Irish star involved in girlfriend hoax
As if getting pounded in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game by Alabama wasn't enough, Notre Dame football – or at least its star player – went through an even more embarrassing incident shortly after the blowout loss to the Crimson Tide.
Deadspin.com reported that Fighting Irish All-American linebacker Manti Te'o, whose widely reported relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua, whom he many times referred to as his girlfriend, was indeed a farce and the woman never actually existed.
“Manti was the victim of that hoax,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said.
“Manti is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.”
Te'o eventually spoke on the matter and denied any culpability on his part as far as maintaining the fictitious story.
“I wasn't faking it,” Te'o told ESPN. “I wasn't part of this. When they hear the facts they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this.”
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance of Te'o's, who lives in California, later confessed to the prank.
Changes to K's resonate
It could be argued Al Sims is the best, most successful professional coach in not only Komets history but also Fort Wayne history.
While always wearing several job titles, Ken Ullyot kept the International Hockey League alive off the ice in the 1960s and 1970s while winning two titles as coach and one as general manager. Charley Eckman coached the Pistons to a pair of NBA finals in the mid-1950s. Bernie Kampschmidt played and coached the fast-pitch softball Pistons to three world titles in the 1940s.
But Sims won more titles and accomplished great things in two distinctly different eras for the Komets. He won in the AAA class of minor league hockey when the Komets were the little team among the big boys of the first International Hockey League, and then he dominated when the Komets were the big boys among the Class AA level with the second IHL and the Central Hockey League.
Sims won five championships and made the playoffs nine times in the 10 years he coached the team, but he has meant even more than that to the Komets. He's the man who helped rescue hockey in Fort Wayne when the Franke brothers purchased the franchise in 1990.
Sims, who turned 60 on April 18, won 503 games, including playoffs, in 10 years.
During his first tour with Fort Wayne from 1988 to 1993, he reached the finals in 1991 and led the team to the miracle 12-0 sweep of the Turner Cup playoffs in 1993.
After leaving the Komets to coach in the NHL for four seasons, Sims bounced around the minors before coming back to Fort Wayne in 2007 and leading the team to three consecutive IHL titles. Two times the Komets rallied from 3-1 deficits to win playoff series.
The Komets struggled during their first Central Hockey League season in 2010-11, but Sims led them to the Presidents' Cup the next season.
The Komets named Sims' protege and Fort Wayne native Gary Graham as the new coach June 4 after he led Pensacola to the Southern Professional Hockey League title.
Butler loses coach to Celtics
Brad Stevens is no longer the men's basketball coach at Butler. For five years that seemed inevitable, but when it actually occurred this past summer, its finality felt sad and bizarre, as he resigned in early July to become the head coach of the Boston Celtics.
“I didn't treat (Stevens' leaving) as an inevitable,” Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier said. “But I always approached it as every day, and effectively every year, that Brad was our coach it was another good year for Butler.”
Calling it “good” doesn't do Stevens' tenure justice. His six seasons transformed the university. The list of what he achieved is mind-boggling: a pair of national championship game appearances, a 77 percent winning percentage, four conference championships and five NCAA Tournament appearances.
Collier wasted little time in doing what Butler has done for nearly the past 25 years when it had a coaching opening, and that is to hire one of its own.
Collier named Butler assistant coach Brandon Miller as the new coach just days after Stevens' bomb was dropped. The first-time head coach has been stupendous, as he has led the Bulldogs to an 8-2 start this season.
“The opportunity to keep our program going and continue to represent Butler in a great way,” Collier said, “is there in front of us. So we are excited about that piece of our future.”
So far, the decision has been mutually beneficial, as Boston unexpectedly sits atop the NBA's Atlantic Division.
Parker has break-through season
Jarrod Parker's second season as a full-time Oakland A's starter placed him alongside some legendary names.
Parker, the former Norwell High School standout, set an Oakland record with 19 straight starts without a loss. He broke the mark of 17 set by Hall of Fame pitcher Jim
“Catfish” Hunter. Philadelphia A's pitcher Lefty Grove, another Hall of Famer, holds the franchise record of 21 straight games without a loss.
Even when Parker's streak was making national news and putting his name along some all-time greats, he maintained his even-keel demeanor.
“It was cool, but not something I think about when I'm going out there,” Parker said. “I didn't know it until media members brought it up that I had broken or tied the record.
Getting matched up against some pretty impressive guys around baseball elevates my play as well.
“There were a couple games where I didn't have my best stuff and the guys around our team picked me up,” he said. “A streak or something like that comes when you have a good team and guys you can trust and you just play ball.”
Parker helped lead the A's to another playoff appearance, winning one game in their divisional series loss to the Detroit Tigers. Parker finished the season with a 12-8 record and a 3.97 ERA, nearly matching his rookie season of 13-8 and 3.47 ERA.
Parker has emerged as one of the top pitchers in baseball in just two seasons in the majors, having gone 13-8 as a rookie last season. The combination of his strong fastball and repertoire of pitches along with his mentally strong attitude – which helped him return from “Tommy John” surgery as a minor league player – gives him one of the brightest futures in the game.
Prep stars, coach depart Fort Wayne
Area prep basketball fans got hit with plenty of disappointing news through 2013. Not only did several high-profile players graduate, some returning talent also left northeast Indiana.
In April, Bishop Luers boys basketball coach James Blackmon Sr. decided to return to his alma mater of Marion High School, taking with him talented sons James Blackmon Jr. and Vijay.
Nine years ago, Blackmon Sr. took over a program that did not have a single conference or postseason championship. Over the course of his time with Bishop Luers, the program won a pair of SAC championships, five sectionals, two regionals, two semistates, and state titles in 2008 and 2009.
“It feels great to be home,” said Blackmon at the school board meeting announcing his return to Marion.
Blackmon Jr. has emerged as one of the top 25 players in the country and is verbally committed to Indiana. Vijay Blackmon is a sophomore point guard for Marion.
In August, Canterbury's Austin Hatch chose to move to Los Angeles to live with family.
Hatch was involved in a plane crash in June 2011 that killed his father, Stephen, and stepmother, Kim. He was in a medically induced coma for about eight weeks after the crash, but he has persevered and has returned to competitive basketball in California.
His commitment to the University of Michigan for college basketball also stands, with coach Jim Beilein having assured him he has a basketball home in Ann Arbor.
Notre Dame returns to football relevancy
The 2012 Notre Dame football season was absolutely perfect, right up until the calendar turned to 2013.
The Fighting Irish survived surviving – and that is apropos given the manner in which they gained some of the victories – the 2012 regular season unbeaten in 12 games.
However, the 2013 BCS National Championship Game in Miami against top-ranked Alabama could not have gone worse.
Coach Brian Kelly has been a head coach since 1991, but all of that experience served no purpose in resolving the problems that he and his Fighting Irish faced against Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game at Sun Life Stadium.
The Crimson Tide (13-1) won their third national championship in four seasons in convincing fashion, 42-14 in front of a stadium-record 80,120 fans. The victory was so resounding that Alabama made no pretense from the opening kickoff as to what it was going to do against the vaunted Fighting Irish defense. It was simply a matter of Notre Dame not being able to do anything about it.
“We were beat today by a better football team,” Kelly said. “I don't know if they were 21 points, 28, 35, but they beat us today, and we've got another step that we have to take in the development of our program.”
The Alabama offense did whatever it wanted to, whenever it wanted to do it. And it started with the five offensive linemen pushing the heralded Irish defensive front all over the field. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron's jersey remained lily white, even through the post-game celebration.
Alabama scored on its first three drives and led 21-0 four seconds into the second quarter. It took a 28-0 lead into halftime, and eventually led 35-0 before Notre Dame could finally generate any semblance of offense.
“It was pretty clear,” Kelly said. “I mean, we had a hard time getting off the field, and a lot of that had to do with Alabama. They ran the ball effectively.”
Hoosiers go high in NBA Draft
Victor Oladipo saluted amid Barclays Center cheers, then promised what few can deliver: A work ethic his new NBA team has never seen before.
“I'm going to work my butt off,” the former Indiana Hoosier told ESPN moments after becoming the No. 2 player selected in the June 27 draft by the Orlando Magic. “I'm going to bring a work ethic there they've probably never seen before.”
“Because I want it so bad.”
About 10 minutes later, Oladipo's IU teammate, Cody Zeller, was selected with the No. 4 pick by the Charlotte Bobcats. That represented the best draft showing in Hoosier program history. The previous best came in 1976, when Scott May was No. 1 (to Chicago) and Quinn Buckner was No. 7 (to Milwaukee).
Oladipo also was IU's highest pick since Isiah Thomas went No. 2 to Detroit in 1981.
“It says a lot about our coaching staff,” Zeller told ESPN. “It says a lot about all the hard work we've put in. Indiana will be good for a long time.”
Oladipo went from a guy nobody figured was draft material at the start of his junior season to a player considered perhaps the most NBA-ready player in the draft.
The 6-foot-4 guard set career highs in scoring (13.6 points), rebounding (6.3) and shooting (59.9 percent). He was first-team All-America and the Big Ten's defensive player of the year.
“Victor Oladipo had as big an improvement as I've ever seen as a college player from one year to the next,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said.
That improvement was the result of Oladipo's drive and determination, as well as the work culture pushed by IU coach Tom Crean and his staff.
“Coach Crean has done so much for me,” Oladipo told ESPN. “Without him, I wouldn't be in this position.”
Eifert cracks top 25 in NFL Draft
Tyler Eifert's draft day lasted longer than some had predicted, but the payoff was well worth the wait.
The Cincinnati Bengals picked Eifert with the No. 21 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, sending him to a playoff contender in his rookie season.
Eifert, the former Bishop Dwenger High School and University of Notre Dame record-setting tight end, celebrated the event with his family and friends at his parents' home in Fort Wayne.
His father, especially, embraced the moment.
“I love Cincinnati,” Greg Eifert said. “I love the Bengals. I love their coach. I think it's a great fit for Ty, I really do. To be that close to home where people can see him play – we're really excited for him.”
Tyler Eifert was excited, too, perhaps more so than any time in his life.
He has been anxious for days, trying to guess where he would go in the draft. Some drafts had him as high has No. 6 or as low as No. 31.
“It was a little tough because you want to go as early as possible, but you want to be in a good situation,” Tyler said. “You have to balance the two.”
Eifert turned down a chance to go to New York City for the draft. “That's not him,” his mother, Julie, said.
“There have been a lot of people who have been instrumental in getting me where I'm at,” Tyler said. “I couldn't do it without a lot of people, and I was happy I could share it with them.”
Through the first 14 games of his rookie season, Eifert had 38 receptions for 439 and two touchdowns.
Spurs draft former Luers star
After an illustrious basketball career in the Midwest since his pre-teen days, Fort Wayne native Deshaun Thomas is starting his pro basketball career in the obscurity of France.
The Bishop Luers High School and Ohio State University standout was drafted No. 58 in the second round of the NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs, but uncertainty about making the Spurs roster led him to pursue other options. Thomas played well for the Spurs' summer league team this summer, averaging 12.4 points and five rebounds per game. However, San Antonio's roster spots are at a premium. Thomas had to choose between Estudiantes of Spain and JSF Nanterre of France.
“In this business, you have to think about family,” Thomas told the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. “I still could have gone to (training camp) and tried to make the roster, but with my son and a family to provide for, I had to look at that. And developing a year ain't going to hurt.
“It was kind of tough, because I wanted to make the roster. But if training camp didn't go well, I'd be in the (NBA Development) League, and that (pays) like a part-time job.”
He is averaging nearly 13 points per game and shooting 39.1 percent from three-point range through 11 games this season.
Smith makes impact at Notre Dame
Jaylon Smith is unusual in many ways. Sure, most football fans watched the Notre Dame freshman linebacker this season and saw how he stood out among his peers on the field. But those in the Fighting Irish program can tell you how the former Bishop Luers High School standout is a rare breed off the field.
“When (Jaylon) came in during the summer,” Notre Dame fifth-year middle linebacker Dan Fox said, “he was asking me if I wanted to watch some film. So we get in the film room and he's saying some things that took me a little while to pick up on and he knew it right away. So I was impressed with his knowledge of the game.”
He wasn't the only person who noticed Smith's football intellect.
“Jaylon is a very smart player,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “He plays instinctively. The one thing that Jaylon has done as well as a lot of freshmen that I've been around is that he doesn't make the same mistake twice. That is a hallmark of a guy that is going to play a lot of football for us.”
It takes much more than pure athleticism to get on the field from day one for the Irish (8-4), though Smith certainly brings that to the table. But if running fast and hitting hard were the lone prerequisites, then Notre Dame would start 72 players each Saturday.
It takes intelligence, passion, discipline, motivation and much more – coupled with athleticism – to do what Smith did, which was become the first true freshman to start at outside linebacker for the Irish in the season opener in 18 seasons (Kory Minor was the last to do so in 1995).
He was elevated to the top spot in the rotation after senior Danny Spond was forced to retire from football because of medical issues, and Smith beat out sophomore Ben Councell in training camp. But reaching this point was far from easy for Smith according to his coach.
“He had to work for this,” Kelly said. “It was Danny Spond, it was Ben Councell and it was Jaylon Smith (at the position). It didn't start the other way around. He was No. 3 on the depth chart when they ran out there.”
Smith rewarded his coaches for their belief in him. He played in all 12 regular-season games and finished third on the team in tackles with 61 (38 solo).
Smith also totaled 6 1/2 tackles for a loss, picked off one pass, notched three pass break-ups and four deflections, had a quarterback hurry and recovered a fumble against Air Force.