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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ohio is more than just Buckeye State - Thad Matta Presses on with Handicap -Tiger Woods Ready to Roll


Despite back strain, Tiger Woods says he's ready for Arnold Palmer Invitational
jeff ritter
ORLANDO -- Tiger Woods declared himself physically ready to compete after an 18-hole pro-am round Wednesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational despite adding a back strain to his list of ailments.
Woods, who withdrew from the final round of WGC-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago because of a strained Achilles, tweaked his back on the sixth tee when he stopped his swing short due to a camera click -- a move he's displayed before. While walking off the tee, Woods snapped at the photographer and briefly crouched to stretch his lower back. He went on to birdie that hole and seven of his final 11 for an unofficial eight-under 64 at Bay Hill, where he's won six times.
"I guess one of the so called professional photographers took a picture right in the middle of my downswing," Woods said afterward. "I stopped it, and then felt a pretty good twinge in my back. Walked it off and then tried to hit one down there, hit it in the fairway, but didn't feel very good. But after a couple of holes it loosened up, and I'm good to go now."
Woods showed no sign of a limp during his practice round, and he said he has recovered from the Achilles tendon injury that forced him to withdraw at Doral. Woods played his first public rounds since that injury on Monday and Tuesday at the Tavistock Cup, a two-day exhibition, and he's appeared healthy all week.
"I've had some good therapists on board, and they have done some really good work," Woods said. "I feel great, and that's the nice thing about getting treatment for three days, just getting off of it and just working on it two or three times a day, and good to go."
Woods spoke to reporters after his pro-am round. He was not asked any questions about his former coach Hank Haney's book The Big Miss, which will be released next week and reportedly says that Woods suffered a serious leg injury training with Navy SEALs. The book also shares personal details of his life. Earlier this month at the Honda Classic, Woods refused to answer questions about the book and had a minor confrontation with a reporter who asked about it.
But Woods did offer a surprise for those wondering if he may have overextended himself by playing a full round at Bay Hill, which seemed to be his third straight day of golf with four more still to follow: Wednesday was actually his fourth consecutive day of golf.
"You guys don't know, I played Augusta on Sunday," Woods said. "That's one of the reasons why I played Tavistock. It felt great at Augusta, and that was the test. I played Tavistock because of that test, and here I am ready to go."
On Wednesday Woods was paired with three amateur partners and appeared to be in high spirits for most of the day. He was joined inside the ropes for part of the round by his swing coach, Sean Foley, and ex-NFL star-turned-broadcaster Ahmad Rashad.
Woods had the first tee time of the day, 7:30 a.m., which has usually been his preference for practice rounds, and Rashad stopped by during Woods's early- morning warm-up. When Woods finished hitting wedge shots, he handed the club to Rashad, smiled and said "Thank you, son," and left his friend alone to wipe down the club.
"When Tiger plays, he zones out. Maybe he'll be a little more relaxed today," Rashad said near the first tee.
Other than the incident with the photographer, it appeared Woods was feeling fine throughout the day. On the opening tee, he took a 3-wood and hit a fade, a similar ball-flight to the tee shot he hit on the 12th hole at Doral, which turned out to be the knockout blow that sent Woods limping off the course. This time Woods appeared pain-free.
Woods said he's confident his rehab was sufficient to prepare him for his final push to the Masters, which begins in two weeks.
"I've had tightness before, but not to that extent," he said of his withdrawal at Doral. "But treatment afterwards always gets it right back to where it should be, and that's one of the reasons why I wasn't really that concerned about it."
Woods also said that he has altered his practice schedule recently to take some of the strain off his Achilles and his surgically repaired left knee.
"I've changed my practice routine based on that," he said. "If things aren't feeling right, I just won't hit balls for four or five hours. I'll go work on something else. You've got to work around it."
In one of the day's lighter moments, one of Woods's amateur partners drained a birdie on the opening hole and performed a Tiger-esque fist-pump before remembering Woods was watching him.
"I don't plan on making those," said Ed Brandt, a vice president at Mastercard. "But after I did the first pump, I asked Tiger, 'Did I get that right?' And he said, 'You got the first part right' -- making the putt."








Despite handicap, Buckeyes coach Matta presses on, stays active
Jeff Goodman
BOSTON -- No one notices the special chair that rests a few inches higher than the remainder of the coaching staff, the black brace concealed underneath his pant leg or even the limp that is rarely noticeable while he walks up and down the sideline in front of the bench. No one is aware of the days when Ohio State coach Thad Matta's two daughters had to yank off his sneakers, how he is laid out, relegated flat in his bed following a game or a recruiting trip, and how he cannot lift a suitcase or take out the garbage.
Matta's life changed on June 16, 2007.
"I just tell them it's a sprained ankle if they ask," he said.
But Matta is handicapped, or "handi-capable" as he like to call it.
The back pain began when he was 15 and resulted in a trip to the Mayo Clinic. His first surgical procedure came shortly thereafter. However, Matta managed to battle through it as a teenager, played college basketball and even participating in marathons and triathlons. Matta's wife, Barbara, was well aware that stress made the back pain worsen -- ever since they met at Butler in the late 1980s. His playing career ended in February of his senior season when his back gave out and he was sprawled on the Kiel Auditorium court in St. Louis.
There were times when it got "crooked" and he would need medication, massages -- or a combination of both. Shortly after the Buckeyes' Final Four run in 2007, where Ohio State lost to Florida in the national title game, Matta was on the golf course when his back gave out following a routine swing.
"He couldn't walk," Barbara Matta said. "The disc was pushing on the nerve. We took him to the hospital it was so bad."
Two days later, Matta underwent four hours of surgery.
Matta and his wife were informed the odds were about 200,000-to-1 that something could go wrong. He was the one.
Matta woke up and couldn't move his right foot. He had "foot drop," which meant his foot literally flopped over and had no support or stability.
"They told me it should come back in a couple days," Matta said. "Then it was a couple weeks, then months and then years. They knew it wasn't coming back."
So too, after a while, did Matta.
"I came to that realization," he said. "But it took a while."
Matta, with no use of his right foot and barely able to walk, traveled with his family to New York City less than two weeks later to support Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. at the NBA Draft.
A couple weeks later, the night before the start of the all-important July recruiting period, when coaches are able to watch the top high school players from around the country, Matta went to grab his toothbrush out of the bottom of a cabinet, rolled his ankle and thought he broke it. While on the road, saddled with a cane, the ankle swelled up, became black and blue, and Matta beckoned the pilots to take him back to Columbus.
Then came the surgery performed by Dr. Antonio Chiocca on Aug. 1, 2007, in an attempt to save the foot.
"We tried to clean up the nerves to see if we could give him a chance of getting better," Chiocca said. "But it didn't work."
Matta wasn't allowed to drive. That's when he was given the ankle-foot brace orthosis that enables him to walk without dragging his foot. He's got about 15 of them, just in case he misplaces a couple.
He constantly falls while getting dressed because of the difficulty balancing on one leg. He even had to attend handicapped driving school, but probably the most difficult aspect of this was it occurred back when his two daughters, Ali and Emily, were 7 and 8 years old. Matta wasn't able to pick them up or even put them on his lap, so he wound up reading more books and playing more board games with them.
"They wanted to be on Daddy's lap," Barbara Matta said. "And Daddy wanted them."
"That was brutal," Thad added. "Not being able to pick them up. They're older now, but that was difficult after it first happened."
But Matta rarely looks in the mirror and feels sorry for himself. Although, Chiocca has been instructed him to spend much of practice in a chair that sits in the middle of the court, the chair is almost always empty. During games, Matta roams the sidelines -- wearing black tennis shoes -- with a slight limp. However, few are aware of his condition.
"His close friends," Barbara Matta said. "But it's not like he hides it, either."
"We've kept it quiet," Thad Matta added. "I have a new sense and appreciation for handicapped people."
Matta went out on the football field -- in shorts and with his black brace -- in front of 100,000 fans. On Wednesday afternoon, a day before the Buckeyes' Sweet 16 contest against Cincinnati, Matta took the court in Boston for an open practice wearing shorts -- and his brace clearly visible.
"It's not as if he's ashamed of it, but he's a private person, so that's why he hasn't told people," Barbara Matta said.
Matta is ready to disclose his condition to the world. His close friends are aware. Former assistant Sean Miller, now the head coach at Arizona, said Matta was one of the most AVID workout guys he knew before the surgery.
"He'd run eight miles a day," Miller said. "We'd run around the tennis court when we were at Xavier and he'd be two laps ahead of me. He was the most physically fit guy I've ever been around in my entire life. To see him not be able to do those things anymore is incredible. It's hard for me to see it, but he's handled it so well. Very few people could have handled it like Thad has."
Matta still does as much as possible to remain in shape. He tries to spend 40 minutes a day on the elliptical and lifts light weights, but it's nothing compared to the old days -- when on his birthday, he would try and run a mile in five minutes plus his age (in seconds).
"It is what it is. It's the hand I've been dealt," Matta said. "It's definitely affected my mobility, but I can't let it completely change my life. I've never really asked, 'Why me?' "
Ohio State senior guard William Buford and the rest of his teammates rarely, if ever, hear Matta talk about his foot.
"I've never heard him mention it," Buford said. "He's never complained about it. Not once. Not to have any feeling in your foot, it sucks."
"You can tell it bothers him sometimes, but he never brings it up," sophomore Aaron Craft added. "The only time he does is when we talk about being sore, he says how we have no idea. But he doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for him."
Matta is 44 years old and is in his eighth season as the head coach at Ohio State. He has a 219-64 career mark in Columbus, has seven years left on his contract and said this won't alter how long he winds up staying with the Buckeyes.
"The biggest fear you have is being debilitated," Matta said. "I'd like to see 50 or 55. Quite honestly, when you've got a staff like I do, it makes things easier. This is a tough job, but I enjoy what I do."
Matta gets an aisle seat, one that is able to recline completely, on charter flights. He has his own chair down at the Peach Jam event in Augusta, Ga., in which he's down the far end in hopes of avoiding any potential collisions. There are still injections, muscle activation training and days when he has difficulty getting out of bed. There was some discussion about a nerve transplant in another country, but he has opted against it.
Every now and then, Matta still gets that burning sensation down the side of his right calf. He used to get excited, run into the trainer in hopes maybe feeling was coming back.
Nowadays, he knows what it means.
"It would be a miracle," Chiocca admitted.
"I know I'm not getting it back," Matta added. "And I'm OK with it now."







Ohio is more than just Buckeye State
By Jason King
Before he joined Ohio State's basketball team in Boston for the Sweet 16, Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith spent the early portions of the week traveling throughout the state for business meetings.
"Everywhere I went, all anyone wanted to talk about was the NCAA tournament," Smith said. "There's a tremendous amount of basketball pride in this state."
Especially this week.
The NCAA-title-contending Buckeyes may be the state's most popular program -- but they're far from the only reason Ohio citizens from city to city are strutting around with their chests puffed out.
For the first time in history, four of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament are from the same state.
Not North Carolina, where Tobacco Road is lined with some of the most tradition-rich programs in the country. Not Texas, Florida or California -- huge states with more than enough Division I prospects to fill out the rosters at the large number of nearby universities.
No, the first state to ever have four teams advance to the Sweet 16 is Ohio, where nearly every resident will have a team to root for this weekend. Ohio State and Cincinnati face off Thursday in Boston. Approximately 30 minutes after Xavier plays Baylor in Atlanta on Friday, Ohio will play North Carolina in St. Louis.
"There are so many great institutions here," Smith said. "Everyone is connected to one of them."
Other states have had three teams reach the NCAA tournament's second weekend, the last one being Tennessee in 2007.
But the fact that Ohio touts 25 percent of the Sweet 16 field clearly makes it the country's best basketball state in 2011-12. Heck, even the schools that didn't make the tournament had banner seasons, as Cleveland State, Akron, Kent State and Dayton all won at least 20 games.
Satisfying as it's been, people in the state's basketball inner circles struggle to pinpoint one, underlying reason for the success.
"The fact that four Ohio teams are in the Sweet 16 is probably just a coincidence," said Quentin Rogers, who coaches an Ohio Red squad which has won four AAU national titles in the past five years.
"It's just one of those years where the ball happened to bounce our way."
People such as Rogers deserve credit for at least some of Ohio's success. Rogers coached four Ohio State players -- sophomores Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Jordan Sibert and J.D. Weatherspoon -- on the same AAU squad.
He obviously helped prepare them for the college level.
Sullinger and Craft both started as freshmen.
"Things like this are cyclical, but Ohio has clearly taken a step forward," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. "Players are much more prepared when they get to college. The coaching they're getting is strong, both at the AAU level and the high school level."
Still, it would be misleading to insinuate that Ohio products are the sole reason for the success of these four programs.




There are a combined 16 Ohio natives on the rosters of the state's four Sweet 16 teams. Ohio State and Ohio University each have six. There are two at Xavier and Cincinnati, one of which is standout forward Yancy Gates.
That means factors other than homegrown talent have come into play: passionate fan bases which produce sellout crowds, athletic departments that make financial commitments to each program and -- more than anything -- four really, really good coaches.
Instead of letting a December brawl with Xavier ruin his team's season, Cincinnati's Mick Cronin turned in one of the best coaching jobs in the nation by leading the Bearcats to a fourth-place finish in the Big East. Xavier went the opposite direction for most of the season under coach Chris Mack before rediscovering itself in March.
Ohio's John Groce may be sought after by bigger schools during the offseason after leading the Bobcats to the MAC tournament title and a victory over No. 4 seed Michigan during the NCAA's opening weekend.
Groce was an assistant under Ohio State coach Thad Matta both with the Buckeyes and at Xavier, where Matta coached before moving to Columbus.
"Thad doesn't think of it this way," XU athletic director Mike Bobinski said, "but his hand is over a lot of what goes on in our program. He got the ball rolling back in 2001 and we just built on it."
Cronin and Mack both have long-standing ties to the state. They were each born in Ohio and are coaching at their alma maters.
"We all think it's a pretty cool thing," Bobinski said. "There are so many common threads between the four programs. We're only four miles away from Cincinnati. We've always been proud of the basketball that's been played here in Cincinnati. Then you've got the Thad Matta connection to us and Ohio and now at Ohio State.
"There are a lot of things that go into this that make it really unique and really interesting. Then, if you go out a little bit further, you've got Kentucky and Indiana and Louisville in the Sweet 16, too. They're all a short drive away.
"It says a lot about what college basketball means in this area."
The question now is, how long it will continue?
Ohio University has a tough draw with No. 1 seed North Carolina, but Xavier has a good chance of defeating Baylor on Friday. And whoever wins Thursday's showdown between Cincinnati and Ohio State will have a legitimate shot of reaching the Final Four.
Rogers, the AAU coach, would love to be in Boston to watch the game. But he has another commitment.
"I've got a new young crop of kids I've got to coach in a tournament," he said. "You'll be hearing some of their names soon. Trust me."

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