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Hoops Hall-Of-Famer King Says He Faced Racism At Tennessee

double-trouble-king-grunfeldTonight, former Tennessee and NBA basketball legend Bernard King will be featured in a new “30 for 30″ documentary on ESPN called “Bernie and Ernie.”  It focuses on the friendship he enjoyed with fellow New Yorker Ernie Grunfeld while playing for UT in the 1970s.

Volunteer fans will be surprised to see the “Bernie and Ernie” tag as the duo was more commonly known as “The Ernie and Bernie Show” at the time.  Chalk it up to marketing.  King is a basketball Hall of Famer.  Grunfeld — while a tremendous player and the current GM of the Washington Wizards — doesn’t have the name recognition of King, once one of the NBA’s top scorers.

Another way ESPN promotes its programs?  By releasing controversial snippets from them.  And that’s just what ESPN has done to promote tonight’s show.

The AP is reporting today that King reveals in the documentary that he faced racism while at Tennessee.  Specifically, he states that a police officer struck him with the butt of his gun while responding to a loitering charge.  It sounds as if there will be more talk on the racism front as well.

King and the University of Tennessee have reconnected during the past decade.  King’s jersey was retired at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2007.  He began aiding the UT program with pep talks and such.  All appeared to be well between alum and school.  But one wonders what these “revelations” — Is anyone really surprised that a black man from New York dealt with prejudice in the South 40 years ago? — will have on the King/UT relationship.

“I wish the university and the basketball team all the success in the world,” King told the AP.  “I would recommend that any athlete on the basketball side or football side or any sport, I would recommend the University of Tennessee for them.  I don’t harbor any bitterness.  You can’t go through life like that.  It eats you up.”

King added: “Everyone in Knoxville has always been very warm to me during my trips back to town.  It’s a different era.  It’s a different time.  It’s a different generation.  Therefore, my interaction with everyone is quite different than it was back then.”

Sounds good, but The Big Story today still ties the words “Tennessee” and “racism” together.  Now Vol fans know how Ole Miss fans felt last year.

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The Jury’s Out On Newton, But We Don’t See How A Team Could Pass On Him

The experts are all over the board when it comes to former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.  Some see him as the next great quarterback in the NFL.  Others see him as a prima donna.  Some see him as anew type of signal-caller for the pro game.  Others see him as nothing more than a high-risk project.

We at see him as being too athletically gifted for a team to pass on him.

Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News — one of our favorite SEC writers, by the way — does a fine job of showing you the wide range of opinions on Newton in his latest column.  While pundits, talking heads, ex-coaches and off-the-record personnel men are all over the board, we feel Newton will be the top pick in the draft for one reason — the Carolina Panthers can’t afford to pass on him.

In April of 2006, the Houston Texans passed on hometown hero Vince Young and Heisman-winner Reggie Bush to select NC State defensive end Mario Williams.  That decision was ridiculed.  Texans GM Charley Casserly was roasted.  The local fans wanted Young.  Many in the media thought Bush would be the next Gayle Sayers. 

Williams?  Well, he was a good defensive end but how could Houston pass on Young and Bush?

Casserly was headed out the door at the time of the draft.  That kind of knowledge can be quite freeing.  Casserly knew he wouldn’t be around to deal with the fallout of not picking the two favorites… so he could focus on making the best pick.  Even though that pick would be met with catcalls.  As it’s turned out, Casserly did make the right pick in Williams.  At least to this point in the three players’ careers.

But Carolina GM Marty Hurney isn’t stepping aside at year’s end.  And while he’s had some success overall, he doesn’t have the track record of a Bill Belichick or Bill Polian to buttress a risky decision.

Last year he selected quarterback Jimmy Clausen who the Panthers and their fanbase have apparently already lost faith in.  And there’s a reason Carolina is picking first this year — they were the worst team in football a year ago.

For that reason, Hurney is under more pressure now than Casserly was five years ago when he chose to buck conventional wisdom.  Hurney needs a home run.  Newton looks like he could be that home run.

Newton didn’t throw many passes or start many games in college, but he did excel in the toughest league in America and led his team to the national crown.  The upside — to use a word popular among NFL personnel types — is through the roof when it comes to the former Auburn star.

If Carolina feels that Newton’s head is screwed on straight, we don’t see how they can risk passing on him.  That doesn’t mean we view Newton as a sure thing.  We don’t.  But we do know that any GM who lets Cecil’s boy slide past him, is taking a pretty big risk.

No one wants to be the guy who takes Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan.  And that includes Carolina’s general manager.

When first pick is called out tonight, we believe Newton will be the man walking to the podium.  The Panthers can’t afford to pass on Newton’s upside.  They can’t afford to risk him starring for someone else for a decade to come.

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NFL GM: Mallett Admitted Drug Use

When it comes to questions of character leading up to the NFL draft, Ryan Mallett has faced a ton of them.  The former Arkansas quarterback has been accused of choking under pressure, failing to be a good leader, and of being a drug user.  Those are the kinds of things that cause you to tumble down the draft list, of course.

According to Nolan Nowracki of (and it was that led us to that story), one NFL general manager actually claims that Mallett admitted his drug situation in an interview:

One GM said Mallett was the first quarterback ever to admit his drug usage to him in interviews, and his willingness to be honest about his past and acknowledge issues is viewed as a positive.  Concerns about his history of use could impact his draft position, though.  Although Mallett did not produce an official positive test at Arkansas, he has been arrested for public intoxication and carries a reputation as a “big party guy,” per sources who have interviewed him.  How much teams believe he has matured will weigh into his draft status.  “I would not take him at any point,” one executive not in need of a quarterback said.  He still figures to be drafted in the second round.

For months Mallett-backers have screamed, “Where’s the proof?”  Well, if an NFL GM is to be believed, this amounts to proof.  Proof of something anyway.  Whether the drug use Mallett discussed was typical college type stuff — booze, marijuana — or something larger like cocaine (as has been rumored), the quarterback has come clean to at least one high-level NFL executive.

Next question — and it’s the same question we asked when former Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge admitted drug use during his college career: If it’s true Mallett was using, how did Arkansas’ drug testing policy never catch him?  And shouldn’t that policy be strengthened… for the benefit of troubled athletes?

Character questions will no doubt follow Mallett into the draft, but talent-wise, some team could get a second-round steal by picking the former Razorback.

The Mallett discussion appears in a breakdown of players who are perceived to be the safest and most dangerous bets from a character standpoint.  Mallett was joined under the “top character questions” header by Auburn’s Cam Newton and Nick Fairely:

Auburn DT Nick Fairley — Despite possessing difference-making, top-10 talent as an inside pass rusher, Fairley is a classic one-year wonder with a spotty motor.  His work ethic is questionable — and it shows in his smooth-muscled, soft body.  He is not a self-starter, is known to fall asleep in meetings and has a learning disability that showed in his 12 Wonderlic score.  On talent alone, he could still fit into the top 10 because of his ability to generate an inside rush and take over games.  Three teams PFW consulted that have selections in the first half of the draft admitted he has been removed from consideration, but still hoped and expected he would be drafted highly.

Falling asleep in meetings, huh?  Wonder what Gene Chizik and Ted Roof will say about that report.

Auburn QB Cam Newton — Make no mistake about it — when an athlete is extremely talented, capable of winning championships and advancing the careers of coaches and proliferating the profile of programs, he is going to have supporters who loyally will stand by him through thick and thin.  Newton won championships, advanced careers and has his share of supporters.  Some of his teammates also admittedly have been less than forthcoming in interviews because they do not want to be viewed as bad teammates.  Nonetheless, Newton’s immaturity remains a considerable issue that has been well-documented and includes multiple incidents of theft and academic cheating.  Very concerning is his enormous ego and lack of humility that could make it extremely difficult for him to handle a leadership position at one of the most demanding leadership positions in all of sports.  He still figures to be a top-10 selection, but whether he can prove to be a long-term solution 3-5 years from now is very much a doubt in the minds of many NFL decision-makers.  “Only the tip of the iceberg has (been reported) about (Newton),” one NFL executive said.  “He has won two national championships, won the Heisman (Trophy) and had great production in one year.  He’s an athlete with a strong arm.  But there is so much there. … Mark my words — the team that drafts him will have an owner who reports to himself or a GM who is planning to be retired on the beach in three years.”

The academic cheating charge came late last year through a report, but we at have not seen any type of follow-up or confirmation of the report.  Maybe we just missed it.  (We still think someone should get the book thrown at them for illegally releasing information about a student’s academic records.)

Either way, Newton appears to be more and more comparable to former Tennessee Titans first-round pick Vince Young.  An all-star at the college level who could make plays with his legs and arm.  Capable of carrying a team to a national title.  But also, a player who’s coming from an over-simplified system — in Young’s case a one-read offense and in Newton’s case a system so simple that he couldn’t call out a single Auburn play when asked to do so by ESPN’s Jon Gruden.

Young has shown flashes in the NFL, but he’s also made as much news off the field as on… and he’s being run out of Nashville by a team that desperately needs a quarterback.  Newton — like Young — has too much talent for most GMs to pass on, but also like Young, he might wind up being a bust when it comes to the investment a team will make in him cash-wise.

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Calipari Laughs At Job Rumors

Kentucky’s John Calipari met with a crew of in-state reporters today and naturally the topic of NBA rumors was broached.  New York papers have recently suggested the Knicks might be interested in hiring UK’s coach as their own new coach and GM.

While Calipari didn’t promise to stay put, he did blow off those reports by reminding the media types that he’s always been rumored to be heading somewhere else… pro or college in the past.

“Now it’s only pro jobs.  Part of it is to try to screw up your recruiting.  I laughed when the newest rumors came out.  I said, ‘You’re not going to screw up our recruiting; we’ve already got the kids signed.’”

Yeah, but would he consider a return to professional ranks?  “I’ve got a great job.  I’ve got one of the best in our sport.  I can’t stop the rumors; I just don’t deal with them.”

Of course, he could stop the rumors — or at least make Cat fans breathe a little easier — by saying flat-out that he’s not going to leave Lexington.  But such a statement would only undermine the coach’s leverage.  And he’s got plenty of that these days.

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Report: Calipari Might Be On Knicks’ Radar

Hold your breath, Kentucky fans.  The John Calipari roller-coaster ride is about to get rolling again.

Longtime NBA writer Peter Vecsey of The New York Post writes today that New York Knicks owner James Dolan “may have eyes for John Calipari… to run the front office and coach.”

Vecsey admits he has no confirmation of this from the Knickerbockers.  He’s also tried to contact UK’s coach to no avail.  But he does believe the scenario makes sense in light of the fact that Dolan hasn’t picked up an option on his current GM’s contract even though he’s led the Knicks to the playoffs.

The writer’s take:

We’re talking about a marquee (there’s that word again) college coach fresh from another Final Four, who owns pro experience (some of it good with the Nets), is an outstanding recruiter (though NBA’s salary cap may limit impact) and relates remarkably well with young black players.

What’s more, Calipari is represented by William (World Wide) Wesley who works for Creative Artists Agency, Hollywood’s most powerful entertainment agency.  One of its many patrons is Chris Paul, who figures to be on the market within a matter of months.  He also reps Mark Warkentien, current part-time Knicks scout and former Nuggets’ VP; it’s felt he’d caddy for Cal in the office.

Connect the dots and such a plan sounds plausible.  But at Headquarters, we’ll believe Coach Cal is leaving Lexington when the moving vans arrive at his house.

We just can’t say it enough — Rick Pitino has already played that scenario out and the result is his current residence in Calipari’s shadow.  Would Calipari really give up his college throne for a seat at the pro table?

Stay tuned…

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Newton Goes 54-For-65 At Pro Day; Reviews Mixed

Maybe Cam Newton can take his Auburn receivers with him to the NFL.  Last month at the NFL combine, Newton had a disappointing day throwing the football and he blamed his problems on poor timing with his receivers — who came from all over country.

Yesterday, Newton had no problems hitting his old, familiar AU targets.  In fact, after completing just 11 of 21 passes in Indianapolis, the former Auburn star connected on 54 of 65 passes yesterday.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The AJC, Newton “dazzled more than 125 NFL executives” in a “spectacular workout.”

“We wanted to show everyone who was in attendance, not only the intermediate game, but the perimeter throws, the (skinny posts) and the out routes,” said Newton, who also worked from under center.  “For me, I just wanted to show everybody what I’ve been working on.”

Ah, but not everyone thought the workout was as great as Mr. Ledbetter did.  Rob Rang of gave Newton a “B” grade. analyst Tony Pauline said Newton’s work was “solid, not spectacular.”

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes Newton’s footwork “has a long way to go,” but he added that that’s the case with “any young, spread quarterback.”

ESPN analyst Todd McShay — who gave Nick Fairley high marks for his pro day work — says Newton’s throwing motion “did seem a bit mechanical at times,” but he also said it’s clear the QB is making progress.  His overall views:

His accuracy and consistency are not elite, but he offers rare athleticism and playmaking ability.  For most quarterbacks, this kind of pro day performance would have been enough to make teams comfortable selecting him anywhere int he top five overall.

However, Newton isn’t a squeaky clean prospect and there are enough character concerns and unanswered questions to give teams something to think about.  The physical tools are there and will likely keep him in the top 10-12 picks, but in the end it will come down to teams being comfortable enough with his mental makeup and work ethic to pin the hopes of their franchise on him.

When it comes to the NFL draft, it only takes one team to fall in love.  Don’t be surprised to hear Newton’s name called in the first three to five picks with that team’s GM saying, “We just couldn’t pass on a guy with this much potential.”

Perhaps a GM like Ron Rivera of the top-pick-owning Carolina Panthers?  Rivera and Newton “could be seen joking, laughing, and having extensive conversations” yesterday.  Hmmm.

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