Georgia Tech Virginia Tech Football

There’s a scene in ‘Remember The Titans’ when Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass comes off the bench to play quarterback for the first time. It took just a couple of plays before Doc — Denzel Washington’s assistant coach — proclaimed: “We got ourselves a football player!”

That’s the scene that popped into my head on Saturday when I watched sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas calmly complete a 4th-and-forever pass to DeAndre Smelter late in the 27-24 win at Virginia Tech. If Thomas failed to complete that pass — game over. We’d be talking about Georgia Tech’s fifth consecutive loss to the Hokies. Instead, we’re talking about the Yellow Jackets sitting on top of the ACC Coastal Division standings.

Everyone knew Thomas had talent and athleticism. What no one could know — maybe not even head coach Paul Johnson — was that Thomas may have the toughness and late-game moxie of a Joshua Nesbitt to go with the respect Tevin Washington received from his teammates.

Even his very capable back-up, junior Tim Bylerly, seemed impressed with Thomas’ calmness in crunch time. Late in a come-from-behind victory over Georgia Southern, Thomas confidently told Byerly on the sidelines, “I got this.”

“He’s a gamer; I can’t say enough good things about him,” Johnson said of Thomas after the win in Lane Stadium on Saturday. “Did he play perfectly? No. But he makes plays. He’s not afraid of the moment. He likes the moment. We need to get some more guys who get into that.”

Thomas isn’t the only gamer. Senior B-back (fullback) Zach Laskey is as dependable and as hard-nosed as they come. Senior Shaq Mason is one of the top o-linemen in the nation. And senior wide receiver DeAndre Smelter — how did he get so wide open in Blacksburg? — has emerged as a future NFL-er.

sadturkey_0  Smelter makes turkeys sad.

And what the defense has done under coordinator Ted Roof is remarkable. Remember, Roof lost Tech’s all-time leading pass-rusher in Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu’s replacement, Jabari Hunt-Days, became an academic casualty. Hunt-Days’ back-up, Kenderius Whitehead, didn’t gain eligibility either.

But the key, in my opinion, is Thomas, who is beginning to remind me of talented Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. As Thomas gets more proficient and gains more confidence, the offense will only get better.

When Johnson’s offense works, it’s like watching the San Antonio Spurs cut up NBA opponents. A few naysayers may find it boring, but when it works, it’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold.

Most of the experts predicted Georgia Tech to win six to seven games this season and finish fifth or sixth in the ACC’s Coastal Division. I told you back in July that the Yellow Jackets would be better than that.

Georgia Tech’s 4-0 start has given Yellow Jacket faithful a license to dream a little. In the conference where Duke and Wake Forest have played in league championship games, why not Georgia Tech in 2014?

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Jacket fans can take comfort in that they’ve got their quarterback for the next 2.5 years.

You see some unusual things in the Metro Atlanta real estate world. Here’s a few of my photos for the week (September 6-12)..

I call this the "lonely throne" bathroom. The tub, inexplicably, is missing.

I call this the “lonely throne” bathroom. The tub, inexplicably, is missing. Saw this home in Midtown Friday afternoon.

My clients have a puppy -- a Lab named Cotton -- so naturally I insisted the pup ride along with me. He didn't offer to fill my gas tank, however.

My clients have a puppy — a Lab named Cotton — so naturally I insisted the pup ride along with me. He didn’t offer to fill my gas tank, however.

I don't even know what to say about this house, except that it is listed for $300,000. Seriously. The only reason my clients even stopped was so that I could take a photo.

I don’t even know what to say about this house, except that it is listed for $300,000. Seriously. The only reason my clients even stopped was so that I could take a photo.

After looking at a home in Smyrna, these turkeys chased our car. Look, I like a little Wild Turkey, but this isn't helping me find a house for my clients.

After looking at a home in Smyrna, these turkeys chased our car. Look, I like a little Wild Turkey, but this isn’t helping me find a house for my clients.

Hawks

 

I wish Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson would have asked me my opinion on how to fill Philips Arena before his well-documented racially-insensitive comments cost him his position.

For the next owner, I offer my unsolicited ideas, free of charge. You’re welcome Atlanta.

First, some disclosure is in order. A couple years ago I interviewed for a communications job with the Hawks. I was not offered the job, but I was honored just to interview and it couldn’t have been possible to walk away more impressed with Danny Ferry and Rick Sund. First class guys.

Secondly, while this particular blog is light-hearted, I understand the seriousness of comments by Levenson and Ferry.

Back to your regularly scheduled, less-serious blog.

Here’s eight ways the Hawks can have a full, lively, and dare I say diverse crowd every night.

  1. Win. Win games on a consistent basis and fans from every corner of planet diversity will come.
  1. Have a roster full of players who embrace the city of Atlanta. I think Ferry was/is on his way to achieving this by getting rid of some knuckleheads who seemed more concerned about the size of their paychecks than the size of the crowd. They still have a ways to go in this department.

When I say “embrace” Atlanta, I’m not talking about being seen in bars. Let’s see Jeff Teague run in the Peachtree Road Race or Al Horford at Turner Field taking in a Braves game. Let’s see Kyle Korver at a Georgia Tech football game or Paul Millsap at the Fox Theater.

  1. Win. I’m not talking about winning 45 regular season games, either.
  1. Quit being so hung-up on the fans cheering for the visiting team. Get over it. Have you been to a Braves-Cubs game?
  1. Win so much that those Lakers and Celtics fans, in time, convert into Hawks fans.
  1. Have the cheerleaders give complimentary shoulder rubs. Check that. Have the cheerleaders give ME shoulder rubs.
  1. Win playoff games. Lots of ‘em.
  1. Continue the terrific in-game atmosphere.

I admit that I attended just one home game last season, but I took a date who cares nothing about basketball and three boys between the ages of 7 and 11 who have the collective attention of a gnat. They were ALL entertained the entire time and left bigger Hawks fans.

With all that’s transpired in Hawksland over the last few days, they have far bigger concerns than employing my marketing ideas.

But remember: Just win, baby.

I watched college football 13 consecutive hours last Saturday, not to mention a few hours Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights. That fact, combined that my blog has no editor, means that I can ramble on about Week One of college football.

Let’s begin in Athens.

 

Simma Down Now

Georgia fans are partying like it’s 1980.

Bulldog faithful, following a season-opening 45-21 win over Clemson, are convinced this is THE year.  They’ve already used a Sharpie on their four-team college football playoff bracket. They’ve reserving a spot for Todd Gurley’s Heisman Trophy, perhaps in UGA’s indoor practice module.

Georgia last won the national championship 34 years ago.

Herschel wore number 34.

It’s in the stars.

Wait…. Herschel… Stars… Herschel’s New Jersey Generals wore (gulp) stars on their helmets…

O. M. G.

Look, Georgia was impressive in beating Clemson and Todd Gurley is really, really good. Damn good.  The ‘Dawgs are certainly capable – just like a dozen other teams – of winning it all this year. But, let’s keep things in perspective.

Georgia beat Clemson – a team it was favored to beat by more than a touchdown – in a home game against a quarterback making his first career start. Nothing against Clemson, but the Tigers aren’t even the best team in their division and play in a conference ‘Dawg fans like to poo-poo (even though said conference produced the national champion last year). Clemson will win nine or 10 games this year, but let’s face it, the Tigers may not even be the best team in the Palmetto State.

So, let’s just take a deep breath.

Again, Georgia may end up playing for the national championship. Wouldn’t surprise me. I’m just saying maybe we should wait until, oh I don’t know, mid-September before reserving that Dallas hotel room.

Walker_Herschel10_Generals_USFL 

 

More Thoughts From Week One

  • Why are some Georgia Tech fans up in arms that the Yellow Jackets didn’t blow out Wofford? Whooping up on an FCS opponent doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Do you remember the only other time Tech failed to beat an FCS team by more than 21 points under Paul Johnson? That was 2009 – a 37-17 win over Jacksonville State. All that Yellow Jacket team did was go on to beat Clemson in the ACC Championship and play in the Orange Bowl.
  • Speaking of Georgia Tech, I came away impressed with the play of quarterback Justin Thomas, wide receiver DeAndre Smelter and defensive tackle Adam Gotsis. Thomas is going to be fun to watch. Smelter will be yet another Tech wide receiver to play in the NFL. Gotsis is perhaps a year away from reminding people of Aaron Donald in terms of being a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line.
  • Florida State looked bored in the Seminoles’ win over Oklahoma State. I think FSU probably has as much or more talent than any team in the country, I’m just not sure about the ‘Noles’ motivation. I think this is a season they’ll play to the level of their competition, and that’s a dangerous thing.
  • Let me preface this note with a clarification. I’m not saying UTSA is one of the best teams in the nation, although the Roadrunners might very well be one of the top 30-35 teams. But UTSA’s thumping of Houston, on the road, was impressive to watch. Or maybe I just liked their uniforms.
  • East Carolina may not beat South Carolina this weekend as I assume the Gamecocks will be a tad fired-up on Saturday. I wanted to mention the Pirates, however, because if you are a true college football fan in the south, do yourself a favor and go to a game at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. To me it’s one of college football’s hidden gems. East Carolina fans are more passionate about football than any other fan base in North Carolina.

 

Random Notes #1

Posted: August 11, 2014 in Random, Uncategorized

Now that I’ve got my own blog, I’ve developed a better appreciation for Jeff Schultz and Mark Bradley of the AJC. Those guys are responsible for posting multiple blogs  — daily. I’m having a difficult time writing something more than once or twice a month, and it’s not like these things I write are worthy of Pulitzers. Coming up with something you feel strongly enough to write about is difficult…

… Speaking of people I admire, I want to mention my mother, Carolyn, who celebrated her 90th birthday recently. She’s the toughest little lady I’ve ever seen.

… On the subject of birthdays, I turned 50 Saturday. I just did a Google search to find out which celebrities also have birthdays on August 9th and I’m am thrilled to share my day with Deion Sanders, Jason Heyward, Derek Fisher and my new favorite rapper, Young Thug.

… I see where UGA attempted to convince the NCAA to recuse former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins from the ‘Dawgs hearing on violations committed by their swimming program. Chip Towers’ article in the AJC points out that Cremins actually asked to be recused back in July, beating UGA to the punch. Here’s what I take away from this story: whether it’s football, swimming or marbles, the Tech-UGA rivalry is alive and well.

… Is there a more useless award than Preseason Coach of the Year?

… If Virginia Tech wins the ACC Coastal Division this fall, get ready to hear about the fairness – or lack thereof – of the conference schedule. The Hokies’ two opponents from the Atlantic Division are Boston College and Wake Forest.  Nothing against the Eagles and Demon Deacons, but Georgia Tech must play Clemson every season (the Jackets also play on the road at NC State).  Miami, should the ‘Canes not win the Coastal, will certainly remind everyone that it’s Atlantic Division opponents were Louisville and defending national champion Florida State.

… As political races heat up in the coming weeks, just once I’d like to hear a candidate say something along these lines: “My opponent is a good person and a solid candidate. We simply have different views and philosophies.”

 

Somewhat Speechless

Posted: July 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I’m guessing this is the only time I will be in the same story/blog as legendary basketball coach Bobby Cremins. I appreciate Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer — and good friend — Ken Sugiura dedicating a large piece of his blog to me.

You can read it here.

In my previous career my job was very much behind-the-scenes. Sure, every now and then I’d be quoted in the paper as “an athletic department spokesperson,” but my job was to generate publicity for just about everyone but me. So, I’m a little embarrassed but really flattered by what Ken wrote.

It’s nice to know some people appreciate your work.

 

The official preseason ACC rankings come out later this week when media flocks to Greensboro (N.C.) for the annual ACC Kickoff, and two things are certain.

First, Florida State will be picked to win the Atlantic Division – as the loaded Seminoles should be – although it won’t be unanimous. Some writer, wearing an faded orange polo from 1997 and representing a low country website, will not only pick the Tigers to finish first, he’ll vote Florida State in fourth place for good measure.

Secondly, Georgia Tech won’t get much respect. The voting will mirror that of most national preseason publications which project the Yellow Jackets to finish somewhere between fourth and sixth place in the Coastal Division.

Welcome to Groundhog Day in the Triad area of North Carolina where every year Georgia Tech is projected to finish lower than, well, just about everyone.

And every year Paul Johnson’s teams exceed those expectations.

It’s true, look it up. Since Johnson arrived in 2008, no ACC team has exceeded preseason expectations more than Johnson’s Yellow Jackets, and it’s not close.

You would think after six years of under-rating Tech, the “experts” might know better.

This year those experts will see that the Yellow Jackets return just 10 starters and they’ll think: “This is the year the bowl streak (17 consecutive) comes to an end. This is the year Tech finishes below .500 in the ACC (most Tech players weren’t yet born the last time that happened).”

I say Georgia Tech will be better than almost anyone thinks this fall, and here are five reasons why:

1. The schedule is manageable

Unlike some previous years, Georgia Tech doesn’t have the ridiculous task of playing a division rival on just five days rest. No Thursday night games, no Labor Day games in Blacksburg, no mid-season road games in Provo, Utah, and for the love of Dodd, no game in Clemson for the first time since 2011.

The Yellow Jackets don’t play Florida State and they play Clemson in Bobby Dodd Stadium, a place the Tigers haven’t won since ’03. There are games against NC State and Virginia, two teams that combined to go 0-16 in conference play last year, and games vs. Duke and North Carolina, which Paul Johnson has beaten a combined 11 times in 12 meetings over the last six years.

2. The quarterback situation is better

7828141
So., QB, Justin Thomas

I think a lot of Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison following a season in which he started all 13 games at quarterback. I hope he has a very productive career with the Dukes.

Georgia Tech, however, will be more productive at quarterback this season. Both sophomore Justin Thomas and junior Tim Byerly, although different in style, have both bought-in to the offense.

How Johnson uses the QBs this fall – whether it’s almost exclusively Thomas, one of the fastest quarterbacks in college football, or some type of combination of Thomas and Byerly, a tough kid with a good arm – will be fascinating to watch.

3. Special teams have a chance to be… special

It wasn’t that long ago when Virginia Tech returned a kickoff for a touchdown that cost the Yellow Jackets a victory in Blacksburg. There was also a muffed punt in Miami that the Hurricanes recovered for a touchdown, a mishandled kickoff at Clemson that was downed at the 1 and a missed PAT, of all things, that prevented the Jackets from a fourth-quarter tie at UGA.

While Tech’s special teams have improved over the years, those remain painful memories for Tech faithful.

With who the Yellow Jackets return on special teams, combined with the addition of new coordinator Ray Rychleski, I believe this is the season that Tech wins a game (or two) on special teams.

Even Johnson, who rarely gives such accolades in July, said that sophomore kicker Harrison Butker has a chance to be one of the best in the nation. Punter Ryan Rodwell started half of the 2012 season before redshirting last year, and the Yellow Jackets rarely punt anyway. Tech even has two dependable long snappers.

The real strength, however, should be in the return game. Junior Jamal Golden ranked in the top 10 nationally in both kickoff and punt returns in 2012 before missing most of 2013 with an injury. Sophomores Lynn Griffin and Dennis Andrews have potential to be equally dangerous. Senior DeAndre Smelter was one of the ACC’s better punt returners last season.

4. The defense will be as good, if not better

“How could that be possible?” you ask.

Georgia Tech can’t replace defensive Jeremiah Attaochu, the school’s all-time sacks leader, and Jemea Thomas, one of Tech’s most versatile and productive defensive backs in the Paul Johnson era. Those guys now play for the Chargers and Patriots, respectively.

While Tech will sorely miss Attaochu and Thomas – and the Jackets took a kick to the shin when junior Jabari Hunt-Days, a possible replacement for Attaochu, was suspended for academic reasons – I believe the returning Yellow Jacket players begin to fully grasp defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s system in this, Roof’s second season.

And, it’s not like the cupboard is bare.

Junior tackle Adam Gotsis has a chance to be one of the ACC’s premier linemen and the Australian gives Tech a pass rush, albeit from the interior. Senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy just keeps getting better and more productive each season. With senior Isaiah Johnson, who missed last season to recover from a knee injury, returning to action, I think the Yellow Jackets will be improved in the secondary.

5. The big-play threat is back on offense

Since Johnson arrived at Tech prior to the 2008 season, the offense has never been a liability. In fact, over the last six years combined, no team in college football has rushed for more yards and the Yellow Jackets always seem to score plenty of points.

Missing the past three seasons, however, has been the true big-play threat. While this roster may not include a Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer or Anthony Allen, collectively this group may be Tech’s most explosive since 2009.

Where’s this explosiveness going to come from? It starts up front where the offensive line should be a little better, a little deeper and led by senior Shaquille Mason, a legitimate All-American candidate. Behind that line I believe senior B-back Zach Laskey rushes for 1,000 yards this fall. And when the defense puts nine in the box, Tech should be able to throw it better than last season when the Jackets ranked dead last (123rd) nationally in completion percentage.

The bottom line is that Georgia Tech – Johnson’s teams in particular – seem to thrive when the Yellow Jackets can muster that us-against-the-world mentality. Prior to the 2008 season, Sports Illustrated projected Johnson’s first Yellow Jacket team to finish 3-9. All Tech did that season was win nine games including victories against Georgia, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Pick the Yellow Jackets near the bottom of the Coastal Division at your own risk.

I think I brought bad luck to Atlanta when I arrived here from North Carolina in July of 2007.

Soon after I got here, Atlanta suffered its worst drought in a century, there was the financial crisis that impacted everyone, a tornado that blew through downtown Atlanta (apparently for the first time in history), Michael Vick went to prison and the Thrashers went to Canada.

While there were signs that an Apocalypse – not to be confused with Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse of both 2011 and 2014 – was on the horizon, I began the first of seven enjoyable, memorable years at Georgia Tech.

It’s a special place.

Georgia Tech recruits good, smart kids who did everything I asked of them as assistant athletic director for media relations. Even after some heart-breaking defeats, I never had to drag any of our football players kicking and screaming to a press conference. They handled those situations like men, which is what they soon become after arriving here.

It is gratifying to me that I maintain relationships with many former players and I enjoyed getting to know the third-string walk-on kicker just as much as the starting quarterback.

I’d like to thank every current and former Tech football player, coach and support staff member that I’ve had the pleasure to work with the last seven years. I’d list them all, but you’d get pretty bored reading a list of 400 names. I’d list just a few, but then I’d leave out so many good friends that I will miss working with.

While it’s dangerous to begin listing individuals, I would be reluctant not to mention head coach Paul Johnson, who I pestered about doing media interviews and who made me the subject of many good-natured jokes, almost daily, for the last six years.

Paul’s door was always open to me. I never had to make an appointment to see the head coach. In fact, many of our two-minute meetings ended up lasting 45 minutes. That line of communication is important (and rare) to a media relations director. I’ll always appreciate him for that.

I should also thank former associate athletic director Wayne Hogan and former Voice of the Yellow Jackets Wes Durham for convincing me to come here, and former athletic director Dan Radakovich for listening to Hogan.

One time I left a Christmas Party hosted by Hogan and his wife, Dawn, without telling anyone. I slipped out with stealth-like precision, avoiding all peer pressure to stay for one more round or getting hammered with jokes about getting old.

Hogan called it: The Montana Exit. Frankly, I thought it was a term he concocted when he was athletic director at the University of Montana. Turns out I gave him too much credit.

Truth is, I stink at good-byes. My philosophy is: unless you’re ending a relationship, moving to another country or lying on a death bed, I don’t see the need for good-byes when it’s entirely possible you’ll see me at the grocery store tomorrow.

Today is my last day in the office at Georgia Tech. It’s sad to leave, although I’m excited about the next stage (more on that in a future post).

Today seems like a perfect day for a Montana Exit.

U.S. Open - Final Round

I’ve watched more of the U.S. Open this week than I’d normally watch a golf tournament, even a major like this one. There’s something about seeing your hometown on national television that has drawn my attention, and I’m not sure why.

It’s not like I’m going to see a familiar face on television. Although, it’s entirely possible one of my old high school buddies could, in their worst German accent, yell “You Da Man!” after a Martin Kaymer tee shot Sunday afternoon.

I think I’m watching because it brings back some good memories of growing up in a special place.

Truth is I’m not from Pinehurst, I’m from Southern Pines (population: 13,000) – Pinehurst’s less-stuffy, more-diverse neighbor in central North Carolina. I grew up about five miles from Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course, home this week to the U.S. Open.

Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Whispering Pines, Pine Bluff and every other hamlet that includes the word “pine” in the name form the heart of the Sandhills region.

Not familiar with the Sandhills? Twenty million years ago – back when Angel Jimenez was just a tour rookie – the area represented the coastline, back when oceans were higher and land lower (I looked this up on Wikipedia).

If my parents decide to sell their house, I suggest they advertise it beachfront property. Never mind the closest ocean is about 120 miles to the east.

That’s your geography lesson for the day.

When you grow up in the Sandhills, golf permeates your life. It’s not that I played that much golf. We couldn’t afford those lofty green fees, but my buddies and I were exceptional at sneaking on the third hole at Hyland Hills Golf Club at dusk and getting in three holes before the assistant club pro threatened to call the cops.

Golf is everywhere in the Sandhills. There’s approximately 50 golf courses in Moore County alone.

In high school, I had a summer job at Pinehurst Country Club, working every day from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. parking, cleaning and charging some 200 golf carts. The job was minimum wage but included one of the great all-time perks. Once my shift was over, I could play a round of golf – sans a cart, of course – on any of Pinehurst’s great courses, with one exception.

The No. 2 course was off limits.

Still, what a great deal for a 16-year old. My friends and I would get off work at 11, jump on the No. 4 or No. 6 course before noon for 18 holes, hurry home for dinner, then play American Legion baseball that night. That’s a full day. And a damn fun one, too.

Near the end of my final summer as a cart boy, the clubhouse suits relented one day and allowed us one shot at the famed No. 2 course. They gave us a tee time around 4 p.m., when the members and paying customers were on their third martini in the 19th hole. Without carts and forced to play in foursomes, we didn’t even have enough time to finish 18 holes.

Looking back, that day reminds me of the scene in Caddyshack when Bushwood allowed the caddies to use the pool from 1 to 1:15.

That was my only shot at the No. 2 course, but I can forever claim that I broke 100. No one needs to know that darkness forced us to quit after 15 holes.

Remembering Mike Antle

Posted: June 14, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Antle

Mike Antle (2011 photo)

 

Mike Antle died today and that makes me sick to my stomach.

You may not have known Mike, although if you attended Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines (NC), you heard of him. He was a high school baseball phenom, a legend, one of the most intimidating, hard-throwing pitchers and free-swinging power hitters I’ve ever seen in person.

Mike was just four years older than me, but I idolized him. I was a 15-year old pimple-faced freshman playing on the junior varsity team. Mike was an imposing, extremely confident senior leader of the varsity team, the 1979 team that was the best in school history, producing a 24-2 record and cruising to a state championship.

One of those losses – a 1-0 defeat to arch-rival Richmond County – still bothers me today, even though I watched it from the bleachers that night. Tim Maples, the team’s other pitching ace, struck out 17 batters and allowed just one hit. Pinecrest lost the game when the home plate umpire called a catcher’s balk when Maples was intentionally walking a batter with a runner on third base.

A catcher’s balk!

Here’s how dominating Mike Antle was as a senior. He batted over .500 and was 12-0 on the mound.

It’s funny, the things you remember when you’re 15.

Pinecrest played Charlotte Garinger in the state championship (best 2-of-3) series. In the top of the first, Garinger’s lead-off batter singled off of Maples to right field. Bruce Cole, our sophomore right fielder, threw the guy out at first base from right field.

In the bottom of the first inning, Pinecrest shortstop Scott Jordan was warming up in the on-deck circle when Mike’s dad, Bob, a remarkable baseball man, called Jordan over to the chain-link fence near the home dugout. He told Scott that the opposing pitcher was extremely fond of throwing first-pitch fastballs for strikes.

Scott hit the first pitch out of the park. For all purposes, game over, series over.

Man, I wanted to be as good as Mike Antle. I only lacked the size, skill and athletic ability.

I wish I had of told him that.

Mike actually reached out to me via Facebook a little over a year ago when Atlanta was hosting the Final Four. His next-door neighbors were at the games and he asked me if I would go find them in their upper level seats and say hello. I was glad to do it, of course, and Mike seemed to get a kick out of it from Montana, where he was living.

My old teammate, Bill Hall, was kind enough to let me know earlier today that Mike probably didn’t have much time left.

A few hours later I saw that he had passed away.

That makes me sad because Mike was too young to die, too strong to be overtaken by cancer. It makes me sick that I didn’t try harder to stay in touch. I wish I had told him how big of an impression he made on me.