Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pat Summitt and the happily ever after we didn't get

Happy endings are for fairy tales. We know that, and yet it's hard not to hope for the "ever after" in real life sometimes.

If we'd have scripted it, there would have been one more UConn/Tennessee matchup for Pat Summitt, one more Final Four, one more national title.

No more Alzheimer's and lots more years.

Instead we lost Pat on Tuesday at 64 years young. It's clear from the massive amount of tributes and personal stories shared by media, players and friends in the last few days just how much of a collective loss this is. As my friend Maria Cornelius wrote, "How does a mountain disappear?"

We remember when the news of her disease broke in 2011, Summitt sitting alongside her son, Tyler, talking about taking on the biggest fight of her life. Summitt was larger than life, an unprecedented icon in this sport who accomplished just about everything she set out to do. If just for a moment, she seemed capable of conquering a new opponent, even one that doesn't play fair.

If anyone could beat Alzheimer's, it was Pat Summitt.

Early on, we watched her at the ESPYs; President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and occasionally she'd sit behind the Tennessee bench. But soon after, we stopped hearing from her. The interviews stopped and the once visible Summitt disappeared from public view. We haven't laid eyes on Pat Summitt in years.

In March a story about Summitt moving to an "upscale retirement resort" seemed like a cruel euphemism.

Just as the outspoken Muhammad Ali was robbed of his voice for the last two decades by Parkinson's Disease, Summitt, the greatest in our book, was lost to a disease the shrinks the brain and robs its victims long before they take their last breath.

Yet when we lost Pat for good this week, the suddenness of it,  the finality,  became jarring and profoundly sad. If you've ever lost a parent, you know the emptiness that accompanies that. It's something you carry with you the rest of your days.

Our sport will go on and so will those whose lives revolve around it, but its greatest ambassador leaves a void we don't expect to fill.

 We'll miss you, Pat. Very, very much. How we wish we could have written the ending you deserved.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Game 7, LeBron and a kid I know named Ben

Honestly feel like crying tears of joy right now

Editor's note: Two of us comprise LadySwish and we always write as a "we." Deviating today for this personal post written by the female half of this blog.

Sports has given me many gifts. I've loved writing about it since middle school; I started watching it as a tot growing up in Redskin territory. It's no surprise that my kids followed suit. Older son Harry is a sports and recreation management major at James Madison, a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan like his dad and tsk, tsk, he prefers the Colts to any NFL team. He's a heckuva athlete himself; younger brother Ben is, too.

But Ben has spent much of his 15 years beating to his own tune, the rare teen who wants no part in being cool to fit in with some group. He has a comfort level in his own skin that you don't find in most of his peers. In fact, I've always said his manner of carrying himself is the true definition of what cool really is. Like Harry, he adopted the Colts but is bored by baseball and doesn't have much patience for college football. While the pair grew up at Lady Monarch basketball games, much to my chagrin, they don't follow women's basketball anymore with the same passion as I do, though they have an education about the game that none of their friends comes close to matching.

And then there's the NBA. They both like it; Ben loves it. He is immersed in it in a way that a gambling man identifies with a racing form. He's a rules expert, knows the roster moves and their implications and frequently rolls his eyes at what he considers often inane commentary from the booth.

Ben idolizes LeBron. Not sure when it started. Not sure why. But the fathead in his room speaks to his oversized admiration for No. 23.

As a D.C. native, I didn't grow up watching the NBA -- the Bullets, which the Wizards were called way back when, produced no rooting interest in my household. From afar, I'd dismiss the league as a bunch of overpaid guys who traveled on multiple possessions. It was a season that came and went year after year little scrutiny from me.

But Ben watched religiously, and after a while, I joined him on the couch for Miami Heat games. I didn't know much about the other teams, but watching Wade and Bosh and Chalmers and LeBron became a familiar routine. I was alongside him when Ray Allen drained that improbable 3 in Game 6, and I would sit still for the video over and over when he'd insist on one more playback.

For Christmas a few years ago, I bought Heat/Wizards tix and took him to his first game. I spent weeks worried that some freak injury would sideline LeBron, but nothing of the sort happened and while we weren't as close as I would have liked, Ben spied LeBron in person.

Then, of course, came The Decision and LeBron headed home to Cleveland.

A stubborn kid, Ben wouldn't admit that it was pretty crushing at the time. He identified with that Miami team and wasn't invested initially with the idea of LeBron heading home to win one for the Cavaliers. I wasn't either. I liked LeBron in a Heat jersey and couldn't warm up to this Cavaliers bunch.

But over the last two years, just as I educated myself for the sake of my son about the Heat, I began to soak up all that is Cleveland. Ben never exactly called himself a Cleveland fan, noting instead he was a LeBron fan, but the constant adulation about Curry grew old on him as did ESPN's Curry crawl. When the playoffs came, he like the rest of the nation seemed to accept the road to a Golden State coronation.

Two games in, a Golden State sweep seemed possible, maybe likely. Down 3-1, even a magnificent game by King James seemed too late. Even after Game 6, Ben couldn't bring himself to get too pumped and nor could I for him. The odds of the Warriors losing again at home in this series seemed as unlikely as, well, a traveling call in the NBA.

We didn't watch Game 7 together. One of the things you accept as a parent is as your children grow, your company is replaced by that of their peers, and that's the way it's supposed to be. So while he was a few miles away with his bro and friends, I found myself following the game with the same fervor I once reserved for Joe Gibbs' Redskins.

I wanted the Cavs to score every trip down the floor. I want the Warriors to miss every trip down the floor. I kept telling myself Draymond Green would come down to earth. Every Curry 3 made me cringe. Kyrie's final 3 lifted me in the same way as an Art Monk touchdown used to. The LeBron block -- no words.

When Curry missed his final shot, I realized the Cavs were going to deliver the storybook ending for my kid. I pictured Ben, who unlike his brother, rarely asks for much, and I could feel the exuberance pumping through every vein in him. I sent him a text: "I am SO happy for you," and I didn't need a reply. A few minutes later when he walked in the door, he had a look of unbridled joy that nothing is going to erase any time soon.

Monday when I came home from work, he was curled up in a chair watching Game 7 minus the anxiety of the night before, and still beaming, too, I might add.

Sports has given me many gifts. This is one of its greatest. The championship is great for the city of Cleveland, but I wanted it for Ben. You have no idea when you become a parent where your kids will take you -- oh, the places you'll go. You figure out what love is -- wanting something for someone else actually more than you could have ever wanted it for yourself.

Enjoy this, B. LeBron might be carrying the trophy, but this one's for you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Chit chat with JMU star and WNBA rookie Jazmon Gwathmey

We must admit our interest in the WNBA increased significantly when James Madison's Jazmon Gwathmey made the San Antonio Stars roster. The CAA Player of the Year was picked in the second round and is learning her way around pro ball. We caught up with one of our all-time faves for a chat about what life is like as a Star.

Ladyswish: What's playing for San Antonio like?

Jazmon: The practices are definitely different than college. They're very fast paced -- not a lot of teaching; coming out of college you should know your basketball terminology. It's more on the go; see as they do and do it.

They're definitely bigger practices guys to go against than I'm used to.

LadySwish: What's been the hardest part to learn?

Jazmon: Trying to keep up with the pace but not trying to play 100 miles per hour. The pace might be fast up and down-wise, but I've still got to set up my moves.

LadySwish: How would they like to use you?

We like to run in transition, which is something I like to do. Defensively, I use my length guarding guards. My main focus right now is running the floor in transition and defense.

LadySwish: How does it feel not to play so much?

Jazmon: It's not my time. I'm learning getting better each and every day, so when my time does come I'll make the most of it. I've got veterans in front of me who are playing fantastic. I'm learning from them on and off the court. If my name gets called, great. If not, I'm cheering them on for 40 minutes.

LadySwish: Who on your roster have you bonded with?

Jazmon: You've got Monique Currie, she's a vet. Very strong moves and she's a guard. I watch  her and how she gets open. You've got Kayla McBride. She's a fantastic shooter. Watching her when I'm on the bench and how people guard her, she finds different ways of scoring and getting open.

LadySwish: What is the lifestyle like?

Jazmon: I wake up, eat breakfast, drive to practice, get out around 2 o'clock and then I go home and try not to sit on the couch and fall asleep. You have the rest of the day to yourself. We have a pool. You can go shopping. I try to stay productive and not sleep all day. I go walking around; I have my dog, Nyla (Yorkie/chihuahua mix),  here, so we'll go out to parks and stuff. I try not to buy too many shoes.

I like when it's not raining. It's been raining a lot. When the sun is out, it's beautiful. The Riverwalk is nice to go to. It's a beautiful area. The whole state is flat, so you can see miles and miles.

I've been to L.A. I've been to Connecticut. I've been to Dallas. Being a rookie, you don't know that many people. A lot of the veterans, they know people in L.A, so they go out, have dinner and hang out. I'm meeting new people; that's one of the positives about traveling. In college, we were on a set schedule and they wouldn't allow the players to leave the hotel. Now we're grown women so we check in and are responsible for ourselves. I try to stay focused on the road.

L.A. was an experience. I got to go to Hollywood Boulevard and see the stars on the sidewalk, got to see Jimmy Kimmel, is that his name? I got to see the Hollywood sign on the hill.

LadySwish: How did you feel when  you made the roster?

Jazmon: It was a huge relief. I honestly didn't even know until I saw text messages. Throughout the whole camp, in every player's mind is  you don't want to get cut so you're always doing extra, maybe even trying too hard.

LadySwish: Do you talk to Kenny Brooks?

Jazmon: Every day at first. I give him updates and he gives me pointers. I'm weaning off of him and trying to do things on my own.

LadySwish: Are you going to root for Virginia Tech WBB?

Jazmon: I'm rooting for Coach Brooks. I'm still purple and gold.

LadySwish: What do you think JMU WBB will be like under Sean O'Regan?

Jazmon: I think they'll be fine. They'll have a lot of energy, because Coach O has a lot of energy. He doesn't like to take it; he gives it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Catching up with newest Lady Monarch, Hofstra transfer Kelly Loftus

Caught up with brand new Lady Monarch Kelly Loftus before Game 6 (she likes Golden State, by the way).

In case you haven't heard the latest, Loftus is the new kid on the Old Dominion roster. Hofstra's leading scorer a year ago (12.5 ppg) and a member of the 2016 all-CAA Tournament team, Loftus will be eligible for the 2017-18 season.

"I wanted a new start," she said.

Hofstra ended the season in the WNIT quarterfinals and Loftus, a 5-10 guard from Mount Vernon High in Alexandria, Va., announced shortly after she wanted to transfer closer to home for her final year.

"I was a little far the first time," she said. "When I was 16, I really wanted to be farther from home. As you get older, you learn and realize what you really want. A lot of my family is from Virginia and will be able to see me play, finally."

Loftus has been the Pride's top threat the last two seasons; as a sophomore she connected on 79 3-pointers, third best in program history. She said she drew interest from ACC and Atlantic 10 schools and visited UMass and Albany prior to coming to Norfolk and meeting with coach Karen Barefoot.

"It wasn't about the level; it was about finding the perfect fit," she said. "They have such a winning culture and a history of women's basketball. I appreciate what Coach Barefoot has done for the game."

Loftus said also having ODU assistant Jermaine Woods on staff influenced her decision. She knows him from her high school days. "He's somebody I can always talk to, and he made me feel like they really wanted me."

For the rest of the summer, Loftus plans to focus on online classes at ODU and working on her game with her high school coach, Courtney Coffer. She also is looking for an internship in the communications field and has already spent some time shadowing broadcaster Christy Winters Scott during the WNBA season.

Loftus will fill a void left by leading scorer Jennie Simms, who enters her senior year this fall.

"I think the best thing I will bring is scoring," she said. "That's a pressure I can deal with. I also have leadership and passion."

We're guessing those qualities are the biggest reasons why Loftus and the Lady Monarchs are a match.