Friday, October 17, 2008

Lottery Pick Thompson Making Mark With Sacramento Kings

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

The clock hasn’t hit midnight yet.
With the NBA Preseason underway, Sacramento Kings rookie forward/center Jason Thompson, like Cinderella, realizes he has a lot to prove.
For the lottery pick, a guaranteed contract doesn’t mean guaranteed playing time.
“I’m past that,” Thompson said about being the Kings 12th pick. “It’ll be something that I’ll always be able to say and remember but it’s time to move on. Now I got a new coach and a new team so I have to start fresh.”
The former Rider University star’s growth will mirror the Kings’ rebuilding process- filled with peaks and valleys. In the NBA Summer League, the 6-foot-11 Thompson proved that he belonged in the pro’s by averaging 19 points and eight rebounds. Thompson’s says that his strong performances confirmed that he was in the right situation.
“It gave me a lot of confidence because in the practices I was playing real well and within a couple games the coaches were running plays for me,” said Thompson. “I hit two buzzer-beaters during that stretch and though we finished 3-2, I thought we could’ve won even more games.”
In the Mount Laurel, N.J. native’s first preseason game, he was overshadowed by the dominant 13-point, two block debut of Portland Trail Blazers big man Greg Oden.
Though Thompson struggled with 2-for-8 shooting and six fouls, he assures fans that his best is yet to come. Gaining daily advice from former NBA star and current Kings assistant coach Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Thompson feels he can only get better.
“I’ve been learning a lot from the veteran guys out here and doing a lot of agility drills…overall my game’s got stronger all over,” said Thompson. “[Abdur-Rahim] has had success in the league so I’m going to trying to learn as much as I can in the fastest time so I can get on the court.”
Thompson’s development will be a key factor toward second-year Kings head coach Reggie Theus making strides in the Western Conference. With the Golden State Warriors missing the playoffs with 48 wins, Thompson understands that competition will come at a premium.
“It’s tough and it makes us work even harder with teams out there like the Lakers, Mavs, and Phoenix Suns,” said Thompson. The competition is getting even better in the Eastern Conference so I’m happy that our team’s headed in the right direction instead of downward.”
The versatile big man isn’t a stranger to coming out of nowhere. A former 5-foot-11 guard, Thompson grew to 6-foot-8 while attending Lenape High School where he became a multiple all-South Jersey performer. Playing alongside two fellow D-I signees, younger brother Ryan Thompson (Rider) and Stanley Greene (Howard), the pair led Lenape it’s first state championship.
Jason was recruited under the radar heading to Rider and turned a middle-of-the-pack mid-major program into a power in the MAAC. In his senior year, Thompson led the Broncs to the MAAC Championship Game against Siena. Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey feels that NBA experts shouldn’t underestimate Thompson’s motivation to be the best.
“I think what people failed to recognize was how competitive and driven he was, Dempsey said during the NBA Draft. “Over the years he put on some weight, grew a couple inches, competed everyday, and now he’s blossomed into a great player.”
Off the court, Thompson is starting his life over from scratch as well. For the first time in his 22-year-old life, Thompson will be a coast away from his family. Having moved into an apartment in the Sacramento area, he’s taken steps toward getting used to living consistently on his own.
Thompson admits that while becoming a grown man is a process, he’s well up to the challenge.
“The world is small and I have a lot of family out here too so I’m not all that worried about that,” Thompson said about being away from his immediate family. “I’m a people person so I’m going to meet new people in California. I feel comfortable out here and I haven’t even been out in Sacramento that long so it must be a good sign.”
The outgoing Thompson will be living in California but will still have a local state of mind. Thompson said that he’s eagerly awaiting when the Kings have road games against the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, and New York Knicks.
During the season he also plans to keep in constant contact with his family, especially Ryan who’ll be entering his junior season at Rider. The 6-foot-7 forward/ guard was an All-MAAC selection after averaging 16 points and seven rebounds. Highly touted like his older brother, Jason thinks his brother has at least an outside chance to join him in the NBA.
“Easier said than done but he definitely has the talent,” said Thompson. “Obviously it’s going to be a little easier for him because he has people like myself around that can give him advice about the process. He definitely has a good shot of going to the NBA.”
When Thompson returns to the Philly/ New Jersey area, he also has plans to give back to the youth. For the former long shot, helping out the next NBA Draft Pick is essential.
“I’m going to come back and do some Jason Thompson camps in the area where kids can work on their game as well as putting money in the community,” Thompson said. “I’m also interested in starting my own summer league or AAU team like Dajuan Wagner. Networking is important, so I’m trying to get my name out there where I grew up and then look to start expanding.”

Van Fleet Staying Hungry For Possible 2012 Olympic Bid

By Jordan Ingram
Main Line Life Sportswriter

If hard work was an addiction, put Suzanne Van Fleet in rehab immediately. With her All-American career finished at Clemson University, Van Fleet is beginning her professional rowing campaign.
The Radnor native’s post-Tigers career has been highlighted with a gold medal finish in her second stint on the U.S. team in the Under-23 Championships. During the team’s run, the U.S. defeated Poland, Belarus, Russia, Canada, and Germany en route to the first-place finish. Van Fleet credits the experience with giving her the confidence to become a professional rower.
“I made up my mind completely after this summer,” Van Fleet said. “I almost didn’t apply to U-23’s but I made myself because I wanted to use the summer as an indicator of whether I should continue rowing. After I made the team and we won the gold medal, I knew I couldn’t stop there.”
The 6-foot Van Fleet came into tryouts with huge concerns about making the team but U-23 head coach Kevin Sauer alleviated her fears. Van Fleet said that the University of Virginia rowing coach’s strong attention to detail kept her at ease throughout her experience on U-23’s.
“Coach Sauer was one of the best coaches that I have ever had,” said Van Fleet. “He instilled such a confidence in our crews and really prepared us for all of our races. This year I really tried to not let the selection process control me, which is easy to do when all you’re doing is eating, sleeping, and rowing.”
Van Fleet came into U-23 tryouts with a great deal of momentum as a senior. A two-time All-ACC performer for the Tigers, she helped the team receive a bid to the NCAA Championships for the first time in the school’s history. The 2008 Tigers team captain also finished her career as a three-time National Scholar Athlete recipient.
The All-American rower says that she’s constantly motivated by her need to reach her full potential.
“I have a desire to test my limits and see what I’m capable of doing,” said Van Fleet. “I always feel like I would rather try and fail then not try at all.”
Willingness to always give a valiant effort is what prompted Van Fleet to begin rowing. The West Chester Henderson alum started rowing with the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association on a request from her friend and hasn’t looked back.
Van Fleet’s love for the sport has prompted her to make sacrifices in order to achieve early success in the pro ranks. The cordial Van Fleet is balancing her strenuous training schedule with spending her final college semester student teaching third graders at Clemson Elementary. The early childhood education major says that though working with children can be stressful at times, she’s learned a great deal.
“Working with the kids has taught me patience and how to go with the flow better because they like to test me since I’m only a student teacher,” said Van Fleet. “You can still see their individual quirks and personalities developing at that age as well.”
Standing up and working with small children for eight hours everyday is more demanding than simply going to class and working out. Van Fleet realizes that her schedule’s tough but she understands the price she has to pay in order to become a star.
“My schedule now makes me have to keep my goals in perspective everyday,” said Van Fleet. “When things get hard I just remind myself of the experience I had this past summer at the world championships and know that those extra two hours [at practice] will be well worth it come January.”
Van Fleet will truly be able to gage how well her training at Clemson has been going when 2009 begins. In January Van Fleet will be moving to Princeton, N.J. to train with the rest of her teammates on the U.S. team. Despite the adversity, Van Fleet is eager to be closer to her family and friends.
“I’m looking forward to being able to driving home to see friends on the weekends or being able to get home cooked meals from my family,” said Van Fleet. “It will be easier knowing that my biggest support system is only an hour away.”
All of Van Fleet’s teammates will have a leg up on her because they’ve been training at Princeton University since September. According to one of the members on the team’s boat, Van Fleet should have no problems catching up.
“Suzanne is one of my biggest motivators because she got such an incredible work ethic and loves a challenge,” said teammate Kady Glessner. “She shouldn’t have a problem because she doesn’t get intimidated by things but rather takes things head on and works through them.”
Van Fleet will receive considerable help in training from such rowing standouts as Elle Logan, who won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Working with Logan, who took her sophomore year off at Stanford University to train with the team, keeps Van Fleet aware of her ultimate goal.
When the 2012 Olympics arrive, Van Fleet is hoping that she’s not left out of the boat. Van Fleet says that competing in London will fulfill a dream she started believing in at the World Championships.
“I’m giving everything I have everyday because I don’t want to be watching the 2012 Olympics and wondering what could’ve been,” said Van Fleet. “I’m just trying to take things one year at a time but I think I’ll be more anxious once it’s starts getting closer to 2012. It still seems like a dream at this point, but I’m ready for it to become a reality.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hopkins To Take On Scrappy Pavlik

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

Kelly Pavlik’s not as wet behind the ears as people think.
When Bernard Hopkins (42-5-1) steps into the ring at Boardwalk Hall next Saturday night, underestimating his opponent would be a fatal mistake.
Heading into the 20-year anniversary of his first bout in Atlantic City, the Nicetown native doesn’t intend to take the gritty undefeated middleweight champion lightly.
“Kelly Pavlik can walk in Philadelphia and, though he might get into a fight or two, will earn [people’s] respect win or lose because that’s the mentality he brings to the table. I recognize that and that’s why I know what I’m going to have to do to him in the ring. He won’t quit, he’s not going back down, and he’s not going to become a boxer all of a sudden.”
Pavlik (34-0) established a solid body of work well before dismantling Jermain Taylor to capture the middleweight crown.
Six of his past eight fights had championship implications including a seventh round technical knockout of the hard-nosed Edison Miranda.
The middleweight champ feels that these underrated experiences could pay dividends in his fight against the wily veteran.
“[Jose] Zertuche didn’t have the name of a Hopkins or Winky Wright, but he was a fighter that was tough, rugged, I won that I learned a lot from, said Pavlik. “We then turned around and fought Edison Miranda, who nobody fights, and stopped him. I think I’ve touched every aspect of type of fighter and my experience is pretty wide.”
The 26-year-old Youngstown product has slowly but surely starting carving out his own niche, separate from fellow local hero Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
The huge question will be whether the power puncher is as effective moving up to 170-pounds to fight Hopkins. Pavlik says that he walks around at the catch-weight but it’ll still be an adjustment for the 6-foot-3 pugilist.
A huge amount of pressure will rest on the champion to defeat Hopkins, who some feel is over the hill.
Hopkins thinks that his upcoming fight will be a perfect opportunity to prove to nay-sayers that he is truly ageless.
“Kelly Pavlik is a perfect opponent because he wants to knock Bernard Hopkins out…at least that’s what he says,” said Hopkins. “He’s going to find it difficult early and that’s what’s going to change the fight.”
Pavlik will be receiving a baptism-by-fire when he fights the defensive-minded Hopkins. In the past, power punchers such as Felix “Tito” Trinidad and Glen Johnson expected to finish off the former undisputed middleweight champion but both met the same results.
Hopkins scored TKOs over Trinidad and Hopkins in the 11th and 12 rounds of the two fights respectively. The former Graterford Prison residee warns that if Pavlik only looks for the knockout, his fate could be sealed as well.
“Tito” had one bullet in the chamber and it was the left hook, said Hopkins. “If Pavlik thinks that he’s going to beat Bernard Hopkins just because he has a right hand he’s a fool.”
In “The Ghost” win over Miranda, he had opportunities to hurt him because of his brawling style. As evidenced in Miranda’s recent loss against number one middleweight contender, Arthur Abraham, his lack of defense has led to many of his defeats.
When Pavlik fights the Philly native, his offense might be off-set by Hopkins’ penchant for not getting punched. During Hopkins’ recent fights, his strong defense has created for tough, controversial decisions against Wright and Taylor.
While Hopkins would love to stop Pavlik in order to keep the fight out of the judges hands, he doesn’t plan on getting out of character to ensure the victory.
“I would love to knockout everybody I fight and have a press conference but it doesn’t go like that all the time,” said Hopkins. “Would I put pressure on myself to be out of character to force something that’s not there…no because I’m too much of a savvy veteran for that. What I will do is leave no question about who wins this fight.”
Hopkins thinks that a huge factor for bad decisions has been the conflicting styles of judges. The Executioner feels that different types of fighters yield various results in certain cities and with a 10-1 record in Atlantic City, Hopkins feels he’s on a roll.
“At the end of the day, I think that certain states appreciate certain [boxing] styles more than others,” said Hopkins. “I believe Atlantic City appreciates skill, boxing, and aggression. I lost my first fight in AC but I rebounded, and I’m ready, willing, and able to show my greatness to my fans come October 18th.”

Legendary Coach Recalls Cheyney Roots

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

Everyone was a Wolf on October 9th.
When Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer spoke at Cheyney University to promote her new book, “Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph”, everyone was all ears.
For the only woman to lead three different college programs to the NCAA Final Four, she credits Cheyney, her first coaching job, as inspiration for her book.
“The book really started because of Cheyney,” said Stringer. “When people started doing their research and understood the time I had come through Cheyney so the book came about. I [originally] didn’t set out to write a book.”
Before shock jock Don Aimus ever muttered a word about Stringer, she was well-known in basketball circles. Before Rutgers NCAA Championship appearance in 2007, she had already coached two programs to the Final Four.
Stringer had great memories to recall from coaching days at Cheyney when she gave a brief lecture in the Duckrey Social Science Auditorium. From 1972-1983, Stringer led the Wolves to the first-ever women’s Final Four where they played against Louisiana Tech in the championship game.
During the affair, Stringer spoke of her experiences having to work with limited resources on the road to becoming a success at the local black college.
“When I first came onto the [Cheyney] campus at age 22, I was a wide-eyed assistant professor that certainly wasn’t hired to be a women’s basketball coach, Stringer said in her speech. “
With first-year Cheyney coaches Jeff Braxton and Marilyn Stephens in attendance, Stringer received a huge turnout from students and alumni alike.
In her 11 years with the Wolves, Stringer coached legendary players like Yolanda Laney and Valerie Walker as well as being the head volleyball coach. Stringer says that the influx of blacks in teaching and coaching roles had a profound effect on her.
“I think it’s important for [blacks] to believe in each other,” Stringer said. “I never had a black professor [in school] and it opened up a whole new world to me. I think it’s important that black people support each other because we understand that we might not have what everyone else has but the extra help allows us to become the leaders that we are.”
Another key part of Stringer’s speech was the hardships she experienced on the road to success at Rutgers. She had to cope with the death of her late husband, Bill Stringer, when he collapsed and died of a massive heart attack in 1992.
In addition, the legendary women’s coach spoke being a single mother raising three children including her daughter Janine who is disabled. She even spoke of the tough experience that occurred when deciding whether or not to leave Cheyney for the University of Iowa.
According to Stringer, one of the biggest benefits that came sharing the arena with another legendary coach.
“I had the good fortune to be in the presence of John Chaney who is, without question, one of the greatest minds in basketball today,” said Stringer. “Beyond the x’s and o’s, he’s continued to call and guide me through the most difficult of times.”
Though it’s been over 20 years since Stringer graced the sideline at Cheyney, she still has a profound impact. Stephens, who’s number was retired by Temple University, has vivid memories of playing against Stringer and her Wolves teams.
During the question and answer portion of Stringer’s appearance, Stevens remarked about how Stringer inspired her to go into coaching and make an impact at Cheyney herself.
The modest Scarlet Knights coach just hopes that the Lady Wolves basketball and volleyball respectively have a better understanding of their great history.
“I sure hope that they appreciate that their history is rich and that we shouldn’t make excuses,” said Stringer. “Let’s just make [Cheyney] everything that we can in all things that we’re involved.”

Cohen Chooses Stephen Curry-Led Davidson Program

By Jordan Ingram
Main Line Life Sportswriter

Intelligence is golden.
Jake Cohen's biggest strength as a basketball player has always been the ability to always make the right decisions. Whether the Berwyn native's playing in the Narberth League or among the nation's best at the Reebok All-American Camp, the 6-foot-10 center's knack for making smart plays is impeccable.
When the Conestoga big man made a verbal commitment to mid-major power Davidson over Stanford University, many people agreed that he made a wise move. With the signing, Cohen became the second 2008 All- Main Line selection to make an early D-I decision after Lower Merion small forward Greg Robbins committed to Richmond.
Cohen is also the second boys basketball player from the Main Line to sign with the Southern Conference (SoCon) program since former Shipley star Boris Meno. The star center is just happy to finally have a college program to call home.
"It feels like I have a big weight off of my shoulders now," said a relieved Cohen. "I feel like I can focus more now on playing for Conestoga basketball than what college I'm going to attend."
A more focused Cohen could create even more havoc for the Central League. In 2008, Cohen averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds en route to receiving Main Line Player of the Year honors. With the help of fellow All-Main Line guard Matt O'Hara, the duo were catalysts to the Pioneers posting a surprising 20-5 record which included a sweep of Lower Merion.
After the season, Cohen received considerable college interest from the likes of Penn State. Though the possibility of signing before the 2009 season wasn't out of the question, Conestoga head coach Mike Troy was ecstatic that Cohen had an abundance of choices in the first place.
"I wasn't concerned whether Jake was going to sign early or when exactly it was going to happen," Troy said. "I was happy for him that he was able to choose from a number of schools that he wanted to go to and he made a choice that he was comfortable with."
Cohen earned the right to choose from a plethora of suitable colleges from his strong play during the offseason. Playing for the Team Philly AAU basketball team coached by Lonnie Lowry (older brother former Villanova star Kyle Lowry), Cohen solidified his stock locally with strong performances in the Rasual Butler All- City Basketball Classic where he received Defensive MVP of the senior game.
His true homecoming came at the Reebok All-American Camp where Cohen was able to display his skills in front of numerous D-I coaches at Philadelphia University. Cohen received considerable exposure playing on the Allen Iverson team because of his blue chip teammates which included number one-rated Florida guards junior Brandon Knight and senior Kenny Boynton as well as University of Washington signee Clarence Trent. The ultra-bright Cohen understood the importance of playing well in the month of July.
"I knew I had to work really hard in July and it really paid off for me at the Reebok camp and at the other tournaments following," said Cohen. "A lot of high major schools like Stanford and California started to catch on and take notice of me for the first time. It opened up a lot of options for me."
During his two summers playing for Team Philly, Cohen was able to capitalize on the momentum he received at Conestoga. With teammates like Villanova signee Maalik Wayns, Cohen felt like his offseasons with Lowry were essential to being ready for Davidson.
"There's no doubt in my mind I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't play with Lonnie and Team Philly," said Cohen. "Those guys just showed me a whole higher level that I needed to take my game to in order to be ready for college. It was hard to make the transition at first, but I got used to it and I realized that it took hard work to earn the scholarship that I wanted."
Lowry felt that being exposed to the diverse talent added to Cohen's confidence and gave him a much-needed swagger on the court.
"We exposed [Cohen] to a different atmostphere," said Lowry. "Part of the game is having the arrogance that you can play well against everybody and when he first came to Team Philly he didn't have that. We kept telling him that he was good and he was able to make it happen during the spring and summer."
The desired college changed on a frequent basis for Cohen. After Reebok, Cohen planned on committing to Stanford University but had to wait on being academically admitted before accepting a scholarship to the Pac-10 school. Deciding to keep his recruitment open, Cohen opted to take an official visit to Davidson in North Carolina. Cohen was automatically at ease by seeing friend, former Conestoga star and current Wildcat freshman Kristen Johnsen, and a very inviting campus.
"I fell in love with the campus because it's a really small school where people know each other which I really liked," Cohen said. "I think I'll fit in nicely with the family atmostphere where everybody cares for each other."
On the court, Cohen will get the opportunity to play for a team that advanced to the Elite 8 last season. With guard Stephen Curry in control, the Wildcats won 25-straight games and upset major schools like Georgetown and Wisconsin during their March Madness tear.
During his visit to Davidson, head coach Bob McKillop let Cohen know that he'll have to earn every opportunity he receives at the next level.
"Coach [McKillop] was pretty upfront with me when I was down there," said Cohen. "I knew that playing time wasn't going to be given to me wherever I chose to go to school so it wasn't a big issue for me."
Receiving significant playing time within two years isn't out of the question at Davidson for Cohen. With key frontcourt contributors like Meno and Andrew Lovedale out of the lineup when Cohen arrives to Davidson, there will be an immediate need for solid big men.
"Davidson has shown now that they're a high-profile mid-major program and I think that Jake, at that level, is good enough to keep them in contention in their conference," said high school basketball expert Steve Keller of Cohen helping Davidson. "I think he's still has some upside left and after a year or so of developing his body, McKillop should be able to use him."