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Pels' Great Expectations
Saturday, April 18
Four writers for the New Orleans Advocate made their playoff picks in the Saturday morning edition.
  • All chose the Warriors, but the length of the series varied from 5 games to 7. None predicted a sweep by the team with the league's best record.
  • Personally, I will be happy if the Pels win two games and very disappointed if they win none.
  • With their full roster back on the floor and some momentum heading into the post-season, the Pels are a more formidable foe than a #8 seed.
  • But can a team famous for its inconsistent play hang with Steph Curry & Company for more than five games? "That's why they play the games!"
  • One thing going for the Pels is that, while they're mostly neophytes in the playoffs, Golden State's coach, Steve Kerr, has not coached in the playoffs although he gained great experience as a player. He participated in post­season action eleven years with four different teams - Cleveland, Chicago, San Antonio, and Portland. He obviously learned a lot from coaches that he played for, men like Lenny Wilkins, Phil Jackson, and Gregg Popovich - enough to enable him to move seamlessly from broadcasting games to coaching them this year.
  • But pinning your hopes on the other team's inexperience when you suffer from the same malady yourself is risky business. I'll go with WARRIORS IN SIX.
Parallels: Wilkins and Manning
Saturday, April 18
Viewing an interesting ESPN-SEC documentary Friday night on Dominique Wilkins is the genesis of this next installment of this series, which compares similar situations in two different sports or in different eras of the same sport.

Dominique Wilkins

 


  • The hour-long documentary focused on Wilkins growing up in Washington NC and leading the local high school to back-to-back AAA state championships - the first in the school's history.
  • Dominique was the toast of the town until he spurned the in-state ACC schools, including Dean Smith's Tar Heels, in favor of Georgia. Suddenly, the community turned against him. Dominique was called "traitor" and had to de­fend himself with his fists. His family received death threats and had their house vandalized. The enmity reached the point where the family moved to Georgia ahead of his enrolling at the university. (The documentary says nothing about how a single parent of a large family suddenly found housing and a job in another state.)
  • Wilkins played for Hugh Durham at UGa for three years, 1979-82. During that time, he electrified the university and the entire SEC with his above-the-rim style of play and thun­derous dunks. He averaged 21.6 ppg during his college career and was named SEC Men's Basketball Player of the Year in 1981.
  • With Durham's consent and even encourage­ment, 'Nique entered the NBA Draft after his junior year. The Utah Jazz chose him in the first round but traded him to Atlanta be­fore his rookie season. Just as he had resuscitated the Georgia basketball program, he invigorated the Hawks for 12 seasons before being tra­ded. He made the All-Rookie Team and the NBA All Star team nine times. He ranks as the all­time leading scorer for the Atlanta franchise. His #21 was retired by the Hawks. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Let's backup in time and establish the second parallel that this article is about.
  • In 1979-80, Wilkins' freshman year, Georgia went 14-13, their first winning season since 1971-72.
  • Durham added more quality players to his roster. The result was a 19-12 mark in Dom­inique's sophomore season to earn a berth in the NIT. The Bulldogs defeated Old Dominion 74-60 before losing to South Alabama 73-72.
  • 1981-82 brought another 19-12 season and another NIT bid. This time UGA won three games to earn a spot in the semifinals in Madison Square Garden, where they lost to Purdue 81-60.
  • The season following Dominique's departure to the NBA, the Bulldogs finished 24-10, winning the SEC Tournament to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Dogs made it to the Final Four for the first time in school history. Ironically, they lost to North Carolina State - one of the schools that thought it had a lock on Wilkins's services when he graduated from high school.
Let's fast forward about 15 years to another legendary SEC player, albeit in a different sport.
Peyton Manning

  • Peyton Manning grew up in New Orleans, where his father, Archie, quarterbacked the Saints after becoming a legend at Ole Miss.
  • Like Dominique, Peyton lifted a small school, in this case Newman High School, to its greatest heights on the gridiron.
  • Ranked either the #1 or #2 QB prospect in the nation (alongside Josh Booty of Shreveport), Peyton was expected to follow in his father's footsteps to Oxford. Instead, he chose Tennessee.
  • That evoked the wrath of the Rebel faithful, many of whom turned against father Archie, calling him a traitor for not sending his son to Ole Miss. They also vented their spleen against Peyton. Rebel Nation's rift with the Manning family would not be healed until brother Eli enrolled a few years later.
That's the first parallel between Wilkins and Pey­ton Manning. But there's another.
  • Peyton took over the starting QB position at Tennessee a few games into his freshman year (1994) after injuries felled multiple veteran sig­nal-callers (including Todd Helton, who would achieve fame on the diamond with the Colo­rado Rockies).
  • Manning's first season as a Vol ended with an 8-4 record and a 45-23 victory over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
  • In full control of the team as a sophomore, Peyton engineered an 11-1 season, the loss coming to the team that would prove to be his nemesis, Florida. A 20-14 triumph over Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl propelled UT to a #3 ranking in the final AP poll, one notch below - you guessed it - the Gators, whom Nebraska had destroyed in the championship game 62-24.
  • Peyton's junior year produced another double­digit win season. The ten victories included a 48-28 thumping of Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl. In addition to losing to Florida, the Vols were upset by Memphis 21-17.
  • Unlike Dominique Wilkins, Manning returned for his senior season in hopes of leading the Big Orange to an SEC championship. And that he did as Philip Fullmer's team overcame their fifth straight loss to Steve Spurrier's Gators to win the SEC East and earn their first appearance in the conference championship game. Peyton led an in­spired comeback to nip Auburn 30-29 to capture the title he so coveted. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to gain Manning the Heisman Trophy. He finished second to Charles Woodson of Michigan. The disappointment continued when Nebraska sealed its sec­ond straight national championship by thumping the Vols 42-17 in the Orange Bowl.
  • Like Wilkins, Manning was a first round draft choice. The Indianapolis Colts chose him with the first pick. Peyton, of course, has forged a Hall of Fame career with the Colts and Broncos, including a Super Bowl victory in 2007 and a loss to the Saints in '10.
  • Meanwhile, back in Knoxville, the year after Peyton graduated, the Vols, led by QB Tee Martin, broke the losing streak to Florida on their way to an undefeated regular sea­son and 24-14 triumph over Mississippi State in the SEC Championship game. Ten­nessee then won the first-ever BCS Championship game, 23-16 over Florida State.
So the beginning and end of the college careers of Dominique Wilkins and Peyton Manning were eerily similar - recriminations as they left high school, success as col­legians but an even greater season for their alma maters the year after each left school.
We're #8!
Thursday, April 16

The Pelicans did it!

  • A 63-point first half, most scored against the Spurs all season, propelled the Pels.
  • They withstood the inevitable San Antonio rally to prevail 108-103.
  • Anthony Davis made two key jumpers and an incredible block in the last two minutes to help seal the deal. He led both teams with 31 points and 13 rebounds.
  • The Pels' "reward" is a series against the team with the best record in the league, Golden State (67-15).
  • I'll be happy if the Pelicans can win one game. They're guaranteed two home games in the seven-game series. Maybe they can win both. They beat the Warriors 103-100 here April 7.

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This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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