics, such as Stephen A. Smith, predict Young will struggle at the next level. On First Take, Smith said he believes Young will not be as good as advertised in the NBA due to the increased physicality he will face. Smith thinks that because Young “is so tiny from a physical perspective,” it will be much more difficult to post the eye-popping numbers that he does at Oklahoma, and that teams will pick on him defensively because of his slender frame.

Young has cooled down slightly from his white-hot start to the season, where he tallied a record-tying 22 assists in a game against Northwestern State. The 23rd-ranked Sooners are an underwhelming 6-7 in conference play and are sixth in the Big 12 conference.

However, Young has shown the ability to rise to the occasion and play well against quality opponents. He’s averaged 27 points per game and 7 assists per game against ranked foes, and the Sooners are 3-3 in those matchups.

Oklahoma has five games left in the regular season, and their rematch in Kansas is the only game remaining against a ranked squad. If Young continues to play well, the Sooners can build upon their 16-9 record and potentially make some noise in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.

Garoppolo the Key to San Fran’s Success?

Harrington Gardiner | Staff Writer

The San Francisco 49ers made a bold statement to the league by signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension.

The newly acquired quarterback was traded from the New England Patriots back in October after he served as a backup for Tom Brady in his first four seasons.

Garoppolo finished the 2017 season with 1,560 yards passing, seven touchdowns and a QBR of 78.2. He played well, but making him the highest-paid player in the league was surprising for someone with seven career starts.

With the quarterback market running thin, GM John Lynch and the Niners got their franchise cornerstone.

In the Patriots’ system that follows the mold of “do your job” and “no days off,” Garoppolo was everything that a team needed in a backup quarterback. Jimmy G had the drive, determination and skill set that was impressive to see out of a backup quarterback who rarely touched the field.

The 49ers were impressed with his ability to flourish in a championship system under legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Garoppolo gained most of his attention when Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. In his first four games, he threw for 502 yards, four TDs and had a quarterback rating of 86.0, all while throwing zero interceptions.

San Francisco traded a 2018 second-round pick for Garoppolo, who led the Niners to a five-game winning streak to end the 2017 season. During the winning streak, three of the Niners’ foes were playoff teams. In each of those games, he threw for at least 200 yards.

With Garoppolo starting, success followed in San Fran. The 49ers were one of the most dangerous teams heading toward the end of the season, and a lot of it was due to the play of Garoppolo.

As they will have him for a full season in 2018, are the Niners a dark horse in the NFC?

 

Hampton lacrosse hopeful for the 2018 season

Randall Williams | Sports Editor

Being the first HBCU to have a Division I lacrosse program is a big deal for Hampton University. Still, it’s safe to say the team has struggled since the program began in 2016. The Pirates have won just a single game in their first 13 matches.

However, this is not a talent issue. Hampton has gone out of state to recruit all sorts of different players. Stellar athletes include Kier Johnson, Jonathan Napier and, most recently, Carter Boone.

In their first year, the team struggled both offensively and defensively. On the offensive side, they failed to score more than five goals in every game of the year, while also giving up 15 or more on defense.

To better suit the defense, the coaching staff went out and recruited standout goalie Kevin Mondy. The following year, things got better on both sides of the ball.

“I’ve always used lacrosse as a therapeutic getaway from the world…but last year, sometimes, I got lost in that,” Mondy said about how the defense struggled. “We didn’t communicate or trust each other the way we should have, and it showed in the scoreboard.”

In their only W, the Pirates’ energy was completely different than it had been in past games. They faced adversity after being down 3-0 in the first quarter.

“In those moments, it’s so important to keep faith and really just move on from your mistakes,” the Pirates’ Preston Randolph said.

Randolph was winner of Most Improved Player of the Year last year and said, “Winning will start when we begin to become a complete team, when people pick each other up and when we follow the game plan that is given to us.”

After their game against the Firebirds, the Pirates have 11 games left. Five will be at home.

When asked what Hampton fans can expect from the games, Mondy’s response was straight to the point. “We went out and recruited some very fresh talent,” he said. “So I expect us to have a more competitive spirit and to find that drive to win.”

Randolph chimed in as well, saying, “No one wants to come to the game and watch us lose. It’s not fun for anyone involved except the opposing team.”

With more practice and more bonding, the team is sure that not only will they get better, but they will produce more W’s in 2018.

Golden State Warriors: The Champions Slowing Down & Competition Speeding Up?

Isaiah Spencer | Staff Writer

This current era of the Golden State Warriors has been one of the most, if not, the most dominant NBA basketball team in history. With a record-setting 73-9 record in 2015, and a 9-time All Star being a new addition to the team following year, the Golden State Warriors are the most feared team in basketball today.

The Warriors have faced some struggles within the past couple of weeks with games they’ve should have won. On Jan. 3, a 30-point loss to the Utah Jazz was the worst defeat they received all season. The Warriors shot 33 percent on 20-of-60 from the field. This was their second-worst game of the season, statistically. Only a loss from the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 23rd was worse.

“We just didn’t start out the game with any force defensively…We played with no sense of urgency, no sense of purpose and they’re obviously fighting for the playoffs,” Warriors coach Steve told NBA reporters.

In the past 10 games, the Warriors were 6-4, which is rare for them, considering they usually have one or two losses within a 10-game span.

The Utah Jazz were their first loss within that span, and the Denver Nuggets their second. It was another highly favored game to win for the Warriors, which resulted in a 7-point loss on Feb. 3.

“The whole fourth quarter was rough,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who had 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting. “50/50 balls go (the) other way. It was tough to get in any kind of rhythm or flow.”

Many expected the Warriors to step their game up when they played the elite Oklahoma City Thunder, but this was no different. With the Thunder having the reigning MVP and two new elite players this season, they are always expected to put up a fight no matter who they play.

Russell Westbrook and Paul George combined for 72 points. The Warriors entered that game having gone 11-0 in games following a loss.

Golden State’s most recent game came against the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 14. Despite Kevin Durant’s 50-point performance, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers were able to snap the Warriors’ seven-game win streak over Portland.

“It might be our best win [of the season] as far as the quality of the opponent,” Lillard said.

It’s clear that the Warriors are not in their normal state of winning. The reigning Western Conference champs have a huge target on their back going into All-Star weekend.

The Golden State Warriors must determine if their game plan is slowing down or if the new competition is finally learning how to adjust to their style of play.

With the All-Star break, the Warriors had a week and a half to analyze their next moves and improve on their final 24 games.

New look in NBA All-Star Game

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

This year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles has players feeling a little festive, and it isn’t because of a party in Hollywood.

The NBA switched up the landscape of the All-Star Game by ditching the old-fashioned way of having the Western Conference teams play Eastern Conference teams. This year, they are implementing a new format that permits the top vote-getters from each conference to select their own team of All-Stars.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry received the most votes from their respective conferences this year, so this will make for a very entertaining game.

Team LeBron will feature Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George and ex-Cavs player Kyrie Irving. Steph Curry’s team will have James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan and first-time All-Star Joel Embiid.

There is no clear consensus on who won the draft, but the general public has agreed that these teams will definitely put on a popcorn-worthy show.

The big game isn’t the only thriller of the weekend. This year, the Dunk Contest and 3 -Point Contest have much to offer. This year’s 3-Point Contest features Klay Thompson, Eric Gordon, Devin Booker, Tobias Harris and Paul George. It will be interesting to see how Gordon will defend his 3-point shooting title against Thompson, who was victorious the year before.

The Dunk Contest has some underdogs this year as well. With Aaron Gordon returning to the contest two years after his epic showdown with Zach Lavine, there is no doubt that he will be the favorite, but don’t count out Gordon’s ex-teammate — and 2015 Dunk Contest runner-up — Victor Oladipo.

Many people aren’t counting on rookie Dennis Smith Jr. to win, but some are still interested in seeing what he can bring to the table. Smith is an explosive athlete and, with the Dallas Mavericks, has tried to dunk on anyone in his path — regardless of their status in the league.

The new format is not the only new wrinkle in the All-Star Game. This year, each player on the winning team will receive $100,000. This is double the amount players have received in previous years.

In the past, fans have claimed the game lacked competitiveness, but this incentive could be the solution.  For double the dough, the competition level amongst the players should rise significantly.

Check out how the events play out on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Hampton Pirates Men’s Basketball has a challenge in store

Justin Whitner | Staff Writer

The Hampton Pirates’ home games have gone extremely well for the Pirates as of late.

Jermaine Marrow and Lysander Bracey led Hampton with fantastic performances in back to back games. When the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats came to visit Hampton on January 29th, they entered the Convocation Center with a better record. Jermaine Marrow did not let that phase him, though. Marrow put up his best performance of the year thus far. He scored a career high 35 points, recorded 10 rebounds and was one assist shy of a triple double.

The game was clearly coming to him with ease, as he scored 10 of Hampton’s first 14 points. His point production pushed the Pirates to early success and the team never looked back, winning 80-69.

Two days later, another guard had an outstanding performance. Lysander Bracey carried the Pirates against Coppin State. In the beginning of the game, he struggled to find his shot, however the second half was completely different. Bracey hit multiple threes while scoring 22 points in the second half. He proved to be the “it factor” of the game, even knocking down three clutch free throws to force overtime.

In the OT period, he continued his success, knocking down two more. Hampton led by as much as 14 points before ending the game with a win.

Unfortunately, their winning streak did not carry over when they began their road trip of three games. The Pirates lost a game to North Carolina A&T, who are now sitting a half game back from the top of the MEAC with a conference record of 6-2. They now have eight games left in the regular season, and if there was ever a time to make a run for a better seed in the MEAC tournament, the time is now.

In previous years, Hampton has won two of the last three conference championships. The last two years have been a struggle for the program, which has yet to recover from the 2016 class of seniors departing.

“I think that the team will be successful with time” says Malcolm Heartwell, a fellow Hampton student. “The year got off to a rough start and it’s clearly been hard for them to recover, but if they find their rhythm before the tournament, the sky is the limit.”

Indeed, making a run would be a difficult task for the Pirates, but it is not impossible. With few games left, it’s time for maximum effort.

The NFL awards

Roderick McClean | Staff Writer

The NFL season is coming to an end, and awards are up for grabs. There have been many surprises this season. Teams that were expected to be lackluster proved doubters wrong by making the playoffs and eliminating teams thought to be on top.

The Coach of the Year Award is completely up for grabs, with the top candidates Sean McVay (L.A. Rams), Doug Pederson (Philadelphia), Mike Zimmer (Minnesota), Doug Marrone (Jacksonville) and Sean Payton (New Orleans). Each coach has something different to offer.

McVay completely turned the Rams around. Last year, under Jeff Fisher, they finished 4-12. However, this year has been completely different. The first-year head coach has brought in a new culture for the team and it is clearly showing, as the Rams finished 11-5.

Marrone is another coach deserving of the award. The Jaguars finished a flat 3-13 in 2016. This year, they not only went 10-6 but also won their division and went to the AFC Championship Game.

McVay and Marrone are most likely the frontrunners for the award.

However, there are some underdogs. You can’t count out Bill Belichick (New England), Payton and Zimmer.

When it comes to the Offensive Player of Year, it comes down to three main players, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have two of them. Antonio Brown was just incredible this year. The Steelers’ wideout led the league in receiving yards all while missing the last two games of the season.

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will be another contender for the award. He ended the season in third for total rushing yards and racked up 655 receiving yards as well.

The Rams’ Todd Gurley caught the attention of fans, too. Gurley had 279 carries, 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Notable nominees for Defensive Player of the Year are Calais Campbell (Jacksonville), Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas), Aaron Donald (L.A. Rams), Everson Griffen (Minnesota) and Jalen Ramsey (Jacksonville). Despite the numerous nominees, it appears that Campbell should get this award. After all, Campbell finished the season with 67 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.

Many players have had an MVP type of season, including Carson Wentz (Philadelphia), Tom Brady (New England), Drew Brees (New Orleans), Russell Wilson (Seattle), Brown and Gurley.

The MVP race for the 2017 season changed multiple times as injuries haunted the NFL’s top players. Players like Wilson and Brown were clearly leading the pack, but injuries hurt their chances. Wentz looked to be the easy pick, but he was injured as well, tearing his ACL in week 14.

Now, it looks as if the fallback guy will be who many consider the greatest player of all time, Brady. The Patriots quarterback had another stellar season, leading the league in passing yards while throwing 32 touchdowns.

Voters will decide the winners for each award Feb. 3.

Battle of the 757

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

With schools that are only 14 miles apart, comparisons are inevitable. Here in Virginia, with no professional sports, it is a big deal when two local universities meet—especially schools in the Hampton Roads area, one of Virginia’s athletic hotbeds.

Old Dominion University, a big-time university in the area, is a member of  Conference USA. Hampton University is a current member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but will soon enter the Big South Conference following this July.

Being in different conferences, the teams only compete against each other once a year. Last year, the Lady Pirates fell short, with the final score being 58-61 at ODU. This year, they made sure that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes as before.

Recently, on January 20th, Hampton’s Lady Pirates defeated the Old Dominion Monarchs, 50-42. This is the first time in all seven meetings between the two teams that Hampton has emerged victorious.

For much of the game, the Lady Pirates were plagued by an 8-point deficit and were struggling to beat Old Dominion’s effective 2-3 zone. With the deficit stretching as far as 15 in ODU’s favor, Hampton got it back under control thanks to guard Dejane James and forward Jephany Brown. Brown, who led the team in scoring with 12 points, kept the team a float, showing off her aggressive scoring mentality after making two three-point shots. Brown’s three-pointers were the Lady Pirates’ only three’s of the first half.

James also outdid herself in this game. The 5’3 guard put up 11 points and displayed her crafty ball-handling and knack to get into the lane.

After three quarters passed, Hampton had a 4th quarter explosion. K’lynn Willis started the comeback after burying a pair of well needed triples. Those triples were surely confidence boosters, as Hampton turned up their defensive pressure.

“The feeling on the floor was amazing,” Willis said, “I feel like our energy picked up, which then led to big key defensive stops. The team flipped the switch to make the run with confidence and defensive pressure.”

That defensive pressure ultimately resulted in a 25-4 run in favor of the Lady Pirates. This win is a new addition to the long list of quality wins for the Lady Pirates, including Columbia, San Jose State and most notably, UNC Chapel Hill.

Quality wins like this have become a standard for the Lady Pirates this year, building much excitement for this year’s team.

NBA’s biggest surprises and flops

Harrington Gardiner | Contributing Writer

This NBA season so far has its fair share of expectations. The Warriors, Spurs and Rockets are expected to compete for the Western Conference crown. It’s also expected that LeBron James will lead the Cavaliers to Eastern Conference supremacy for the fourth year in a row.

However, every year, it’s important to recognize the different highlights that occur in the association. Even with annual big surprises, there are always flops–whether it’s individual performance or teams not playing up to their true potential. With this being said, surprises and flops are important to help fans understand who’s improving and who needs a little bit more work.

Biggest surprises:

1. Trusting The Process

The Philadelphia 76ers have been one of the emerging young teams in the NBA. Although they are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference, the play of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has been really impressive.

These two players have shown star power material, and they’ve both proven that they can help this team reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Simmons is showing that he can win this year’s rookie of the year award, averaging 16.6 points, 7.2 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Simmons was drafted in 2016 but missed all of last season with a foot injury. Embiid is just dominating this year, averaging 23.9 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Embiid also made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. The process has been somewhat delayed with No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz being out for a while, but improvement is looking good in Philadelphia right now.

2. The Greek Freak

Although the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t playing up to their true potential as of now, Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like a man on a mission. He’s an MVP candidate not just because of his major improvement, but because of his dominance over other players.

His long wingspan and dangerous versatility make him nearly unguardable. He’s also carrying his team right now. He has a career high in points, field goal percentage and rebounds. Giannis, otherwise known as “The Greek Freak,” is easily in the MVP discussion, but who knew he’d be in the discussion this fast?

3. Rookies making their mark

This year’s rookie class has definitely balled out. Of course, going into the season, the hype revolved around Lonzo Ball and his impact on the Lakers.

However, many of this year’s rookies have played just as well if not better than Bell. Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr. and Lauri Markkanen have all shown they can become the cornerstones of their respective franchises. They’re all putting up stellar numbers and are helping their teams ascend in the win column. Highlights and crossovers are great and all; but when a young player can come into the league and contribute night in and night out, that’s flat out impressive.

Biggest flops:

1. Oklahoma City Big Three

Going into this season, the trio of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George were thought to be lethal. It turns out that they’ve been absolutely horrendous. Inconsistency has been a problem for this OKC team and it has caused them to be less of a threat as the year progresses. Lastly, their biggest weakness is their bench play. If they plan to go deep into the postseason, things have to improve, and it starts with their bench.

2.Sacramento Fountain of Youth

Years of drafting young talent on this team hasn’t really paid off for the Kings. This past draft, they got four very skilled rookies: De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason. They also acquired Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill from free agency this year.

They have a great mixture of veteran presence and young potential, yet they currently sit in last place in the Western Conference. Sacramento is way behind schedule in a conference that’s already tough as nails.

3. Inconsistency in D.C

The Washington Wizards have one of the best backcourts in the league in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They also have a decent supporting cast with Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Marcin Gortat. The question many are asking is what’s wrong?

Last year, this team was in the discussion for the best team in the East, but this year, inconsistencies have plagued them. They’ve had some injuries here and there, but that certainly can’t be an excuse for losses to teams they should not be losing to.

The Wizards have the talent to be the best in the conference, yet they just aren’t playing like it.

 

Hampton University moving to the Big South Conference

Justin Whitner | Staff Writer

bigsouth2
Courtesy of the HU Office of University Relations

After more than two decades in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Hampton University will make the switch to the Big South Conference.

Big South Conference Commissioner Kyle Kallander and Hampton University Athletic Director Eugene Marshall made the announcement Nov. 16 in the Student Center Theater.

Kallander said that the vote to put Hampton Football in the Big South was a “unanimous decision.” The Big South sponsors 16 of the 17 sports in which Hampton University participates. This means that all sports — excluding the lacrosse team, which is independent — will make the change to the Big South. Hampton has been in the MEAC since 1995.

Marshall said there is the possibility that the Pirates won’t begin to play football in the Big South until the 2019 season. This means rivalries against schools such as Howard University and Norfolk State would continue for the next season, as well as games against other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Many questions have arisen since the announcement. What will happen for the seasons beginning in 2019? Will Hampton football play strictly HBCUs in nonconference games?

Playing in a bigger conference will give Hampton athletics a chance to not just prove themselves, but also the athletic worth of all HBCUs.

According to ESPN’s The Undefeated, Hampton is the second HBCU at the Division I level not competing in a historically black league, the other one being Tennessee State.

“Our goal at Hampton is to be the best mid-sized university in the country, and I think that the Big South helps us to obtain that,” Marshall said.

Hampton alum Lysander Bracey thinks the decision to go from MEAC to the Big South will be a great move.

“We’re on a bigger stage now, and the competition gets better as well,” Bracey said. “I’m excited for the upcoming years in the Big South.”

The change to the Big South will likely mean a change in attendance. Will more or less Hampton students attend athletic events to cheer on the Pirates? This positive or negative change can only be determined with time.