Player

Despite not playing tennis until he was 10, senior Søren Hess-Olesen has become a leader for Texas tennis, taking the ITA All-American award in 2013 and 2014.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

As he stands at the baseline of the tennis court, senior Søren Hess-Olesen makes his job look easy — but each of his victories and accolades are hard-earned.

Hess-Olesen, who was born in Aarhus, Denmark, came to tennis late in his childhood. Unlike many European tennis players, who are enrolled in academies from a very early age, Hess-Olesen didn’t start playing tennis until he was 10 years old.

“Soccer was definitely my main sport growing up,” Hess-Olesen said. “Around the age of 10, I started playing [tennis] with my twin brother Esben. It was evident I had talent from early on, but I wasn’t good enough to compete in tournaments.”

Even as he moved his way up to the No. 1 ranking among Danish youth, Hess-Olesen wasn’t highly desired by colleges in the United States. Instead, Hess-Olesen reached out to a number of college coaches throughout the country — including Texas head coach Michael Center.

“Honestly, he didn’t have a great résumé of matches and tournaments,” Center said. “[But] we started to call around and found out he’s a very good player, and I jumped on a plane and flew to Denmark as soon as I could.”

Playing under Center’s coaching proved integral for Hess-Olesen’s development as a player. Hess-Olesen began his career at the No. 1 singles spot as a freshman — a feat no Texas player had achieved since Dimitar Kutrovsky did so in 2007.

“Looking back, playing at the top spot from day one really helped my game,” Hess-Olesen said. “There was a lot of pressure, especially going up against the top players in the country, but it made me more mentally tough. That was something coach always stressed during practices and matches.”

Over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons, Hess-Olesen’s game continued to grow. He earned a long list of awards, including
the International Tennis Association All-American award in both 2013 and 2014. He capped off his junior season with an appearance in the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship, though he fell to the eventual champion, UCLA’s Marcos Giron.

Coming into this season, expectations were high for Hess-Olesen, who began the year ranked No. 13 in the nation. Hess-Olesen has managed to blow those expectations out of the water, reaching the No. 1 overall ranking in the most recent ITA polls.

As the 2014 NCAA Singles Championship semifinalist, 2014 Big 12 Player of the Year and 2013 and 2014 ITA All-American, Hess-Olesen is still adding to what will be a lasting legacy. But he said he hopes his legacy is defined in a different way.

“I want to be remembered as someone who did whatever he could to help his team,” Hess-Olesen said. “The awards are nice, but what’s really important to me is the work I put in to be the best player I could be.”

NBA Trade Deadline

The NBA Trade Deadline was supposed to be relatively quiet, with the possibility of a few trades. And it looked like that would be the case leading up to last Thursday’s deadline of 2 p.m. However, the league saw a number of trades come in at the last minute of the deadline. The trades came in fast and furious, but not all were as good as they seemed while others were better than you might think.

Starting from the first and possibly the most overlooked trade was Portland acquiring Arron Afflalo from Denver. With Afflalo, Portland bolsters their bench with a player who was averaging 14.5 points per game and is an excellent defender. Portland had to give up Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver plus a future first round pick, but I still think this was a huge win for Portland. A team who advanced to the second round in last year’s playoffs, returned their core group of guys, and are third in the Western conference added a veteran guard who can defend multiple positions and shoots the ball well. I’ll go ahead and say this trade puts Portland as a dark horse in the West. Why? Because they have a star point guard in Damian Lilliard, not to mention he might be a little pissed off for being an All-Star snub. Granted he was chosen as a replacement, but I still expect Lilliard to play with a chip on his shoulder the rest of the season. And let’s not forget Lamarcus Aldridge is playing at a high level despite his thumb injury. So with a healthy Robin Lopez and Afflalo coming off the bench, this team stacks up well with the West’s best.

The blockbuster trade that got way too much attention in my mind was Phoenix shipping Goran Dragic to Miami. Don’t get me wrong, Dragic is an excellent point guard, and he knows how to produce. But let’s not get carried away here. He isn’t going to help Miami contend for the title this year and most likely not anytime soon. Dragic is posting 16.2 ppg, 4.1 apg, and 3.6 rpg while sharing the point guard duties with Isiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe. However, I don’t think he is worth the max contract he will be offered this offseason or the two first round picks Miami gave up on top of some rotational players. He can’t lead a team by himself and essentially that’s why you pay a player the big time money. That’s what scares me for this Miami team, Dwayne Wade is in the latter half of his career, and Chris Bosh isn’t the same player he was in his prime. (There is a serious concern in Miami that Chris Bosh may miss the entire season due to blood clots in his lungs. It is a very serious issue, so we wish Chris Bosh the best in recovering.) Having said all this, Pat Riley is a genius when operating his teams so I might be completely wrong in saying Miami was on the losing end of this trade.

The trade I liked the most came from team that desperately needed help. And that was the Oklahoma City Thunder. A few days ago, I wrote about how they might acquire Brook Lopez but honestly, he wouldn’t be a fit for a team that runs lots of isolations for their guards and perimeter players. Lopez is a back to the basket type player and I don’t know how he would have gotten his touches in the OKC offense. But that trade didn’t surface out instead the Thunder acquired Enes Kanter from Utah and DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler from the Pistons. In my opinion, Oklahoma City got better overall value than getting Lopez. Kanter is a legit 7 footer averaging 14 ppg and 8 rpg this season. Not to mention he’s only 22 years old. He will slide right into OKC’s rotation with Adams out with injury and Perkins no longer there. This allows Serge Ibaka to play his natural power forward position and stretching the floow out with his perimeter shooting improving. Plus Augustin can fill Jackson’s role as backup point guard and Kyle Singler has proved he can be a solid bench contributor.

On the other hand of this trade, I love what Detroit did. Stan Van Gaundy quietly got himself a steal in Reggie Jackson. Detroit gave up next to nothing for a player who is about to get his chance to be a starter on a playoff contending team. But let’s forget about this season, and look to the future. Detroit has two great guards in Jackson and Brandon Jennings, and arguably the best young frontcourt in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving forward. If they can convince Monroe to sign long term after his contract expires after this season, watch out for the Pistons. Van Gaundy has done a great job in his first season operating the team and I look for him to continue to build momentum for the franchise.

Those are the trades that had impacts on contending teams making a final push for playoff jockeying. Oklahoma City and Portland solidified their roster needs to contend in the wild wild west. But there were was one trade that caught my eye and can have a huge impact for a franchise.

The trade that had every NBA fan reminiscing the old days was Kevin Garnett being sent back to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young. Obviously Minnesota is going nowhere this season, but Kevin Garnett could be a valuable pickup for them in terms of leadership and locker room presence. Minnesota might have the best core of young players in the league. Andrew Wiggins, Zach Lavine, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, and Gogui Dieng are all young talented players still learning their way in this league. The Timberwolves were lacking a veteran leader who can mold these young players into stars. That’s where Kevin Garnett comes in play. KG could be the perfect mentor for these kids since he was thrown into the same fire of the NBA right out of high school. He knows what it takes to become a perennial All Star and win NBA championships. So kudos to the Minnesota front office for making this happen.

And then there was the random swap of point guards that took place. Milwaukee sent Brandon Knight to Phoenix, Phoenix sent Isaiah Thomas to Boston, and Philadelphia packaged reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter Williams to Milwaukee. Brandon Knight was playing very well this season, so I was particularly surprised that the Bucks let him go and brought in Michael Carter Williams. I’m interested to see how Jason Kidd and company can mold the young Carter Williams into a legit PG. Brandon Knight could be a good compliment to Eric Bledsoe down in Phoenix so that could be something to watch for. As for Isiah Thomas in Boston, I just don’t get it. Boston should be in full rebuild mode, and Marcus Smart was their draft pick who could use some playing time at the point guard position so why trade for Thomas who can only play point guard. Thomas also is owed plenty of money after signing a lucrative deal just this offseason so that’ll take a hit on Boston’s cap room. These teams all made the headlines for acquiring players but I’m not sure any of them actually won their respective trades. I guess time will tell with them.

But wait, that’s not all! There have been reports Kendrick Perkins will be bought out by the Utah Jazz and the front runner to sign him is, you guessed it, the Cleveland Cavaliers. He would be a great fit for Cleveland, coming off the bench and giving them valuable minutes defending and rebounding the ball effectively. A few other potential bought out players include Tayshaun Prince and Thomas Robinson who could both be a great addition to any team. So the deadline might have passed, but a few teams could still be adjusting their rosters here in the next few days to gear up for the postseason.

Three stars of the NHL

There is no holiday better than Thanksgiving. It's a simple fact.

You got football, family, and food with the food being the best of all. I'm not going to bore you with a list of Thanksgiving food here, but rest be assured, I love a good pumpkin pie, some stuffing (not dressing), and a turkey leg. It's just the perfect holiday, so gluttonous and mellow. It is this holiday spirit that has compelled me to take a look around the league and find the plumpest of turkeys in the NHL.

Turkeys are the star of the Thanksgiving show. While your side dishes can be excellent role players, a perfectly roasted and seasoned butternut squash is worthless without a plump and juicy turkey. Keeping turkey's part in the Thanksgiving play in mind, I picked out three rotund stars of the NHL.

Dustin Byfuglien is a defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 260 pounds. He's a big dude. But, he has also been an All-Star twice and played for a Cup. He's always been a solid player, playing an offensive-minded defensive game with that big body of his. At times, he's also played the power forward position, intimidating opponents with his strong shot. He's a scary sight on the ice as well as in a Google image search.

Two-time All-Star Phil Kessel is one of the best offensive players in the league. He has been a top-10 scorer three years straight, the only player to do so. He's also 6 foot and weighs 202 pounds. We all know that he's one of the best snipers in the game capable of taking on the best in world. His world-class reputation was affirmed when in 2014 at the Sochi Winter Olympics, he was named the best forward of the tournament after leading everyone else in scoring. So, yes, he's a bit bigger than most, but he's also a fantastic player.

This last one is a former three-time MVP. He's 6-foot-3, 230-pound Alexander Ovechkin and he's wants to be formal, but he's just here to party. The big Russian has had an illustrious career. While he hasn't played for a Cup yet, he's won almost every major award and given Sidney “The Chosen One” Crosby a run for his money. His size has allowed him to be a hard-hitting scorer, a rare combination in the league. His size has also allowed him to look like he was wearing a few too many Kosovorotkas underneath his uniform. But, no matter his size, Alex Ovechkin is a one-of-a-kind player who already has a hall of fame resume.

These stars are the Thanksgiving turkeys of the NHL. They rule their teams and deserve your attention, just like that big bird in the middle of the table.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin

Few teams rely as heavily on one player as TCU does on Boykin. The junior has enjoyed a tremendous season so far, passing for a career-best 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns against five interceptions through 10 games. He has passed for at least 219 yards in nine games this year and has thrown a touchdown pass in every game. Boykin also ranks second on the team with 548 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, and he torched Kansas State two weeks ago for 123 yards and three scores on the ground. After flirting with a move to wide receiver last year, Boykin emerged as arguably the Big 12’s most dangerous quarterback this season. Boykin has had mixed results in his two games against Texas, but he’s a far different player this year than he has been in years past.

Running back Aaron Green

Green ranks only third on the team in carries, but he’s established himself as the Horned Frogs’ most consistent runner. He leads the team with 677 rushing yards on just 82 carries, good for an eye-popping average of 8.3 yards per carry. He’s also scored six touchdowns on the ground, good for third on the team. He’s starred in B.J. Catalon’s absence the last two weeks, amassing 299 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State and Kansas. He set a new career high in rushing attempts in each of the last three games, and if he keeps running the way he has of late, his number of touches should continue to increase.

Wide receiver John Doctson

By all accounts, Doctson is the Horned Frogs’ No. 1 receiving target. He leads TCU with 43 receptions and 693 yards, and he’s tied for the team lead with seven touchdown grabs. Doctson has only compiled more than 76 receiving yards once this season — he exploded for 225 yards against Oklahoma State last month — but he has five games with at least five receptions and three games with at least two touchdowns. At 6 feet 4 inches and 190 pounds, Doctson presents a considerable mismatch for most defensive backs. Look for senior Quandre Diggs, Texas’ top defensive back, to line up against Doctson on Thursday.

Linebacker Paul Dawson

There’s not much that Dawson can’t do. He leads the Horned Frogs with 105 tackles — 31 more than anyone else. He also has the most tackles for a loss on the team with 15, and he’s tied for the team lead with five sacks. In addition, Dawson has three interceptions, five pass breakups, eight passes defended and two forced fumbles so far. Expect to see him making plays all over the field this Thanksgiving.

Recruiting brothers: deserved or strategic?

Former Texas football coach Mack Brown had a history of recruiting brothers to the 40 Acres. And it seems current head coach Charlie Strong’s staff is on their way to following the trend.

Early Thursday morning Strong extended an offer to 2016 Gilmer Athlete Demarco Boyd. Demarco is a talented player in his own right, but most schools seem to understand that his best quality is his ability to influence his brother Kris Boyd, a 2015 Army All-American cornerback.  

The Boyd’s aren’t the first star brothers Strong’s staff has offered this year as 2015 RB Kirk Johnson and 2016 WR Collin Johnson have been committed to the Longhorns since April. The Johnson brothers were also seen as a package deal, but are widely regarded as high quality recruits no matter who they could bring with them.

The art of recruiting brothers is a time-honored practice. Brown was a master of it, recruiting some of the best talent in the country to Texas during his 16-year tenure. Sam and Emmanuel Acho, from the class of 2007 and 2008, respectively, benefited greatly from Brown’s willingness to offer within the family. The Acho brothers ended their careers at Texas as highly decorated linebackers, with both being named finalists for the Lott IMPACT Defensive Player of the Year Award while garnering All-Big 12 and All-American honors.

Though, on the other end, the Vaccaro brothers didn’t see the same equal results as the Acho’s. Older brother Kenny thrived as a defensive back under Brown, eventually being named All Big 12, All American, and a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Younger brother Kevin, from the class of 2012, has dealt with a few injuries, but for the most part it seems that the junior safety has not been able to impress the new coaching staff enough to earn quality playing time. After recording five tackles in his freshman season on special teams, Vaccaro has played in just seven games without recording a stat.

But the McCoy brothers are perhaps the greatest example of recruiting both brothers based on the older brothers accomplishments. Former quarterback Colt McCoy left college as a two-time Heisman finalist and as the NCAA leader in career wins.  His legacy still lives strong at Texas, where many believe he should've won the 2009 National Championship. 

Younger brother Case McCoy is a different story. Though he was an accomplished high school quarterback, many saw his recruitment to Texas a favor from Brown, based on pedigree rather than potential. Case had an interesting career at Texas, splitting time with former quarterback David Ash for the better part of three years. Though he had some success at Texas, he was never near the player his brother was.

One half of Brown’s last brotherly recruits are still making an impact for the Longhorns. Senior WR Jaxon Shipley has been a consistent playmaker for the Longhorns throughout his career, breaking into the top 10 in school history in receptions, receiving yards, and punt return yardage. Older brother Jordan, who graduated in 2010, is one of the best Longhorn receivers in recent history, breaking records throughout his career including a school record 273 receiving yards against UCF in 2009. The eldest Shipley was a Consensus All-American as a senior, and recipient of the Paul Warfield Trophy, given to the nation’s best collegiate wide receiver.

Recruiting talented brothers is a long standing tradition in college football. Sometimes, as was the case for the Acho and Shipley brothers, both were recruited based on their own ability and potential. Other times, and probably too often, one brother is targeted by a school who has no intentions for him to contribute anything to the team besides a talented sibling.

It’s too early to tell where Coach Strong’s two sets of brothers will fall in this argument, though it seems as if the Boyd brothers fall into the same mold as the Vaccaro’s and McCoy’s. The Johnson’s seem to fit in with the Acho’s and Shipley’s, but it will not be clear until their time on the 40 Acres is up. 

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

The first time defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called Dylan Haines’ name on the first-team list, Haines, a redshirt sophomore defensive back, thought Bedford had made a mistake.

“I looked over there and said, ‘Maybe you got the name wrong,’” Haines said. “He told me to go out and run with the [first-team players]. To be out there with all the starters and be the only walk-on out there was something different.”

Through the 2014 season, however, Haines’ association with the first team has actually remained much the same. Since recording a 22-yard interception in the season opener against North Texas, Haines has started all six games. Haines contributes to the defense, punt, kick return and kickoff teams and has recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions. Haines’ 74-yard pick-six against Iowa State put Texas up 28-21 against the Cyclones with 2:50 remaining in the first half. Head coach Charlie Strong called the play a “gamble” but complimented Haines’ willingness to take a risk.

“Everyone’s taking notice, and when you’re looking for that player that you say you like to see go play — [Haines] plays hard,” Strong said. “On that interception, he took a chance. But it’s all right to take a chance, and it pays off sometimes.”

Strong isn’t the only one who has noticed Haines’ ascent. As No. 44 becomes a
staple on the field, Haines says his teammates support his new role and celebrate his good plays. Although they jockey in practice for starting spots, the competition is all productive and healthy, Haines says.

“We’re all friends outside of football, but we understand that the best players play,” Haines said. “I don’t think there’s any bitterness — just good competition, which is what we need to have a good football team.”

Haines’ depth adds a new complication for opponents. Quarterbacks no longer see Haines’ man as a free target. Senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said he thinks opponents will catch on to Haines’ improvement soon.

“He’s pretty athletic; he’s made big plays for us all year,” Diggs said. “He continues to step up, do his calling and go out and compete. Maybe if he continues to make plays, guys will stop going at him.”

Even if opponents do not stop going after him, Haines doesn’t mind. If an opponent perceives him as weak, Haines sees it as an opportunity. In fact, he sees just about everything as an opportunity. When he didn’t receive any scholarship offers, walking on to Texas’ team was an opportunity. When he redshirted, the extra time to learn and improve was an opportunity. And as a backup last season, scouting was an opportunity — an opportunity he took seriously, earning scout team player of the week leading up to the Red River Rivalry.

But this year’s opportunity — the opportunity to be a starter — is the one Haines coveted the most. Haines comes from a family of athletes. His grandfather, great-uncle and mother competed for the Longhorn track team, and his father and brother played football on the 40 Acres. Now, Haines joins their legacies. He didn’t need a scholarship, which he earned in August, to convince him to finish his degree or stay on the football team. But such recognition is meaningful.

“I was shocked, but I wasn’t surprised,” Haines said. “Working my way to the number one spot on the depth chart, I’d given it some thought but didn’t worry about it too much. … It was something special and made me really happy, showed they really care about their players and it was a reward for hard work.”

Haines’ reward isn’t unique. He knows many walk-ons share his story — gaining scholarships, playing time and occasionally getting drafted. But, for the walk-ons who haven’t reached that level yet, Haines offers advice.

“The mentality you have to have is go out there and improve every day as a player,” Haines said. “I knew I was a capable of playing, so I looked to improve every day and reach my potential. Walk-ons need to come out and be ready to work and make the most of it.”

World Golf Hall of Fame announces newest members

By Matthew Adams

       On Wednesday, the World Golf Hall of Fame announced that its 2015 class will consist of Englishwoman Laura Davies, Australian David Graham, American Mark O’Meara, and late course designer A.W. Tillinghast. 

       This year’s process was different from previous years because many golf writers were eliminated from the process, relying on a 16-member voting panel  Members of this panel included Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and R&A Chief Peter Dawson and three selected golf writers. 

       With these changes, the usual ceremonies around the week of the Players Championship did not occur due to the process being reevaluated.  A lot of outrage existed in 2013 when Fred Couples, only 1 major win, and Colin Montgomerie, no major victories, beat out Graham and O’Meara for the spots. 

       Although the golf world is happier to see Graham finally make it into the Hall of Fame, the issue this year is that Ian Woosnam was left off.  Woosnam is a 29-time European Tour winner, was the world’s number 1 player from April of 1991 to March 1992.  During the streak, he went on to win the 1991 Masters. 

       Yet as the golf world gripes about this issue, recognize that the process is getting better and enjoy the current celebration. 

       Graham has been waiting a long time for this, and is more than deserving.  In his career, Graham finished his career with eight career PGA Tour Titles, five on the Champions Tour.  His biggest wins consist of the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion.  His performance is still viewed as a benchmark for tournament golf.   With these wins, Graham became the fourth Australian to win a major championship and the first to win the U.S. Open. 

       O’Meara is most famously known for his run through the 1998 tour.  He finished with wins at the Masters and the Britsh Open Championship.  O’Meara also went on to claim the PGA Player and Tour Player of the Year Awards. 

       Davies is less known compared to her counterparts, but her impact has been just as important in the LPGA Tour.  Within the golf world, Davies won the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open and named Golf Writers Association of America Female Player of the Year in 1994 and 1996. 

       For British honors, Davies was named a Member of the British Empire in 1988 by Queen Elizabeth the II and Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000, the highest award for a British citizen.  

        Tillinghast has been recognized for his golf courses that he created throughout the United States in the early 20th century.  One of his famous sights includes Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., where Jack Nicklaus won 2 of his 4 U.S. Open’s and Phil Mickelson won the U.S. Open in 2005.    By Matthew Adams

       On Wednesday, the World Golf Hall of Fame announced that its 2015 class will consist of Englishwoman Laura Davies, Australian David Graham, American Mark O’Meara, and late course designer A.W. Tillinghast. 

       This year’s process was different from previous years because many golf writers were eliminated from the process, relying on a 16-member voting panel  Members of this panel included Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and R&A Chief Peter Dawson and three selected golf writers. 

       With these changes, the usual ceremonies around the week of the Players Championship did not occur due to the process being reevaluated.  A lot of outrage existed in 2013 when Fred Couples, only 1 major win, and Colin Montgomerie, no major victories, beat out Graham and O’Meara for the spots. 

       Although the golf world is happier to see Graham finally make it into the Hall of Fame, the issue this year is that Ian Woosnam was left off.  Woosnam is a 29-time European Tour winner, was the world’s number 1 player from April of 1991 to March 1992.  During the streak, he went on to win the 1991 Masters. 

       Yet as the golf world gripes about this issue, recognize that the process is getting better and enjoy the current celebration. 

       Graham has been waiting a long time for this, and is more than deserving.  In his career, Graham finished his career with eight career PGA Tour Titles, five on the Champions Tour.  His biggest wins consist of the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion.  His performance is still viewed as a benchmark for tournament golf.   With these wins, Graham became the fourth Australian to win a major championship and the first to win the U.S. Open. 

       O’Meara is most famously known for his run through the 1998 tour.  He finished with wins at the Masters and the Britsh Open Championship.  O’Meara also went on to claim the PGA Player and Tour Player of the Year Awards. 

       Davies is less known compared to her counterparts, but her impact has been just as important in the LPGA Tour.  Within the golf world, Davies won the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open and named Golf Writers Association of America Female Player of the Year in 1994 and 1996. 

       For British honors, Davies was named a Member of the British Empire in 1988 by Queen Elizabeth the II and Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000, the highest award for a British citizen.  

        Tillinghast has been recognized for his golf courses that he created throughout the United States in the early 20th century.  One of his famous sights includes Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., where Jack Nicklaus won 2 of his 4 U.S. Open’s and Phil Mickelson won the U.S. Open in 2005.    

       These four members will be enshrined on July 13, 2015 at St. Andrews instead of the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fl.

       These four members will be enshrined on July 13, 2015 at St. Andrews instead of the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fl. 

Look past the fights of the NHL

There’s a popular joke, “I Went to a Fight the Other Night and a Hockey Game Broke Out,” and I hate it. It’s a hackneyed joke about a sport that has evolved past its pugilism. Well, I should reword that last phrase. Hockey is a sport that is trying to get past its boxing-like nature.

Last year, 29.76 percent of the 1,230 NHL games had at least one fight occur. This follows the pattern of decline that the NHL has seen over the past 13 years. Through rules changes like Rule 46.6 which states, “No player may remove his helmet prior to engaging in a fight. If he should do so, he shall be assessed a two-minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player,” and the mandatory visor rule, the NHL is doing its part to decrease on-ice violence and the numbers show this.

That being said, will the NHL ever abolish fighting altogether? Probably not. At least not in the next few years. Currently, there is too much friction coming from the players’ side in order to enact such a major rule change. For them, both job security and job safety is at stake. For less than skilled players like Shawn Thornton of the Florida Panthers, he provides leadership in the enforcer role. As an enforcer, he protects his teammates from vicious hits on the ice by ensuring that something worse, such as a fight, will come for the offenders later. And, without fighting, a player like Thornton probably wouldn’t have a job in the NHL despite his fantastic leadership ability.

Teams, however, have been phasing out the enforcers role themselves. Thanks to advanced statistics, the ongoing concussion debate, and salary cap constraints, having a player who is solely dedicated to fighting and nothing more is impractical. Especially when considering playoff hockey, a time when overall team depth is so important and fighting is virtually non-existent, having a roster spot for a player without skill is a waste.

As weird as it sounds, fighting in hockey has a place. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think fighting should be first on the NHL’s marquee. But, I do think that within a regular season team construct, fighting is a valuable way to ensure that more physically minded players on the ice do not destroy skill players. The enforcer role will eventually be eliminated, as I think it should, but I do believe players should be able to retaliate as they see fit in such a physical sport. With all of that said, hockey should always be seen as the sport it is and not for the fighting that has been occurring less and less often.

As Texas head coach Charlie Strong sat in his Moncrief office last Sunday morning, still savoring his team’s shutout victory over Kansas the day before, he received an unexpected phone call.

Troy Vincent, NFL’s executive vice-president of operations, whom Strong has known for quite a while, was calling. He and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were in Austin visiting the headquarters of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and were hoping to meet up with Strong to discuss his commitment to his core values - treating women with respect, honesty, no stealing, no guns and no drugs - before they left town.

Sure enough, a couple hours later, Goodell and Vincent were overlooking Joe Jamail Field in Strong’s office while they picked the coach’s brain. 

“Just talked about just dealing with young people,” Strong said of the meeting. “Trying to make sure that we help them and learn all about character. Then just how do we deal with some of the issues that we’re dealing with right now on this level.”

Amid a flurry of NFL player misconduct issues ranging from domestic violence to sexual assault, Goodell and Vincent clearly felt they could learn from Strong, who has demonstrated a penchant for discipline since arriving in Austin.

With high-profile athletes like Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy bringing the topic of domestic violence into the national eye, Strong has been lauded for what he’s done to combat misbehavior among athletes at the college level.

“I said to [Goodell] that what is happening in the NFL is we’re sending you some players of questionable character,” Strong said. “We have to do a better job in college of preparing these young men.”

Strong has preached a culture of discipline from the moment he stepped off the plane in Austin, but his recent actions have proven he’s about more than just saying the right thing.

The former Louisville boss has dismissed nine Longhorns and suspended three more in his nine months on campus, all for violations of team rules, which stem from his core values. Aside from the two players who were dismissed after being charged with sexual assault, it’s unknown which core value the other 10 athletes violated. But one thing is clear — regardless of who you are, if you do wrong, you will be punished accordingly under Strong’s rule.

“It doesn’t matter what level they are at — they’re all still looking for discipline, and you have to discipline players,” Strong said. “If we’re going to continue to let this happen, why are you going to say what you’re going to do and you don’t even do it?”

With so many athletes making headlines for all the wrong reasons, many have cited Strong as the kind of leader American sports desperately need.

NFL executives are taking notice, Texas administrators are taking notice — the Board of Regents is scheduled to endorse Strong’s values Friday — students on campus are taking notice, and, most importantly, Longhorn players are taking notice.

“Everybody respects Coach Strong, and I think that’s evident,” senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “The values that he’s brought in aren’t really anything new, but he shows the ability to stand by them and not bend or fold just because a player is a good athlete.”

In an era where the world of sports is dominated by the idea that winning takes care of everything, Strong is determined to take care of everything, then worry about winning.

NBA Award Predictions

What better way to kick off the first day of NBA media days, then having some way too early predictions for the season that is a month away? Let’s get started.

 

Rookie of the Year

With the most anticipated rookie class since 2003, this award will have quite a few rookies making a great case for the award. Andrew Wiggins has the highest ceiling of them all, Marcus Smart is the most physically ready, then you have Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Zach Lavine who could all bloom into superstars but can’t expect that in year one. However, Jabari Parker is the most NBA ready, went to a team he wanted to play for, and well he is arguably their best player already. Parker will have his touches on offense to put up close to 20 points a game while snatching 5 rebounds and a couple assists along the way.

 

Coach of the year

Coach of the year can translate to breakout team of the year or the team that exceeds expectations the best. Or how about an unproven coach who leads his team to the best record in the conference? Sounds to me like David Blatt makes the perfect case. Blatt, new head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has never coached an NBA team before. His coaching experience comes from overseas where he coached for 20 years. But he inherits a loaded Cavs team led by LeBron James, not a bad deal.

 

Most Improved Player of the year

This one is always a tough one to predict, because there is no telling which player will break out. Some worthy candidates are Chandler Parsons, Lance Stephenson, Kawhi Leonard, and plenty of others. The one that stands out is Kawhi Leonard. Coming off an unforgettable NBA Finals series where he defended LeBron better than anybody else has, and led the Spurs offensively as well. Plus, when your coach says the offense will run around you now, there’s no telling how improved Leonard will be.

 

Defensive Player of the year

Another one of those categories where plenty of players fit the role well. Defending champ, Joakim Noah poses a great chance to repeat as the winner. But the likes of Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, and a rejuvenated Tyson Chandler will all make strong cases. This year, the NBA will see a first time winner take this award home, Serge Ibaka. He will likely lead the NBA in blocks once again, and his rebounding skills are only improving. On top of this, there are countless instances where he disrupts the opposing offenses rhythm with his long arms and quick feet.

 

Most Valuable Player of the year

This race is always the most fun to monitor throughout the year. And this year will be no exception. The league is full of superstars that are looking to lead their respective teams to the next level. Of course defending champ, Kevin Durant makes a strong case to repeat but Chris Paul and teammate Blake Griffin are both looking to improve on what were MVP like seasons. A dark horse in this race could be Lamarcus Aldridge. Last year in the playoffs, Aldridge looked unstoppable against the Houston Rockets. If he can find that groove again, and the Blazers continue to excel, he could make a great case. But lets be real, this award is LeBron James’ to lose. The superstar is coming off an incredible statistical season. And now you add weapons like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love around him is almost unfair. And not to mention the depth this Cleveland team has in Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion, Tristan Thompson, and Mike Miller. This will arguably be LeBron James’ best team, so what is there not to like about James winning his fifth MVP award?