Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pollution, in three easy installments

I am now in Roseburg, the place I still really consider home. I drove over last night from Bend, mainly because I didn't want to add three more hours onto the already long drive back to LA. I had no intention of coming over here when I decided to drive up for Thanksgiving, but I am happy that circumstances became such that coming over made sense. I like it here, and I miss it here. This place really is home to me, and being here is relaxing and refreshing. I'm sitting in MyCoffee, which is conveniently named. It really does feel like my own personal coffee shop. I walk in and they get ready to make me something new and creative, and they usually don't charge me for it. Even when I was living here I would get treatment somewhat like that. I've just been catching up on religion news I had missed during the travel, and now I'm getting ready to figure out how to spend the rest of the day here at home before beginning my drive back "home" tonight. One thing that has been emphasized to me in this quick trip back (again) is how much I enjoy the small community and the real interaction with people I grew up with in Oregon. I was frustrated by the fa├žade of goodness in the midwest, and I'm often bothered by the pace and haughtiness in California. There are certainly things to complain about in Oregon, but those things don't bother me nearly as much as the others. Having said that, getting involved in the smaller community at my church in Long Beach has done so much to make me more comfortable there, and I am very glad that I started putting in the effort. Whether I end up n southern California for the long term or not, the similarities between that small group of people and a town in Oregon will be part of the reason any amount of time spent there is really good.

I think I already said this in a post, but I felt the need to say it again, mainly for my own sake.

I can't wait to pollute the environment for 12 straight hours again starting tonight. Driving to and from Los Angeles is terrible.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Time with family

I'm in Oregon again this weekend. I drove up with my friend Michelle starting Wednesday at around 5:30. We got to Sisters, Oregon,
around 9:30 on Thursday morning. The trip was disgusting. Michelle was surprising her family, who came over from Roseburg to have Thanksgiving dinner with some good friends. I was glad to help her do that, especially because it reminded me of my junior year when I flew home to surprise my family at Thanksgiving.

Since being here, though, I've been thinking about something else that has to do with my family. For a long time I've thought that getting married and having children would be something that, if I do it, will happen later in life. Many of my reasons for putting it off in my mind have to do with not wanting to rush into things, or not being ready, or other sorts of things. I don't know for sure what they all were. But I realized something while hanging out with my grandparents and seeing my cousin with her two little kids. I want any kids I may have to know their great-grandparents. I am really happy that I have some memories of two of my great grandfathers. They're not really clear memories, but I'm still glad to have them. Well, my remaining three grandparents are also fantastic. I hope that any kids I have will get the chance to know them and remember them. But the more time that goes by, the smaller the possibility that will happen. As annoyed as I am when I see my cousins who already have kids, and how disturbed I am to think that they can't provide for them very well and that they're being raised around a lot of ignorance, I envy the time those little kids get to have with my grandpa and grandma. Any kids I have will most certainly get less time with their family. And that is really too bad, on a personal level and on an intellectual level. I think it is important to know the people and history from which one comes, and it is harder to know that stuff without having actually experienced some of those relationships.

So that's been running through my head a lot since arriving at my grandparents' house on Thursday morning.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Depressed? Yeah, but really just homesick.

I was just about to blame LA for how bad I feel right now. I mean, I feel depressed as Hell. I was sitting here, recalling the same feeling from the other time I lived in LA. That lasted all of five weeks. But as I grabbed some napkins to scribble on I remembered another time when I had done that. It wasn't in LA, either. In fact, it was in Portland, one of the places that I thought could solve the problem of feeling like this. The feeling might just be loneliness. But it's a loneliness that is given to me by cities, and it's a loneliness that only gets the chance to settle when I have no connection to a real community. Sure, I have some good relationships here, but that isn't enough. I need actual community, which is far different from just having a few friends – even good ones – or being around a lot of people.

I wrote that last night in this very coffee shop. Then this morning at church I decided to proactively take steps to change things. I introduced myself to a few guys who had been here for music last night, and then went to their small group. It was good. Then I went out to lunch with them. It reminded me a lot of the group of friends I got to interact with when I stayed with my friend Michael in Stanford two years ago. Hopefully I can grow to become an actual part of that community for as long as I'm in Long Beach. Even if I end up back in Oregon next year, it will be good for me to have the connection with people while I'm here, as evidenced by my scribbled realization on that napkin last night. Even with that, though, I still miss the community in which I've invested so much of myself already. I was trying to find the right Wendell Berry quote to show how I feel, but instead I'm going with this one, which shows part of why I feel drawn back home
It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.
I can most certainly learn from those around me here, but there is something much more forceful about learning from people who have already invested in me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Injuries are my favorite

Let's get it out of the way: many teams in college football dealt with bad injuries this year. That's part of what has made the season so crazy. The reason I was so happy with Oregon's season mainly had to do with how the team fought through a bunch of their own bad injuries. There really is no excuse for losing a very winnable game, but when Dixon went out it felt like the season just ended. The most frustrating thing is that it seems the coaches knew he had a torn ACL. As much as I can't stand Brady Leaf, game planning for a game quarterbacked by him would have been far different from the plan with Dixon at the helm. And did they seriously think that a week and a half of rest would be enough to bring Dixon back from a torn ACL? Again, we should have won anyway, or we should have won the Cal game to take the two-loss prospect out of the picture, but was still really painful to lose the Heisman front-runner.
Nearly as painful as that game was the one that happened Friday night between Portland and Philadelphia. We went into Philly and took care of business for a little while, but something just happened. It was gross, and I only read the box score and recaps. Aldridge and Roy were both golden, which is great. But really, it hurts the team if only those two can produce. But the theme of this post is injury, not anything else...
...so I'll talk about the big Blazer injury news that's been floating around these last few days. Greg Oden is a BEAST. When I say beast, I mean a beast like this:The stories are talking about the fact that Oden has put on 30 pounds since he was drafted. Maybe I should just quote the rest from the best coverage of this story, in Jason Quick's blog.
And get this: A high-ranking Blazers source told me that Oden today still has the same body-fat percentage (7.8 percent) as he did when the Blazers drafted him, yet he has gained nearly 30 pounds, bringing him near 280 pounds.

Translation: That's 30 pounds of muscle that has been attached to his upper-body (he hasn't been able to do any lower body weight training because of his knee surgery).
The body fat thing is crazy. A lot of the stories out there mention that Nate McMillan wants Oden to back off a little, and his reasons make sense. McMillan wants Oden to look more like this:The difference in these two pictures might not be as obvious as many would think, but most probably remember the difference: Karl Malone had tons of muscle. There was so much bulk on his upper body. He was huge. David Robinson, while big, was lithe and cut. He was scary, but not because of how big he was. He was scary because he was in better shape than anyone else on the court. With Oden having a surgically repaired knee, McMillan thinks it would be better if he took a little of that weight back off so as to not increase the risk of injury on the knee. I agree, but it's also really exciting to see how committed to everything Oden is. I mean, he's maintained the fat percentage even though he can't hardly work out, only lifting weights. This kid is willing to do everything he needs to do.

The main reason I bring this up is that I might have finally come around to the "blessing in disguise" take on the Oden injury. In addition to Aldrdge being the focus of the offense down low and having to deal with the focus of the defense and Roy dealing with greater pressure, this actually does give Oden a chance to build muscle and work on his game and do other things before facing NBA competition. It also builds even more his desire to dominate, since he has to just sit, watch, and wait for an entire season. Man, injuries really are my favorite.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Two quick posts in one night

I didn't plan to do this, but I'm listening to the Blazers game against the Pistons right now, and I couldn't help it. I'm also watching the game cast, and it's ahead of the radio broadcast. This made me think about switching over. The reason I don't? The Blazers are playing great basketball right now, and it is way too exciting listening to the crowd go nuts as the announcers tell me what I know already happened. Some quick in-game notes:
  1. Jarrett Jack is fantastic for this team off the bench. It's great.

  2. Przybilla is great. He's one-for-one from the floor and two-for-two from the line so far, to go with six rebounds and one block. Oh yeah, it's only the second quarter, with five minutes left. And he just set another huge pick. I love it.

  3. Rasheed Wallace is great, and I still love him.

That's it, time to go home soon and watch HOUSE, M.D.

Really not much to say

Going into tonight's game, Portland has won three straight, including a win over the Mavericks. They're 3-3 in the first six games, and all six games have been against teams from the consensus best conference in the NBA, the southwest. One other thing to note, before ending this short paragraph of excitement, is that Dallas' only loss before we beat them was to J-Lew's Hawks. So the two youngest teams in the league have that going for them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

He's becoming my favorite NBA player

Thanks to TrueHoop for posting a link to this.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mad Dog

When I saw the headlines today about Greg Maddux re-signing with the Padres, I had caught a quick case of nostalgia. Somehow I missed the "Padres" part in my initial reading of the headline, and I wondered if he would be heading back to Atlanta to re-join Smoltz and Glavine. And I was really excited for a few seconds. Then I realized that the story was about him signing the deal with San Diego, and then I realized that it's probably better to not try to just relive the '90s. But for that second, I was ecstatic about the thought of having those three guys in the rotation with Hudson next year, with all the young guys battling for the number five spot. Well, unless Hampton actually comes back. Then we could have the best rotation from the turn of the century.
I only have a few things to say about the Oregon game on Saturday. The first thing that struck me was how much better I thought we looked against Cal and USC than we did against ASU. Maybe that's not true, but that's how it looked to me. The second thing that struck me was how dominant our offense was when we got into a rhythm. That offense looked unstoppable when things were going right. Sure, most teams would probably say that. But it reminded me of the Seahawks attack in 2005, back when Tobeck, Hutch, and Walter Jones just decimated defenses and Alexander was able to run all over them. Of course, that opened things up for the passing attack. That was exactly what it felt like watching Dixon and Stewart march all over the Sun Devils on Saturday. The last thing that struck me was how truly annoying LA fans are. I was watching the game at a sports bar here in Long Beach, and it was excruciating. The USC fans were really obnoxious as they watched the Trojans steam roll Oregon State. It made me wish even more that I was either at Autzen, with my family, or watching anywhere else in the world.

I don't think those things actually struck me in that order, I just listed them in order of importance.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Game two wasn't as good

I know we didn't win that first game against San Antonio, but we played really well. There were good signs not only for next season, but for the rest of this one. Something happened between Tuesday night and Friday night. What it looked like was that Portland forgot how to play basketball in those intervening days. I listened to part of the game last night, and watched most of the ESPN gamecast too. I summed the game up for my brother almost the same way Dave at Blazer's Edge summed it up. I said this to Stephen: we were terrible, but three individual players did really well. Brandon Roy, James Jones, and Sergio Rodriguez were all pretty good. Unfortunately, that's a pretty low percentage of the people on the team. Especially since only one of those guys is a key cog in our attack right now.

Having said that, Sergio's performance is the encouraging thing for the future. Sergio played only 12 minutes, but he had eight points on 3-5 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, and one turnover. He hit one of his two three point attempts, and provided a great spark – as always.

Martell Webster actually had another decent game, which is pretty good. And Travis Outlaw was okay. So having those three young guys do well is a good sign for the future. But again, that future is hard to look at as we lose by twenty to the Hornets. Ugh.
In better news, the Ducks take on the Sun Devils today, and that is exciting. There's a nice little story about my friend Scott's older brother Brett, the assistant equipment manager for the University of Oregon, in the hometown paper. This week was also the first time in a while that I got to see a lot of great coverage of the Oregon team in national publications. I received my Sports Illustrated and ESPN the magazine with articles about Ducks in them. Plus, ESPN had stories about Oregon all over their website. Try this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one. That's six different stories plugging the Ducks on the ESPN site. Pretty impressive.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

How could I have forgotten?

Umm, I just watched the video that sits below this text. I'm sitting in a coffee shop, and I think people around me thought I was a little loopy because I was giggling like a little kid who has heard the best poop joke ever. Watch the video, then keep reading.


Somehow, as soon as Greg went down I forgot that he was on the team. In fact, somehow my mind just latched onto Taurean Green and Josh McRoberts as our only rookies this year. And technically they are. In my head I keep thinking about the value that we got out of the draft, because our two late picks are guys that should end up contributing at some point, even if that contribution is just making the team better by working hard in practice this year. But those aren't the only two guys we got in the draft. Nope. We also drafted Oden and Rudy Fernandez. Well, we actually traded for the rights to Fernandez, but I'm still considering that a draft pick. I don't know how many people remember this post, but I'll reference myself for fun:
Now for the reality check: as much as I was thinking about winning every game while reading the various accounts of the game, there's no way we'll even win more than 35 games this year. So that's what I want, along with some payback from the bouncing balls for us getting the fourth pick last year. Then we can still draft Oden and build on what happens this year...[then I put pictures up of what I thought would be the starting line up of the 2009 NBA champion Blazers]...
PG Sergio Rodriguez
SG Brandon Roy
SF Martell Webster
PF Zach Randolph
C Greg Oden
Once again I'm impressed with how well I predicted the season and the lottery on the opening day of the season last year. What I'm more impressed by, though, is that at the time I had no idea how good LaMarcus would be, and how soon he would be that good. I was always a big advocate for Randolph, especially because of the stories about how hard he worked. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop said this in June:
Scottie Pippen once told me that Randolph works harder than any teammate he has ever had.
I mean, that makes Zach a harder worker than, umm, Michael Jordan, right? At least in Scottie's opinion? Well, Nate McMillan was quoted in an article last week by Jason Quick of the Oregonian. Here's the whole section from Quick:
"I've never seen a starter in this league work like he does," McMillan said after a recent practice. "And it's every day. I mean look..."

McMillan pointed to Aldridge, who was shooting on the far side of the practice court, shirtless, his sweat-soaked jersey off to the side.
In that same article Quick included this piece:
And Bobby Medina, who is entering his 11th season as the Blazers' strength and conditioning coach, said Aldridge's work ethic in the weight room reminds him of former Blazers great Scottie Pippen, whose maniacal workout regime is legendary.
Let me use some logic here that I've been teaching my geometry students. If Scottie, who was known for how hard he worked, said that Zach worked harder than any teammate he'd ever had, and then Nate McMillan, who played in the NBA for a while and has coached a few years, said that he's never seen a starter in this league work like he does, then by the transitive property, McMillan must be suggesting that LaMarcus also works harder than a certain MJ. Throw in the fact that Medina compared LaMarcus' habits to Scottie, whose original statement set the table for this argument, and I think we can at least be certain that Aldridge is going to continue improving for a while.

Alright, I think that took me off subject for a second, so let's come back: I've been so focused on Aldridge, Przybilla, Roy, and Webster, that I nearly put Oden and Fernandez completely out of my mind. In that clip above this text we see Aldridge and Oden finding each other with really good passes. Sure, they don't finish very many of them. And sure, it was in summer league. But it was also within the first month that the two had played together. They were already playing like that and they'd only been together for less than a month. The reason that's really scary? The way the Blazers played against San Antonio on Tuesday and all the news from camp and the preseason have allowed me to focus on the team this year, instead of what they'll be when Oden gets back. That reminder of what they looked like with the two bigs together for just a second is the glimpse I need to get me absolutely excited again about next year. Regardless of a new draft pick, or some trade, or even another free agent signing, next year should bring the two best picks from this year's draft to the team. If Webster plays like this all season, Outlaw continues to be a great sixth man, Przybilla is consistent with his resurgence, and the expected guys step into the roles we envision for them next year, we only have one question mark in our nine man rotation next year. Seriously. We have a front court that includes Webster, Aldridge, and Oden in the starting unit, with Outlaw and Przybilla supplying relief off the bench. We have a great Ginobili-like sixth man in Rudy Fernandez, spelling our team leader SG/PG Brandon Roy. The only real question is who starts at point guard, and if it's Roy, then who ends up as the combo guard giving breaks to Roy and Fernandez. But PG is the position we still have perhaps the most potential. Now do you understand why I'm giddy? This team will surprise people for some wins this year. But next year? We won't surprise anyone, we'll just beat them anyway.

I just nearly giggled to myself again, that's how exciting this is.

If I end up back in Oregon anytime soon because I get sick of LA or teaching down here is just too much, I plan on making as many Blazer games as possible. In fact, if I end up in Portland, I'm going to get season tickets. Being there for the dynasty will be even more fun than writing about it is now. And writing about it now is pretty fun. I can't wait...fortunately, while I have to wait for that, I don't have to wait to see the NBA's youngest team come out hard against every team this year.

I'll end with a quote from the Basketball Jones podcast yesterday, as they spent most of the time they were talking about the Blazers/Spurs game focusing on Portland:
SKEETS-The Blazer specifically – you can really tell that this team had been practicing and playing together all throughout the summer.
MELAS-Hell of a point Skeeter, hell of a point.
SKEETS-Could you not?
MELAS-When did they get into Portland? They got altogether earliest of any team in the league, right?
SKEETS-Maybe May.
MELAS-Yeah, May. Early June. It was frickin' early.
SKEETS-It was early. It was early.
MELAS-And they looked frickin' good.
SKEETS-Yeah.
They go on about Portland for a while longer.It's nice to have NBA people talking about the team again because of good basketball reasons. Oh it's nice.