Tiger's Triumph; To Leave or Not to Leave
It was a moment most of us thought we'd never see again.
Tiger Woods winning a major championship.
After all the years lost to injuries, back surgeries and personal challenges, Tiger’s win yesterday at the Masters ranks as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
Even those of us who aren’t big Tiger fans had a tear in our eye when he tapped in the putt on 18, exulted in joy, and celebrated with his caddy, his family, and a host of former Masters' champions.
The moment was made all the more moving by the long silence from announcer Jim Nantz, who wisely let the pictures and the emotions speak for themselves.
Done Too Soon? From this corner, Stanford sophomore KZ Okpala's decision to enter the NBA draft was disappointing and, quite possibly, a mistake.
Okpala is a real talent, and he has a bright future. But he's not ready for the rigors of the NBA. He's played less than two seasons (after dealing with an eligibility issue as a freshman). He needs more seasoning. He needs to mature and learn you can’t take it to the rim on every play. He needs to develop a more consistent outside shot, improve his free throw shooting, and cut down on silly turnovers.
He would definitely benefit from another year on the Farm. And, of course, so would Stanford.
Okpala’s decision calls to mind two other Stanford players who left the program early—Josh Childress and Curtis Borchardt. Both had NBA type talent, and both went in the first round, but both could've used another year in college to gain physical strength and emotional maturity.
Neither had much of an NBA career. Childress was drafted No. 6 by the Atlanta Hawks, but never started for them. He has spent most of his time playing in Greece, Australia and Japan. He's also gained quite a reputation as a troublemaker and been suspended several times for "unduly rough play," "bringing the game into disrepute," and "unsportsmanlike behavior" (abusing officials). The injury-plagued Borchardt has spent most of his career in France and Spain.
On the Other Hand: Not every Bay Area basketball star decided to leave college early. Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu (Walnut Creek, Miramonte HS), the best player in the country, announced right after the Final Four that she would return to Eugene for her senior year.
And two Bay Area seniors—Stanford's Alanna Smith and Cal's Kristine Anigwe—were drafted No. 8 and 9 in the first round of last week's WNBA draft.
Smith, who averaged 19.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game this year, will be reunited with Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello, for whom she played on the Australian National Team.
Anigwe, the NCAA Defensive Player of the Year, will take her shot-blocking skills to Connecticut alongside two other Bay Area greats, former Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike and former Cal teammate Layshia Clarendon.
Personal note: The WNBA executive pictured with
Smith and Anigwe in Thursday's SF Chronicle, former
Stanford star Christin Hedgpeth, helped launch the
American Basketball League, the league I co-founded
back in 1995, as our director of player development.
Christy (as she was known then) is a wonderful human
being. It's great to see how far she’s come, now well
established as the WNBA’s Chief Operating Officer.
NCAA Finals: We somehow neglected the NCAA Women's Final in our basketball recap last week. It was another nail-biter, with No. 1 ranked Baylor prevailing over defending champion Notre Dame, 82-81.
Last year's hero, the Irish's Arike Ogunbowale, had a chance tie the game in the final seconds, but missed one of two free throws. Last season she made an incredible three-point shot at the buzzer, falling out of bounds in the corner, to beat Mississippi State by one in the championship game. Two days earlier she had hit the winning bucket in the semis against Connecticut.
The game can be cruel sometimes, but most fans will remember Ogunbowale’s game-winners and not the free-throw miss.
Ogunbowale was drafted No. 5 in the first round by Dallas, whose new coach is another ABL alum, Brian Agler. Brian coached the Columbus Quest to our championship in 1997 and '98 and later won WNBA titles with Seattle and Los Angeles.