The Portland Trail Blazers mean business

The NBA All-Star weekend has come to an end as NBA teams prepare for upcoming pivotal games to secure a spot in the 2015 playoffs.

Players Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge represented the Portland Trail Blazers at the All-Star game. Matthews made 22 points in the three-point contest, but fell short in qualifying for the final round. In the All-Star game, the Western Conference beat the East 163-158, and four time All-Star Aldridge contributed 18 points, while Lillard scored 11.

The Blazers are 36-17, identical to their previous 2013-14 record. This may seem poor at first glance, but multiple injuries have cost them several games. Three of the five starters – Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Aldridge – have missed a combined total of 36 games. During the previous season, all five starters played up to the All-Star break.

The team has made some essential changes; Coach Terry Stotts prefers players to sprint back on defense, rather than crashing the offensive board. In addition they have limited perimeter shooting from opponents. The results mark them as the second best defense in the league.

Last year, the Blazers were known for their lack of quality bench players and heavy dependence on the starting five. As of now, Steve Blake and Chris Kamen have provided rest for Lillard and Lopez while C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard have proven to be valuable in the midst of injuries. Lopez made his debut against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 3 after missing 23 games due to a broken hand.

Improving the offense and defense has placed the Blazers on the market as credible competitors, ranking them third in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Coach Stotts isn’t ready to talk playoffs quite yet, but the recent trade reassures the level of commitment to become championship contenders. On Thursday, the team traded Robinson, Will Barton, Victor Claver, and a lottery-protected 2016 first-round draft pick for Denver Nuggets Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee.

Both players add depth to the team’s bench. Afflalo is a strong perimeter shooter, averaging 14.5 points, and Gee’s strong defense prove the franchise is planning for the future.

Rip City Love

After graduation, my dream job is to work as a journalist for the Portland Trail Blazers.

My passion for Rip City started during my childhood. Basketball has always been a part of my family. I grew up with two older brothers who watched and played basketball every chance they had, and I played until my senior year of high school.

As my passion for the Blazers increased, I would bet money – and pride – on games, playoffs, and All-Star games, and like any 13-year-old girl I always won.

I also admit to my love for Brandon Roy, which still exists and will always remain.

In high school I realized I wanted to be a journalist because I could write for my favorite team and stand on the court where history is written, with a bit of magic of course. When I wrote my first article for the Blazers I was assured this was the career for me.

As my knowledge about journalism expanded, I realized the impact my writing could have on others. The art of crafting a story drew me into other sections of journalism, subcategories of sports, and heavier topics like immigration and race.

Every time I write an article about the Trail Blazers, I’m reminded of my desire for story telling. My favorite post this year was the “Unexpected Gift” the Trail Blazers gave the city of Portland early in the season.

Over the last couple of years, the team hit a downward slump. Playoff potential was a far off vision and the Blazers were in the need of a bench, new head coach, and general manager. This year the Blazers started the season with an 11 game winning streak. They completed the regular season 54-28 and secured the fifth seed for playoffs.

On Sunday, the Blazers stole game one of a seven game series against the Houston Rockets, 122-120. Many analysts appointed Portland as the underdog, but this win spoke for itself. Fans are hopeful we’ll see a second round appearance.

Whether or not the Blazers win an NBA championship during my lifetime, I will continue to enjoy their gift and write for the love of the game.

Men’s Tennis Team Build a Solid Foundation

Four years ago the George Fox University men’s tennis team was ranked at the bottom of the Northwest Conference (NWC). Now the team is third in conference and ranked 12th in the NCAA Division III West Region.

Half the team is made up of seniors, who have been in the program since their freshman year. These seniors have been on a special journey as they’ve seen their team grow from least to greatest.

This year, the team didn’t expect to maintain the same success as last year. They lost some valuable players, who played in the top three, but their dedicated work ethic has proven a different story.

“Every single person in our team this year is committed to working hard in and out of practice,” said senior Justin McClain. “Results have shown this historically since George Fox couldn’t come close to schools like Whitworth or Pacific Lutheran, but if you look at our record now, we have beaten those schools 8-1 and 9-0.”

The team will say goodbye to seniors Preston Mann, Nolan Staples, Andy Tweet and McClain. Because of the increased interest in the program they anticipate 8-10 freshman for the 2014-2015 season.

“Recruiting looks good for next year,” said Head Coach Neal Ninteman. “We’re really optimistic for next year. The future looks great for George Fox!”

George Fox is the only team in the NWC without an indoor court. Most of their home games have been away from home, but Neal believes it’s an opportunity to develop mental toughness.

The team lost both back-to-back appearances in the NWC finals to Whitman College. Whitman is undefeated in the NWC, and both teams are likely to meet again during the finals. In their previous loss to Whitman on April 6, Whitman Head Coach pulled Neal aside and acknowledged the team’s fight.

“We scare them a little,” said Ninteman. “If we keep knocking, I think we can do it.”

The men are currently 9-3 overall and 7-2 in conference. They just concluded a six-game winning streak that was cracked after a loss to Whitman, 9-0.

They bounced back to defeat Willamette University, 8-1 on April 11 at home. The men clinched all three doubles matches, and won five out of six singles matches.

“Our strength lies in our team chemistry,” said McClain. “Our team works together and works hard in order to achieve our team goals.”


Leisure to Lifestyle

At the age of nine, sophomore outfielder Kat Hylton began to play softball just as a leisure activity with friends. Ten years later, the competitiveness of the game sparked a passion for the sport.

Hylton played at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, Calif. During the off-season, she joined traveling club teams because of their level of intensity, and for the opportunity to be recruited.

“I like the winning aspect,” said Hylton. “I’m very competitive that way, and it kind of took over my life, in a sense, because I played for multiple teams at a time.”

Hylton didn’t plan to attend George Fox University, but after receiving the South Central Scholarship and discovering the existence of their softball team, she decided to join.

Kat is a double major in psychology and Spanish because she enjoys learning about how people think and their ways of doing things. Her future plan is to become a criminal behavior analyst.

In her second season of NCAA college softball, Kat already notices individual and team growth. Though this year’s team is young, the Bruins began this season 6-0. They also defeated, and closed a 52-game losing streak, to defending conference champions, Linfield College.

“Talent-wise we role really deep and chemistry wise it’s a lot better,” said Hylton.

As of now, Hylton is working on the mental aspect of her game. Her goal is to be coachable and react more quickly on the field.

“Your mindset changes, and the way you react kind of changes,” said Hylton. “You have to let everything else go, like all your school work and all your other work because all your focus is on the game, practice, or laughing like no other because you’re chilling with your team. It’s like you get sucked into this softball bubble the second you step on the field.”

The Bruins are currently 19-9 overall and 8-8 in the Northwest Conference. During spring break, the team flew to Arizona and began an eight-game winning streak, which ended in loss against Whitworth. Their only focus is to reach the conference tournament and play their best without worrying about other teams.

Potential Playoff Run for the Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers started off the season better than expected, but then hit a shooting slump in January. Now the Blazers are scrambling to grasp a decent spot for the 2014 NBA playoffs.

The Blazers ended their four-game losing streak after a win over the New Orleans Hornets, 111-103, on Friday. The win has them secured in fifth place for the Western Conference – for now.

On Sunday, the Blazers fell short by one point to the Golden State Warriors, who are currently trailing behind Portland in sixth place. The Blazers were down two points with six seconds remaining and forward Nicolas Batum was at the line ready to shoot two free-throws that could have potentially tied the game. He made the first one, but his second shot bounced off the rim. It wasn’t over yet. Batum grabbed his own rebound with 3.5 seconds left, but his missed three-point attempt concluded the devastating loss, 113-112.

Injuries have started to return for the Blazers. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is currently out with a lower back contusion. He’s missed the last two games and he’s questionable for Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards. Aldridge is averaging 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. His absence is noticeable, but the starters have been scoring in double digits for the past two games.

Point-guard Mo Williams returned for Sunday’s game against the Warriors after a hip injury, and center Joel Freeland is not expected to return for the regular season due to a sprained MCL in his right knee.

Although Portland does not want to talk about playoffs until they are officially in, they can’t deny it’s just around the corner. Only 15 games remain and the Blazers are currently 43-24. If the Blazers finish in the fifth seed they will posses home court advantage, but the team still has a chance to earn a better spot.

“Luckily, we put ourselves in a good position to have a cushion,’’ Matthews said after the loss against the Houston Rockets. “But we can’t be content with that, and we are not content with it. We want to continue to get better because we are pushing for a seed. We still have time. We still have chance do that, to get better and grow. But these are the type of games we have to win to make it to the playoffs the way we want to make it in, and advance.’’

Portland fans are rooting for another playoff return. Their last appearance was in 2011, and they haven’t played past the first round since 2009, led by Brandon Roy. This year has felt different from previous years. Team chemistry is visible and they finally have a solid lineup and bench. They have shown they can hold their own against any team, but also quickly fall apart in the last five minutes of the game. The Blazers have surprised fans this season, and we only hope they do the same in the playoffs.

State Representative Mat Garofalo Tweets Offensive Comment

Minnesota State Representative Mat Garofalo tweeted an offensive, and for some, racist statement Sunday night about athletes in the NBA.

Garofalo’s tweet stated, “Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime”

As the tweet spread, Garofalo’s words suggest the majority of NBA players are criminals. Racism comes into question because more than three-quarters of players are African-Americans.

The Republican representative doesn’t seem to realize the outcome of his words. In an email to editor Kevin Draper of the Diss, an NBA analyzer/commentator, Garofalo stated:

“Thanks for the email Kevin. I appreciate the chance to respond. I was talking about the NBA’s high arrest rate and that they are the only major pro league in which testing positive for marijuana is not a substance abuse violation. No intent beyond that. The culture among many pro athletes that they are above the law is the problem, not people pointing that problem out.”

Once again, he doesn’t understand the facts. The league has serious consequences for any use of marijuana, including entering a marijuana rehabilitation program, a fine of $25,000, and a five-game suspension.

The NBA is not holy. There are NBA players who are guilty of being involved in criminal activities, but not enough to categorize the whole NBA as criminals and thugs. In the beginning of the 2013 NBA season, New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith was suspended for five games after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Smith tested positive for marijuana and it wasn’t his first suspension on record.

But that’s just one person out of the 469 players in the NBA. There are more, but I don’t think it’s acceptable to stereotype all NBA players into one group – it’s discriminating and disrespectful.

Garofalo released a statement Monday afternoon apologizing for his criticism and his misunderstanding of the NBA policy on substance abuse. A public figure, he needs to realize the damage his words can cause.

Women’s Tennis Starts Strong Despite Lack of Experience

Spring is coming our way, which means the George Fox University women’s tennis team is back to continue the 2013-14 season.

In their first match, the Bruins swept Miles College 9-0 on Feb. 16. The women won three doubles and won four out of six matches in singles.

On Feb. 21 the Bruins eked out a win against Lewis and Clark College in the Northwest Conference Opener, 5-4. Lewis and Clark stole the first two doubles, but the Bruins came back and won No. 3 by sophomores Megan Dahlberg and Ali Diehl defeating Allison Schneirder and Esa Grigsby 8-3. In the singles matches, the Bruins lost the first two, but came back to win four games straight.

The women escaped another close loss versus Pacific University, 5-4, on Feb. 23; this marked their best start in team history with a three-game winning streak. The win came down to the No. 6 singles match by Diehl who won 6-1, 6-1.

“My expectations for the team are that we push each other, but are also leaning on each other, and having fun,” said Diehl. “Tennis is draining not only physically, but also mentally, and I hope we can lean on each other during the hard times and always find something to smile or laugh about.”

On March 1 regionally-ranked Whitman College ended the bruins three-game winning streak in a heart breaking loss, 9-0. The women are currently 3-2 in conference and will play Puget Sound on March 7.

According to Head Coach Rick Cruz this team is young and inexperienced compared to previous years. Senior Alyssa Emoto is the only returner and the Bruins only have four players in the line-up with one year or less experience playing college tennis.

“I am looking forward to challenging myself to play better every match despite having to face some pretty stiff competition at the No. 1 singles position,” said Emto. “This season will be a great opportunity for learning and growth for all of my teammates that they can carry into next year. I am also definitely looking forward to our spring break trip to Orlando. It’s always a great team bonding experience and of course the sunny weather doesn’t hurt either.”

Though they’re young, Cruz hopes to pull some upsets during the season and reach the conference tournament.

“The strength of this team is camaraderie of this group,” said Cruz.  “I have a great group that works well with one another and roots each other on.  A team that gets along off the court will lead to more success on the court.”

Jason Collins Breaks Barriers Once Again

Last week I wrote a column about NFL prospect Michael Sam, who recently announced he was gay during an ESPN interview.

Some analysts believe his news could damage his chances of getting picked in the NFL draft, but before that momentous event, NBA center James Collins was the first professional athlete in a major American team sport to come out about his sexual orientation. Collins was a free agent during that time, but on Sunday he made history yet again.

The Brooklyn Nets offered Collins a 10-day contract and tweeted out a picture of him signing on. Not only did he sign that same day, but he also checked in during the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

A round of applause was heard as he walked on the court of the Staple Center. Many supported him over Twitter, and Michael Sam directly Tweeted him, “Congratulations to my friend @jasoncollins34 – excited to see you do work out there #courage #groundbreaking”

Collins hasn’t played professionally since April of last year with the Washington Wizards because he didn’t receive an invitation to training camp from any NBA teams. This didn’t discourage him from pursuing his passion. Collin continued to work out and is now is the first gay athlete to play the sport, and the world of sports continued on. He played a total of 11 minutes and had two rebounds. During the time of his contract the Nets will play a total of five games.

The nets have been thinking about signing Collins for about a week since they were in need of a big body against the Lakers.

According to an ESPN article, “The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” said Nets general manager Billing King in a statement. “We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract.”

I commend the Nets for looking beyond Collins’s sexual orientation, even if it’s just a 10-day contract. It’s an initial step for equal opportunity for future gay athletes. This decision brings hope that Michael may be chosen to play for an NFL team.

One Courageous Step

National Football League prospect Michael Sam recently came out publicly that he’s gay during an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

The All-American defensive end and SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year is predicted to be picked in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft. Now, there are many question about whether this will affect his chances of entering the NFL. There is no doubt there will be obstacles upon his professional career, but his skills will quiet those who disagree with his life choice.

“I’m not naïve,” said Sam in an interview with the New York Times. “I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the NFL.”

Sam’s courageous decision to speak out will break barriers to the “manly man game.” Even if his news doesn’t change the outcome in his selection, his experience as a professional athlete will change the world of male dominated sports.

According to Sports Illustrated, eight NFL coaches and executives who were interviewed anonymously gave their opinion on homosexuality.

One personal assistant stated, “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. It’d chemically imbalance the  NFL locker room and meeting room.”

The idea that a gay man would “chemically imbalance” the team room is a harsh and ignorant statement, especially after the NFL took mild measurements for bullying in a locker room from one teammate to another.

If I were an NFL coach, Sam’s talents and skills would be more significant than anything my team would “lose” because of his sexual orientation.

The NFL has become a symbol and definition of “real men” in America, yet because of Sam’s life choice he is no longer a man, but an outsider.

He has received immense support from teammates and fans. Even First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted her support along with her husband President Obama.

One response that caught my attention was by a Texas sports anchor Dale Hansen. Dale spoke about Sam’s announcement, and emphasized the fact that the NFL celebrates the performance of those that do more harm than good, for example players who are arrested for a DUI or caught in the act of using illegal substances.

Regardless of his sexual orientations, Sam’s ability to perform at the combine and individual team workouts should be viewed equally compared to other players.

Indoor Track and Field set National and School Records

The George Fox University indoor track and field team is setting national and school records as they prepare for the outdoor season.

Sophomore Will Lawrence and junior Charity Arn set new George Fox records as the Bruins won eight events in the first meet at the Jackson Open and Multi-Events in Boise, Idaho on Dec. 13.

Lawrence won the 800-meter run in 1:54.35, breaking the previous Bruin record of 1:55.34. Arn exceeded the previous record of 3,387 points in the pentathlon with a total of 3,407 points. Sophomore Maria Green placed third with 3,078 points.

“My hope for this indoor track season is to make it to nationals and make it into the top eight,” said Green. “That would be awesome.”

At the Ed Jacoby Invitational, Arn returned to post the third-best score in the nation to date in the NCAA Division III with 3,547 points in the women’s pentathlon. Green accumulated 3,335 points, which places her third on the George Fox top-ten all-time list, and fifth nationally.

“Our team has been kicking off the indoor season with some big marks,” said Head Coach John Smith. “The early success shows the work that those athletes put in during the summer and came into the fall ready to make big strength and speed improvements.”

In the men’s meet, senior Ezekiel Smith posted a George Fox record after finishing seventh in the heptathlon with 4,371 points. Freshman Ryan Braden placed second in the high jump at 6-2.75 / 1.90m and took eighth in the long jump at 21-5.5 / 6.54m. Senior Joseph Pia placed third in the in the 3,000 meter run with a time of 8:45.96.

Arn currently ranks seventh in the history of the NCAA Division III for her record-setting score of 3,547 points. Arn was named Bruin Athlete of the Week for Jan. 27-Feb. 2 and received honorable mention for the National Women’s Athlete of the Week award by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

“To me, track is so much more than just numbers in a book,” said Arn. “So yes, it felt great to put up those numbers, but not necessarily because they are written in a record book. It felt great because I am doing what I love to do with the people I love to do it with. God has given me so many blessings within track and I am so thankful!”

Smith believes Lawrence will have a good chance of qualifying for the national meet, and he expects Green and Arn to challenge for a top five spot in the NCAA podium.

“By competing in indoor track, we not only are getting some big-time recognition for GFU, we are able to help our athletes achieve at a high level for the outdoor season,” said Smith.