Sportswriter

SHOW AND PROVE: JUWAN STATEN HAS MORE GAME THAN PEOPLE KNOW

In SLAM magazine on March 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm
Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Juwan Staten wasn’t in a rush. On West Virginia’s first possession against Kansas last Saturday, he toyed with his defender, dribbled around screens and pulled the ball back out to pass to teammates.

Six passes later, with seven seconds left on the shot clock, none of his teammates had made a play. Staten retrieved the ball, and after a quick hesitation dribble, drove to the rim for the easy two.

He could have done that the first time he caught the ball. With a lightning-quick first step, the Mountaineers’ floor general has the ability to blow by a defender and find a seam to the basket on whim.

“He’s become one of the better point guards, explosive point guards not only in our league, I really believe around the country,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, on whose squad Staten lit up for a career-high 35 points in February.

“He’s one of the quickest guys to get to one end to the other,” Weber said. “It’s a really difficult matchup for anybody.”

A year ago, Staten wasn’t considered one of the tougher guys to cover in the Big 12. The former University of Dayton transfer led WVU with 101 assists and 38 steals. Yet a modest line of 7.6 points and 2.9 boards per game gave him the rep of having more potential than production.

But heading into 2013-14, he worked to close as many holes in his game he could find.

He watched hours of game film, analyzing the moves of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. He also studied former players guided by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, including Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.

Why did those guys choose to pull up there, instead of continuing to the basket? Should he have made the extra pass instead of taking his own three? Why did he reset the offense when there was an opportunity to push in transition?

Becoming a better point guard meant breaking down his own game with similar scrutiny.

“I came back with the mindset to show everybody how much work I put in, and to show everybody how serious I was about the game,” Staten said.

Not only has Staten transformed into one of the nation’s most improved players, but he’s also one of the most complete PGs in the college game. (READ MORE.)

BEYOND THE BEAM

In OC Register on October 20, 2013 at 10:04 am
Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton Athletics

Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton Athletics

Carol Johnston didn’t see herself the way others saw her. Born without a right arm below her elbow, Johnston fell in love with gymnastics and didn’t think twice about competing.

She had done everything else up to that point, learning how to tie her shoes, braid her hair, put on clothes, run, eat. Having one arm was normal – she didn’t know anything else.

“Carol was more concerned about being 4-foot-10 than she was about having one arm,” said Johnston’s former Cal State Fullerton teammate and roommate, Julie Bowse.

Reporters from around the country would line up at Cal State Fullerton meets from 1977 to 1980 to catch a glimpse of her. She was even the subject of a Disney movie, “Lefty,” in 1980.

To the outside world, she was ‘Carol the one-armed-gymnast.’

But to those who knew her best, she was just Carol. Another member of the team. A college student. A 19-year-old who loved double-stuffed Oreos.

Johnston wanted to be known for being a great gymnast, not for being different.

But she was different, and she inspired countless young girls and women with her athletic success.

The two-time All-American on balance beam and floor exercise was a conference champion, a national championship runner-up and a key member of the Fullerton squad that became one of the most dominant gymnastics teams in the country.

Johnston, now 55, was inducted into the Cal State Fullerton Athletics Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Friday.

The woman who spent her life overcoming odds is now facing something beyond human control. A year and a half ago, Johnston was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She struggles to start and finish sentences, and her memory is declining. But like living with one arm, she is once again trying to live as normal a life as possible with the same spirit that captivated all who watched her compete.

“We want to own the disease instead of letting it own us,” said her husband, Scott D. Koniar. “It’s hard to draw inspiration from something like this, but Carol is the same wonderful person that I met, loved and married. Her spirit is so ingrained in her that it has not changed.” (READ MORE.)

STANDARD BEARER: TEN YEARS INTO WNBA AND TAURASI DOMINANT AS EVER

In SLAM magazine on August 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm
Photo courtesy of Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports

Photo courtesy of Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports

It was a routine trip down the floor. Diana Taurasi dribbled the ball in transition, alternating between her right and left hand. The Mercury were well on their way to blowing out the Shock earlier this month, but Taurasi didn’t slow it up to reset the offense.

With a hesitation move, she slid past her defender for the easy left-handed layup. Already backpedaling the other way for defense, Taurasi didn’t see that she became the fastest WNBA player to amass 6,000 points, reaching the feat in 25 games fewer than it took the previous record-holder, Lauren Jackson.

“I was in the moment,” Taurasi says. “I really didn’t know.”

Late that night, long after talking to media on what it all meant, she finally had a moment to herself. A moment of acute awareness: She had just played her 291st career WNBA game. She had spent over 9,000 minutes in the WNBA accomplishing the mark. And now she found herself in her 10th year in the league.

A decade. Of course, she knew that already. Her body always finds a way to remind her during back-to-back road trips. Yet the word began to take on new significance.

She started to get ready for bed. But she didn’t play back the record-setting layup in her head, or snippets from any other part of her life that got her there: three consecutive National Championships at UConn, two rings with the Mercury, and three Olympic Gold medals. She didn’t bask in her glory because that night was like any other night for Taurasi.

“I go to sleep every night thinking I’m not good enough,” Taurasi says. “That makes me go to the gym early. It keeps me there late. I have this fear of not being good enough, and that let’s me know I’m going to be ready by the time I step on the court.”

Fear isn’t a word we’re used to associating with Taurasi: The one with the bulletproof confidence, the loudest trash talker on any court she steps foot on. But fear doesn’t mean the same thing to Taurasi that it means to us.

It isn’t rooted in insecurity—far from it. She knows she’s one of the best to shoot a basketball; she expects herself to make every shot she takes. Instead, the fear is her fuel, her competitive edge.

She needs it. Because when she’s putting up an extra hundred shots, she’s thinking about facing herself when she goes to sleep at night. She won’t tolerate waking up and not living up to the player she believed herself to be the night before. She won’t accept not measuring up to the standard she created for herself as a kid.

This fear tells her that she’ll never be “good enough” because she can always do better.

That’s why at 31 years old, she’s having one of her best seasons yet. And in a league focusing all of its attention on the young, those that will elevate the game to new heights in the future, namely the “3 to See” in Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins—Taurasi is proving that she’s still in her prime and dominant as ever. (READ MORE.)

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