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Friday, February 3, 2012

Josh Hamilton has relapse - NBA All-Star Starters Announced - Meyer already running afoul of Big Ten - Urban Renewal

Back in action, ace recruiter Meyer assembles stellar Ohio State class

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's two days before Signing Day, and Urban Meyer can't stop yawning. Sitting on a couch in his spacious office in the Woody Hayes Center, white workout towel draped over his shoulder, Ohio State's head football coach looks beat from 17 consecutive days of visiting, hosting or calling recruits.
Just don't make the mistake of telling him that.
"I look beat?" Meyer repeats with a touch of incredulity. "I'm tired. I feel good,
though. Amazing."
That's because in two day's time, 25 faxed letters of intent would arrive in the Buckeyes' office, including nine from Rivals.com four- or five-star recruits who committed during the two months since the former Florida coach returned to his home state. Despite a tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal that cost revered coach Jim Tressel his job last spring, an uncharacteristic 6-7 season and an NCAA-mandated 2012 postseason ban, Ohio State landed the nation's fourth-ranked recruiting class Wednesday.
Few coaches could have pulled that off under the same circumstances. Then again, few can show up in a recruit's living room sporting a pair of BCS championship rings and a list of former players who are now NFL stars.
"Urban Meyer is the best head coach recruiter by far," said Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell. "He's relentless, and he doesn't give up."
During his six-year run at Florida from 2005-10, Meyer compiled three classes ranked either No. 1 or 2 nationally. His '06 and '07 groups included two future Heisman winners (Tim Tebow and Cam Newton) and a dozen NFL starters, including two, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes, who will be playing for the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl. During that time, Meyer developed a reputation as one of the sport's most competitive and energetic recruiters.
It shouldn't have been a surprise, then, that the 47-year-old immediately galvanized Ohio State's 2012 recruiting efforts upon arriving in Columbus. And yet in some ways, it was. Our last images of Meyer as football coach were those of a dispirited, burnt-out guy who "retired" from coaching in December 2010 and spoke frequently -- then and now -- of his desire for more work-family balance. How could we be sure the coach who used to manically text recruits while attending the Super Bowl (back when texting recruits was still legal) would be the same guy to hit the recruiting trail this winter?
Any such doubts were quickly removed when a series of elite recruits -- many of whom were previously committed to other schools -- pledged to the Buckeyes in December and January, usually during or shortly after a visit with the new coach.
"You talk to him for a few minutes and he's got you hooked," said four-star defensive tackle Tommy Schutt from Glen Ellyn, Ill., who switched his allegiance from Penn State to Ohio State following a mid-December visit to Columbus. "You want to go play for him."
By Jan. 30, Meyer was still trying to land three more blue-chippers, but had run out of time to woo them (no more in-person contact was permitted prior to Signing Day). "Now you're down to creative recruiting," Meyer said. One prospect, four-star tackle Kyle Dodson, had made it known his brother would play an important role in his decision. "I'm trying to get to know the brother, but the only way you can do that is through the phone," Meyer said.
It must have worked. Dodson, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound Cleveland native, reneged on his Wisconsin commitment to sign with the Buckeyes. "This one's a HUGE deal," Meyer said by phone upon hearing the news midday Wednesday.
Beat? Hardly.
"I love it," Meyer said of recruiting. "Not like, love. It's competition.
On Nov. 28, two days after suffering its first loss in eight years to archrival Michigan, Ohio State hired Urban Meyer as its head football coach.
The night before his introductory press conference, Meyer and his wife, Shelley, spent nearly four hours with the man he'd be replacing, interim coach Luke Fickell, and Fickell's wife, Amy. As many fans had hoped, Meyer offered the 38-year-old Fickell a spot on his staff (he would later be named co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach), a potentially awkward situation that's proven the opposite.
"It wasn't difficult because we're more similar personality-wise than we are different," said Fickell. "It wasn't like I was taking a step back. This place is special to me." The former Buckeye defensive lineman would soon become Meyer's most important recruiter, accompanying him on nearly every one of his home visits.
In those first hurried days, Fickell and holdover receivers coach Stan Drayton -- one of Meyer's former Florida assistants who had joined Tressel's staff a year earlier -- brought the new boss up to speed on the state of the Buckeyes' roster. They identified three areas in need of immediate recruiting attention: defensive end, offensive tackle and linebacker.
"I told Mark [Pantoni, Meyer's director of player personnel], 'Get me [tape of] the best tackles,'" Meyer said of his first night on the job. "So we watched the top 10 tackles, the top 10 defensive ends from this part of the country."
That Monday and Tuesday night were a blur, as the coaches took turns handing Meyer their phones for introductory conversations with the players they'd spent months recruiting. He leaned on the returning assistants (Fickell, Drayton, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel and since-departed cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson) for background on the players they were already recruiting, many of whom had cooled on Ohio State following Tressel's dismissal.
"The whole thought process throughout the year was, just stay in the ballgame, build a relationship with these guys, and whenever we get clarity [on who would be the permanent head coach], all we need is that crack to get our foot back through the door," said Fickell.
Five-star defensive end Noah Spence was long expected to sign with Penn State, but became the jewel of Ohio State's 2012 class.
The staff also made cold calls to prospects it hadn't previously dealt with. One of the first went to Noah Spence, a five-star defensive end for Bishop McDevitt High in Harrisburg, Pa., who many expected would sign with Penn State before the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal devastated that program in early November. Meyer's staff called despite the fact that Spence had expressed almost no interest in the Buckeyes previously, focusing instead on Maryland and others.
"You can tell right away from the [first] phone call whether there's interest," said Meyer. "But we didn't know anything about each other. Usually recruiting takes place over a year, year-and-a-half. With Noah Spence, it was a two-week relationship."
Head coaches are allowed only one off-campus contact date with a prospect, and Meyer likes to save his for the last two weeks before Signing Day. He made an exception, however, when Spence's father, Greg, indicated the coach might make an impression if he attended Bishop McDevitt's Dec. 16 state championship game. Meyer, Fickell and Vrabel caravanned together that night to Hershey, Pa., where Meyer spoke to Noah afterward and posed for pictures.
"[The visit] made Noah feel that, hey, we're not just giving you lip service, we really want you to be here," Bishop McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter told SI.com. "If it wouldn't have been for Urban and his efforts, [Spence] probably wouldn't have even went out and visited [Ohio State]."
Spence took that visit the next day. By weekend's end, he'd committed. Coming on the heels of commitments a week earlier from two top 10 defensive linemen -- Schutt and Canton, Ohio, native Se'Von Pittman (a Michigan State commit) -- Spence, Rivals' top-ranked defensive end and No. 9 overall prospect, immediately became Meyer's signature recruit.
Eight of the 10 players who pledged to Ohio State after Meyer's hiring had previously committed elsewhere. Flipping committed recruits from other schools is an increasingly common practice, but Meyer can come off as particularly aggressive. At least two Big Ten coaches did not take kindly to Meyer snatching a committed player.
"Jim Tressel and [Michigan State coach] Mark Dantonio would never call or talk to each other's commitments," Dantonio's defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, reportedly said at a function this week in Pittman's hometown. On Wednesday, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he reached out to Meyer with "concerns" about certain recruiting tactics. "The situation got rectified," Bielema said.
Meyer doesn't see his methods as anything unusual.
"How can you go recruit a young guy committed to another school?" Meyer said Wednesday. "You ask a question: 'Are you interested?' If they say, 'No,' you move on. If they say, 'Yes, very interested,' then you throw that hook out there."
That hook proved particularly hard for most players to turn down. Drayton has seen the Meyer effect with his own eyes when joining him for an in-home visit.
"I could be the recruiter that's spent all this time recruiting that individual, getting to know what makes the kid tick," Drayton said. "All of a sudden I get in a home visit and Urban Meyer gets a comfort level with the kid and the family and [the recruit] lets his hair down and opens himself up completely.
"When that happens, Urban Meyer's been undefeated in my experience with him."
Stefon Diggs, the nation's No. 8 overall recruits, has yet to sign; he lists Ohio State among his finalists.
While Meyer's one-year coaching hiatus remains puzzling to much of the college football world, it didn't seem to faze recruits, who knew his track record well. But they did have other concerns.
Meyer said he usually addressed the NCAA sanctions preemptively before the players even asked.
"Every kid has a dream, and never once have I heard 'play in a bowl game my freshman year' as their dream," Meyer said. "It's 'have a great collegiate experience, graduate and go to the NFL.' All the penalties in place have no impact on the kids' dream."
Meyer said he had not anticipated the bowl ban, which came down Dec. 20, shortly after the initial flurry of commitments. But, "as long as this makes college football better, I'm behind it," Meyer said. "It has a serious impact on me, on my family, on my players, but ... I was a very vocal proponent before I came here about willful and intended violations need to be dealt with in a very severe manner."
He has a more lighthearted response to another "negative" he often hears rival recruiters use against him: That his spread offense is detrimental to players' pro aspirations.
"It's one of the most absurd things I've ever heard," Meyer said. "We had two quarterbacks -- Alex Smith and Tim Tebow -- playing in the [playoffs]." From Florida's 2008 national championship team alone, four offensive linemen (Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, Maurice Hurt and Marcus Gilbert), four receivers (Louis Murphy, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper and David Nelson) and a tight end (Hernandez) have gone on to start at the next level.
"And they say you have to play in a pro style offense to get to the NFL?" said Meyer. "When we get done laughing, we say let's get through this, and it doesn't take long."
Not everyone was receptive to Meyer's pitch. Five-star offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, a Lakewood, Ohio, native who made a much-publicized switch from Ohio State to Michigan following Tressel's ouster, took Meyer's call but declined to reconsider. So the Buckeyes looked elsewhere for offensive line help.
Besides Spence, Meyer's No. 1 target was 6-8 tackle Taylor Decker, a Vandalia, Ohio, native who had committed to Notre Dame. "He's a tall, angular tackle," said Meyer. "He's exactly what we wanted."
Decker's primary recruiter in South Bend had been running backs coach Tim Hinton. On Jan. 2, Meyer hired two Notre Dame assistants: Hinton and offensive line coach Ed Warriner.
"Taylor Decker recruited us," said Meyer. "He called me and said, 'I want to be a Buckeye.' Whoa, what are you talking about? ... Then his high school coach called us said, He wants to come to Ohio State."
Decker arrived Jan. 14 for a visit and committed the next day.
Then, a couple of days later, along came the linebacker reinforcements: David Perkins (South Bend, Ind.) and Camren Williams (West Roxbury, Mass.), the latter another Penn State defector. The staff's only (thin) connection to Williams was that the player's father, Brent, once played for the New England Patriots, as did Vrabel a decade later.
"That was a long process," said Meyer. "They came back twice to visit." When Meyer had to dismiss two reserve cornerbacks for disciplinary issues, he stepped up his pursuit of Williams' teammate, four-star cornerback Armani Reeves, who wound up choosing the Buckeyes over archrival Michigan.
Meyer said Wednesday that Ohio State still has room for one more signee, presumably Stefon Diggs, a five-star receiver from Olney, Md., who visited Columbus last weekend. He's expected to announce his choice Feb. 10.
Meyer admits he cares where his class finishes in the recruiting services' rankings. Asked if he was pleased with being No. 3 [as of Monday], Meyer said, "Sure. We want to finish ahead of our rival."

Michigan, which assembled its own stellar class under Brady Hoke, finished sixth.

As he dashed around the country in December and January, Meyer watched several Ohio State games from last season he'd loaded on his iPad. He also broadcast one of the Buckeyes' games for ESPN. While he won't know for sure until he sees his players perform this spring, he believes the Buckeyes' mediocre 2011 season was due largely to the "chaos" of Tressel's dismissal, Terrelle Pryor's unexpected departure and the NCAA suspensions of several key players.
But he also senses the program that won six straight Big Ten championships from 2005-10 (the last one since vacated) suffered a talent drop-off.
"The question I have is, do we have that dynamic player on offense?" said Meyer. "Where's the Ted Ginns of the world? Were they hiding [last] year? I hope we have those guys. That's a big concern of mine right now."
One player he's thrilled with is rising sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who served as an ace recruiter when prospects visited campus and whose skill set seems an ideal fit for the up-tempo offense Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman (formerly of Iowa State) plan to install.
But Ohio State will need more than Miller. Meyer didn't shy away from putting true freshmen in key roles at Florida, and if the 2012 class doesn't entirely fill the void, he's got a jumpstart on 2013. Two of the state's top juniors, quarterback Jalin Marshall (Middletown) and defensive back Cameron Burrows (Trotwood) -- both of whom have already garnered five-star designations from Rivals or Scout.com -- have already committed to the Buckeyes.
"We already know the '13 class. Done," said Meyer.
Meyer also said it was around this time last year that he began to miss coaching. "I was really convinced I was done," he said, though few outside of his own home believed him. He speaks fondly of his time with ESPN, and had anyone besides his home-state school come calling he may well have spent this year's Signing Day in a studio, too.
Wife Shelley and son Nate, 13, plan to move up from Florida by March. Spring football awaits shortly thereafter.
"I feel great. Awesome," Meyer said. "Without getting too deep -- I believe that things don't just happen by luck. There's a plan."
The 2012 Ohio State recruiting class, at least, went off almost exactly as Meyer planned.

NBA All-Star Starters Announced

NEW YORK (AP) -- From Kobe Bryant to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin to Andrew Bynum, the NBA All-Star game is shaping up as an L.A. story.
Two Lakers and two Clippers were voted as starters Thursday for the game, the first time in 15 years that two pairs of teammates have been voted to start for one conference.
Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant prevented a clean Los Angeles sweep of the Western Conference starting lineup by earning a forward spot for the Feb. 26 game in Orlando.
Dwight Howard of the host Magic - unless he's traded first - was the overall leading vote-getter with 1.6 million. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are going together again from Miami, while MVP Derrick Rose of Chicago and New York's Carmelo Anthony round out the East starters.
The Clippers and Lakers are developing a spirited rivalry this season, but they'll have to get along for a night to give the West a second straight win in the NBA's midseason event.
Bryant and Paul will be in the same backcourt two months after the NBA, as owners of the Hornets, killed a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. Instead, he was dealt shortly after to the Clippers, and he has teamed with Griffin to make them one of the league's most exciting and improved teams, leading the Pacific Division over their Staples Center co-tenants.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be voted as an All-Star starter," Paul said. "I want to thank the fans for their support. It's even more special to be starting with one of my teammates."
Griffin and Bynum are first-time starters, while Bryant earned his record-tying 14th consecutive nod.
It's the first time since 1997, when Houston had Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, and Seattle sent Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, that two pairs of teammates have been voted to start for one conference.
Bryant joins Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West and Karl Malone - all one-time Lakers - with his 14th straight starting nod. He earned his fourth All-Star MVP award last year, equaling Bob Pettit's NBA record.
Bynum grabbed the starting center spot that for years went to Yao Ming, who retired last summer. Griffin was chosen as a reserve forward last year, when he became the first rookie All-Star since Yao in 2003.
Starters were chosen by fan balloting, and none of the races was close. The reserves will be chosen by voting of the head coaches from each conference and will be announced next Thursday.
Bryant led all West players with nearly 1.6 million votes. Rose collected 1.5 million to finish third among all players, a year after becoming Chicago's first starter since Michael Jordan.
"I remember not being in the All-Star game, just wanting to be in the game. It's something you should take to heart, that I take to heart," Rose said before the Bulls' game against the Knicks. "Just want to accomplish something special while I'm in the league, and one of the accomplishments is being on the All-Star team."
Howard will make his fifth consecutive start, and his status will provide much of the intrigue surrounding the event. He has told the Magic he wants to be traded and they have given his agent permission to talk to select teams, putting the franchise in a difficult position of deciding whether it should deal its superstar before hosting the weekend.

Josh Hamilton has relapse
Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who has battled drug and alcohol addictions, had a relapse with alcohol this week, according to a source.
The Rangers said through a team spokesman that they are "aware of a situation but have no further comment at this time."
It was still unclear exactly what circumstances led Hamilton to suffer his relapse, which was reported by The Dallas Morning News earlier Thursday, but he has battled to stay sober since an incident in a Tempe, Ariz., bar a little more than three years ago.
Then, he was photographed drinking with several women and those pictures went viral about seven months later. Hamilton spoke to the media about it at that time and apologized, saying: "I hate that this happened."
When that occurred, Hamilton immediately called the Rangers and Major League Baseball. He passed a drug test shortly thereafter and went through league-sanctioned counseling. Hamilton also made sure his support system was fully in place, including having Johnny Narron, his "accountability partner" at the time, with him at spring training and through the rest of the season.
Hamilton, 30, was banned from baseball in 2003 for drug and alcohol use while in the Tampa Bay organization. He was reinstated in 2006 and is drug tested three times a week.
Right now, Hamilton and the Rangers are still in the process of finding a new "accountability partner" after Narron left the club to become the Milwaukee Brewers' hitting coach. Hamilton's father-in-law, Michael Dean Chadwick, was planning on assuming that role for Narron but didn't want to leave his teenage daughter as she gets closer to finishing high school.
The Rangers have expressed an interest in signing Hamilton to a long-term extension, though both sides agreed that if a deal wasn't in place by the time spring training starts later this month, that they wouldn't talk during the season to avoid potential distraction.
Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP, has worked to avoid even the smell of alcohol, something his teammates have respected. They have even catered their postseason celebrations for him (and former teammate C.J. Wilson, who also did not want to be around alcohol) by having ginger ale and water showers before breaking out the champagne after winning a playoff series.
When discussing his last relapse in August 2009, Hamilton said it was the first drink he'd had since Oct. 6, 2005, the day he vowed to stay sober. Drugs and alcohol helped delay Hamilton's track to the big leagues despite being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1999 by the Tampa Bay Rays. He did not make his major league debut until 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Rangers traded for Hamilton before the 2008 season, sending right-handed pitcher Edinson Volquez and left-handed pitcher Danny Ray Herrera to the Reds for the outfielder.

Meyer already running afoul of Big Ten
All I got to say is boo who!!!! Quit crying you babies!!!!!

Earlier this week, it was Michigan State taking some offense to Urban Meyer's recruiting tactics, and now this. After 60-plus days on the job at Ohio State, there's no avoiding it. Either the Big Ten bows to Urban Meyer, or Urban Meyer bows to the Big Ten. "I can tell you this," says Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC -- in any way, shape or form." ... [Meyer] already is getting under the skin of his colleagues. Just how much, you ask? Bielema, whose teams have won more games than any other Big Ten team in his six seasons in Madison, says Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez will speak Friday with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany about Meyer's recruiting methods.

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