Three Thoughts about Fenerbahce from the Final Four

Some thoughts about Fenerbahce and their Euroleague title run…

Euroleague Jam

So, it’s official: Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul are the champions of Europe after their physical 80-64 victory over Greek power Olympiacos Piraeus. They are the first club from Turkey to win the Euroleague title in championship history, and this championship may have officially solidified Turkey as one of the top powers in European basketball circles (honestly, this has been the case for about a decade now, but Turkish basketball always seems to get overlooked by most general basketball fans and media). For Fenerbahce fans, this title a big deal, and I can’t help but feel happy for them, as they not only witness a Turkish club win the title on their home turf in Istanbul (always a good thing to win a championship in front of the home fans), but also exorcised some demons from last year’s debilitating championship game loss to CSKA Moscow in Berlin.

Anyways, as typical after any big moment…

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Ranking the field of the upcoming Euroleague Final Four

Some thoughts about the upcoming Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul…

Euroleague Jam

It’s been awhile since I have been able to post here on this blog, and I am rewatching the Euroleague playoffs this week to get myself reaquainted with the Euroleague (NBA Playoff season doesn’t help) as well as re-psyched up for the upcoming Euroleague Final Four. It could be the long layoff. It could be summer is approaching. Apologies for the long periods without posts or Tweets. Those who follow this blog should be used to it by now.

Anyways, we are almost a week away from the start of the Euroleague Final Four, one of the most underrated events in professional sports. Unlike the NBA, it’s single elimination, no best of five or sevens here. Win two games, and your team is the champion of Europe. Simple as that; no second chances until next year. For basketball fans who get numb to the postseason until the NBA Finals in June…

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An outsider’s recap of session one of the Big 12 Championship

Some thoughts about one of the biggest (non-barbecue) events in Kansas City. (Also my first one).

Junk Defense

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I am not going to pretend by any means I am an expert on Big 12 hoops. Growing up in the West Coast, it was primarily a diet of Pac-12 (then Pac-10) and WCC basketball, and if I got up early enough in the mornings, it would be Big East or Atlantic 10 basketball on ESPN (oh the Marcus Camby UMass, Ray Allen UConn, Allen Iverson Georgetown, and Kerry Kittles Villanova days). The Big 12 (or Big 8 in its prior existence)? Eh…I haven’t really cared or paid all that much attention to it. Kansas? I would have rather seen them upset in the tourney than win a national title (wasn’t the biggest Roy Williams guy). Texas? They were cool when they had Kevin Durant…I guess (I did see him play against a Nick Young-led USC team my sophomore year in college when the NCAA Tournament held…

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The Glorious All-Offense, Little-Defense Approach of Marquette

Some thoughts on Marquette, Wojo and their 3-pt heavy, high-risk defensive approach.

Junk Defense

Marquette Men's Basketball

At 19-11 and 10-8 in the Big East, there is no guarantee Marquette will be dancing come Selection Sunday. While they do carry big wins over Villanova, season sweeps of Big East foes Xavier and Creighton, and “better-than-you-think” non-conference wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia early in the season, there are some blemishes on their resume. Losses to Georgetown and St. John’s would have been okay maybe a decade ago, but considering how far those programs have fallen, they have become more of a liability to their tournament chances than a liability. Add that with shaky RPI (59) and SOS (68) numbers, and it makes sense why many Marquette fans and alums may be sweating a bit next Sunday, unless they make a deep run in the Big East tournament this upcoming week (an appearance in the championship game “should” seal it; a win would definitely do so).

However, the Golden…

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So where do I go from here?

That’s your right as an American…

-My Father’s response to an email from my sister who was freaking out after Trump won.

 

On the morning of November 8th, I expected the following things:

  • A resounding Hillary Clinton victory.
  • The chance of a Democratic majority in Senate.
  • The fact that I would missing morning mass at work.
  • Long lines at the voting polls.
  • The shutting up of every Tea Party extremist and racist, misogynist and bigoted Trump voter (note that I didn’t say Republican; more on that later).
  • Popping champagne past midnight when they announced that Hillary was the projected winner on CNN and taking shots if Jason Kander actually pulled off the upset over Roy Blunt for Senate. (My friends and I actually had the champagne and liquor ready.)

But low and behold, here is how it actually turned out.

  • Hillary lost, including three key battleground states that cost her the election (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania which had been solidly blue the last few elections).
  • The Republicans won both the Senate and House majority.
  • There was no morning mass apparently, so I missed nothing.
  • After early reports of long lines in Kansas City (including my own), the lines seemed to die off by mid-morning. A lot of polling centers in the afternoon and mid-day looked deserted in the urban areas of Kansas City from videos I saw on my friend’s Snapchat.
  • The Tea Party won…so you know how they’re handling it (let’s just say not modestly).
  • No champagne. No shots. Hillary and Kander both lost. Just depression and Black and Milds.

 

In the words of my sister, who called me twice on election night to share her displeasure and anger (all while drunk of course), “what…the…fuck.”

Never in my wildest dreams did I think Donald Trump would pull this off. Yes, he won the Republican primary. But I credited that less to him, and more to the hordes of shitty candidates they trotted out there (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz…that’s it I got to stop). If there was another Mitt Romney or John McCain or anybody legitimate, Trump would have not stood a chance. He would have been a celebrity “flash in the pan”, much like his short-lived candidacy for the Reform party presidential slot back in 2000.

Oh how I was wrong.

The signs were there. Bernie Sanders challenged her so hard in the Democratic Primary, and perhaps should have won. But the DNC had promised this thing to Hillary after she lost to Barack in 2008. It was her turn, and they weren’t going to let a Jewish senator out of the tiny state of Vermont fuck with that plan. And so we heard the rumors and read the WikiLeaks and witnessed the protests and the head scratching results during the primaries and caucuses. Most young and liberal Democrats felt Bernie had a better shot at beating Trump than Hillary did. I remember arguing about that in hookah lounges and bars on frequent occasion during those summer primary months.

And yet, Hillary was chosen to be the Democratic nominee. She was the nation’s best bet to prevent the xenophobia, and crazy policies of a potential Trump presidency. Yes, she was flawed. Yes, she had scandal with her e-mails. Yes, she and the Clinton Foundation represented the worst of a “corporate interests” affecting our Federal Government. Yes, she sucked with public speeches. Yes, she was so coached as a candidate that everything felt rather inauthentic at times from her.

But she was our nation’s best shot. And she was a woman. The first female president. That would be enough. Her experience would be enough. Her debate performance would be enough. Her name would be enough.

Oh how Democrats were wrong.

The morning of November 9th proved it.


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I grew up in a primarily Republican-voting family. My grandparents supported Ronald Reagan’s campaign not only for President in 1980, but also when he ran for governor of California in the 60’s. My great aunt on my dad’s side was so conservative and Republican that she voted for Richard Nixon in the presidential election over John F. Kennedy, even though he would eventually be the first Irish-American and Catholic president, traits she (and I) shared as well. My father voted for George W. Bush twice, and Mitt Romney in 2012 (though he did vote for Barack Obama in 2008). My mother has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000, and actually registered as a Republican in 2000. And in the 2000 election, at my school, I represented George W. Bush in a mock debate to my middle school student body. (I had the vouchers and gun lock issues on point.)

Yes, my background was probably characteristic of any member of a Young or College Republican club.

But since graduating college, I have grown to adopt more liberal and Democrat stances. My experience in the Jesuit order of priests as a novice molded that. Working with migrant workers in East LA confirmed that we needed to change our immigration system in America. Working in the hospitals in South Central LA proved that “privately funded” health care wasn’t the answer, especially when people weren’t getting the care they desperately needed. Working in the juvenile hall in Sylmar, and at the Restorative Justice Initiative in downtown LA demonstrated to me that not only our prison system, but the way we treated African American and Hispanics in the justice system was extremely flawed. My job as a teacher’s aide on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation inspired my career path (teaching) and where I needed to be (in communities where there was high need, like the people of the Lakota tribe I taught for nearly three years). If my Jesuit schooling in high school and college nudged me more toward the left (as I have heard from people on frequent occasions who also are Jesuit education alums), my experience with the Jesuit priests and novices helped me jump without fear or doubt.

Since 2011, I have grown more and more blue on the political spectrum. And that hasn’t been easy, especially considering my business and personal background. I studied economics in college (and journalism as well ironically). I am a big fan of limited regulation in a lot of cases, and was even more so when I was in college (I definitely leaned more toward the Milton Friedman school of Economics). I believe in globalization, free markets and competition, and getting rid of bailouts of big corporations who can’t get their shit together. I believe in limited taxes, especially when those tax dollars end up being abused or under-utilized. And I am a practicing Roman Catholic, a party whose congregation to the most part has gone from more blue to more red over the past decade due to the pro-choice/pro-life argument.

Those aren’t things people think of when they think of democrats, and yet those are some of my core economic beliefs (though in varying shades and modifications; I could write more but I don’t want this to be a fucking college thesis). So why do I identify as a Democrat rather than a Republican? Why did I vote for every Democratic candidate on the Missouri ballot this past Tuesday? Why am I campaigning for Democratic candidates and donating money to them as well and putting their bumper stickers on my car? My economic and religious background scream GOP.

It’s difficult to say. Perhaps because it’s the social issues that fuel my passion into politics, not economic ones. I don’t need to worry about jobs because I am a teacher: I punted the idea of a great retirement package and making six figures long ago. I don’t care about the global market beyond the economics class I teach to high school upperclassmen. Instead, I care about young people who fear their family members getting deported (including some I teach now or have taught in the past). I care about young people in the city not getting the same educational opportunities as those outside of it. I care about too many prisons being filled by people who shouldn’t be there, either literally or figuratively. If my political makeup is a sliding scale between social and economic, the social side will always weigh more than the economic side considerably, and as of now, that advantage is clearly blue.

As long as the Democrats stand for those listed social ideals, the ideals for social justice and protecting the rights of those who need protection and not just throwing them out to the dogs in a laissez faire fashion, I will continue to consider myself a Democrat, irregardless of the economic policies or pro-life announcements from the Catholic Archbishops that come my way.


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But Democrats lost.

We lost the house. We lost the senate. And we lost the Presidency…to him.

What do I do?

The easy solution would be to run. Go to a different country. Immigrate to Canada or some foreign country. I’m young. I’m a teacher. I have a master’s degree. I could teach abroad for four or more years and perhaps enter the country again if Trump is out of office by 2020.

But that’s a coward’s way out. I love my country, and I love where I live, Kansas City and the people within it. I am not moving because of the threat of one man.

Another solution would be to give up. Either accept a Trump presidency because he’s our president and we have no choice. I could give up on the issues I care about and see how I could mold my views to the Republican party for the sake of unity in the nation, and perhaps helping the party be seen in a more positive light.

But that would be another coward’s way out. I am not going to throw out everything I have grown to care and be passionate about due to “fitting in.”

Another solution would just be an anarchist and/or revolutionary. Quit my job and protest. Get arrested. Protest Trump at every turn.

But I have a life, a career I care about (students). And yelling only does so much. Protesting only does so much. Action, concrete, constructive, real society-forming action is what makes a difference, not just a sign or a blow horn. After all, what matters in change are “deeds, not words.”

So what’s the right solution?

I don’t know. I know it’s not the three above.

And honestly, I don’t know if I will uncover that right solution in a year, two years or by the end of the Trump presidency whether that is four more years or eight.

Because one “fix-all” solutions don’t exist. The problems I am facing as an American citizen and adopted Kansas City denizen are layers deep, like a Redwood Tree. The future is too murky; the solutions too disheartening; the people too unpredictable; and the world too evolving for one choice, no matter how bold or noble, to change things, be it myself or the community I live in.

But what can I do? I don’t want to live in a world where I have to accept some of the injustices I might see under this Trump presidency/Republican coup. I have to do something.

Well…

I could keep teaching. Keep promoting to students their importance and role in changing America and Kansas City, especially my students of color, which make up over 70 percent of the students at my school.

I could keep getting involved. Keep going to events and meeting people and organizations where constructive dialogue is encouraged to form plans and programs that bring more equality and opportunities for all in our country and in Kansas City.

I could keep reading. Reading not just the Buzzfeed bits or shit I see on fivethirtyeight.com, but articles and studies written and conducted by people who really want to make a difference or who have done so in various ways through different approaches in educational or civic matters.

I could keep living life. My life. Not the life Republicans tell me to live, and not exactly the life Democrats tell me to live either.

Because we are people. Not Donkeys or Elephants.

I thought November 9th, a day ago when Donald Trump was elected president that this was the end of the world. I thought I would be depressed and give up on life. I thought that racism and sexism and prejudice won.

But I am motivated to do more. I am motivated to stay in teaching, which wasn’t exactly the case less than a month ago. I am motivated to be even more involved in my community, Jackson County, Wyandotte County and Kansas City in general more than ever, looking to advocate and aid in whatever area I can, in whatever aspect that would be a good fit for both me and whom I’m helping.

There is hope. Not just for me. But for Hillary voters. For Democrat voters.

We can and will be better. And the journey will be worth it, because people will say it won’t matter or will be a waste of time and effort. Trump won November 9th, remember? He got 279 electoral votes and counting.

That doesn’t mean he can decide how I can help people or tell me what issues I need to believe in.

Trump won an election. He won paper votes.

Winning over a person’s ideals takes a lot more than showing them the results of an election.

What am I thinking today, November 10th?

Optimism. Drive. Hope. The future. Our people. Kansas City. Social justice. Immigration reform. Health care reform. Optimism. Real change, not fear-mongering or vitriol. Catholic AND Muslim unity. The long, peaceful, arduous road. One day at a time.

All this DESPITE Trump and Trump surrogates and supporters pointing fingers, laughing and telling me “You lost!”

Damn. I wonder if I would have felt this way if Hillary won…

Am I Becoming Jaded with the NBA?

There’s nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that’s a fact.

For the first time in nearly three years, I didn’t renew my NBA League Pass.

It wasn’t an easy decision to do.

I got the automatic re-payment this September on my credit card. Almost 200 dollars. Usually, I would be okay, almost excited with the payment. The start of the NBA season has been traditionally one of the more upbeat parts of the year for me: late October, Fall still in bloom, baseball winding down, and the promise of NBA games every night on my laptop thanks to NBA League Pass. Hell, this year I even had a TV with Bluetooth capability. If there was any year to enjoy the 2016-2017 NBA season, this was it.

But I couldn’t be okay with the 200 bucks this time around. Something in me just couldn’t pull the trigger. I put in my cancellation notice, got my refund and just like that my NBA League Pass was gone.

How could this happen? How could someone like me, who loves professional basketball (both NBA and Euroleague) as much as me not subscribe to one of the greatest online services in the history of the internet? How could I pass on Grant Napear Sacramento Kings broadcasts and random Charlotte Hornets-Milwaukee Bucks February contests on a weekday night? What would it be like not falling asleep to West Coast games that wouldn’t start until 9-10 p.m. in Kansas City?

The short answer: perhaps I have become a little jaded with the NBA after this off-season.

Now let me get into the long answer.

This NBA off-season broke me. I was excited for the increase in salary cap, hoping that either middle-level teams would be able to make that key off-season acquisition that would put them over the top, or teams would be able to keep their star-cores intact and build on a run to challenge the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers, who had faced off against each-other in back-to-back finals.

And then Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors.


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This move brought up a bunch of mixed feelings. As stated on this blog before, I did not grow up a Kings fan. I grew up masochistically rooting for the Warriors.

Run TMC. Joe Smith. Chris Mills. Bob Sura. Adonal Foyle. Erick Dampier. Gilbert Arenas. J-Rich. Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy as “thunder and lightning”. Andris Biedrins. Don Nelson leading the helm. Monta Ellis. “We Believe.” The weird superhero mascot. The orange jerseys. Mikki Moore playing way more than he should. Eric Musselman getting one crazy good year and shitting the bed  the next. Dave Cowens looking frazzled every night. Keith Smart acting as head coach while Nelson nearly fell asleep in his plush chair. Former owner Chris Cohen screwing the team over every chance he got.

Hell. I loved the Warriors. But then the team changed. It started with the change in ownership and then the uniforms. Then Mark Jackson and his uber-conservative social comments. And then people started to jump on the bandwagon. And then they made the playoffs and started winning consistently. Steph Curry won back-to-back MVPs. Draymond Green became a ball-punching and small-ball 5 savant. They launched a ton of 3’s and pushed the pace under Steve Kerr. Bandwagon fans not only came on in droves, but became more insufferable each and every game.

I have always had a soft spot for the Warriors. My mother still considers herself a devout fan, following every game possible on TV or radio even though my parents still live in Sacramento and get mostly Kings broadcasts on CSN California (I tried giving her my League Pass password, but she is terrible with technology and gave up after she couldn’t figure out what app to download). I cheered for them hard throughout the past two seasons, even though I had turned to the Kings, changing my allegiance from the Blue and Gold to the Purple and Black (or white…or gray…whatever the hell their color scheme is nowadays). The last NBA Finals was crushing. I remember all the elation I felt after they made that 3-1 comeback against the OKC Thunder only to see those feelings sink to low depths I didn’t think possible after they lost Game 7 at home to LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin Love (unlike most, I am  not a big fan of Love; it mostly stems from following him in his high school days while I was a sophomore at Gonzaga where he was treated as the Pope of the State of Oregon during his high school years, only to result in him and his pompous father dumping on the Ducks in the recruiting process and going to UCLA…screw the Love’s). I couldn’t even talk about the Finals for weeks. The loss felt like a girlfriend I was about to ask to marry suddenly dumping me the day after I bought an engagement ring.

Yes, I didn’t consider myself a Warriors fans technically. But that Finals hurt.It hurt fucking bad because of my prior history cheering on the Warriors during their lowest of lows, only to see what should be one of their crowning moments in NBA history (setting the regular season win record and get a second-straight championship) get absolutely stomped on.

God I hate Cleveland. I hope the Cubs obliterate the Indians.

But my feeling should have faded eventually over the summer. There would be next season. Their core would come back stronger and motivated, and though I still would primarily cheer for the train wreck that was the Sacramento Kings, the Warriors would still garner my interest and my secondary League Pass watching (it was common for me to have a split screen when the Kings and Warriors played at the same time; god I loved that).

And then the Warriors pompous owner, who was busy talking to the media about how he and his organization “changed basketball” (he didn’t; people were taking three’s and running and gunning way before him; check Paul Westhead and Nelson), stepped in. He got rid of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa and Marreese “God he’s so weird looking and he can’t rebound for a big man, but I love him as a heat check dude” Speights.

And the Warriors somehow signed Kevin Durant.

Yeah I should have been happy for the Warriors. But I wasn’t.

The bandwagon won out. It was like how the Tea Party won with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. The “old” Warriors were gone. The Warriors had now evolved into the Lakers and Heat in terms of they could get whoever they wanted now. The days of Arenas not wanting to sign in Golden State because they didn’t have money and he didn’t think they could win were a thing of the past. They no longer were the charming, plucky, underdogs represented by Curry and Klay Thompson and Green, guys who got passed over in the draft in favor of “sexier” prospects in the draft (sexy being Jonny Flynn).

The Warriors were able to acquire and pay for a former MVP, one of the Top 5 players in the league.

I can’t back a Warriors team like that. That’s not why I cheered for them, fell in love with them in the first place.

I can’t bare to watch a team with Durant in a Warriors uniform. It feels dirty, sacrilegious and traitorous to everything I invested in and experienced as a Warriors fan from 1997-2013.

Cheering the current version of the Warriors, who are now the new “Boston Three Party”, the “Decision” Heat and “Dwight-Nash-Kobe” Lakers (oh wait… they sucked…never mind) just feels like voting for Trump this November. And if I lost my second-favorite current NBA team, the team that made me get made fun of at Hunter’s Barbershop in Roseville throughout my high school years, then what’s the point of keeping my League Pass?

But losing one team isn’t that big a deal, right? I still got Boogie and the Kings. And they got the new arena. I’m sure those alone would be worth the annual 200 dollar fee.

Well…not exactly.


NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Sacramento Kings

I have pretty much cheered for the Kings since they changed ownership from the Maloofs to Vivek Ranadive. For starters, the Kings fans’ fight to keep the Kings from being pried by Chris Hansen and his Seattle group inspired me. It made me proud to be from Sacramento, which isn’t easy to do considering are just above Fresno and Bakersfield in terms of California city popularity. Sacramento doesn’t have much beyond the Kings and the Capital. So for Sacramento to fight the NBA and keep their team from being another Seattle or Vancouver was refreshing to see.

For a while, I loved what Ranadive aimed to do when he took over. He wanted to make the Kings a thinking-tank when it came to innovating the team on and off the court. He hired Pete D’Alessandro, a more business-type who seemed to be more concerned with manipulating the salary cap in creative ways than buying Raising Cane’s and playing pea-knuckle with free agents. Petey D did all kinds of cool, out-of-the-box thinking when it came to roster compilation and the draft (the Kings Grantland short documentary on them crowd-sourcing for the draft really solidified my allegiance to the Kings franchise). And him and Vivek seemed prime to be different. For a small-market team like the Kings, it was what they needed to do. The way I saw it, the Kings were on their way to becoming the Bill Beane “Moneyball” Oakland A’s of the NBA.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon didn’t last long with Kings fans. The city of Sacramento, unable to be satisfied after shit fell apart once Rick Adelman left town, grew impatient and quickly frustrated with the Kings’ “process.”

First, he fired Mike Malone, which in retrospect was a poor choice. Yes, maybe Malone didn’t want to play the breakneck pace that Vivek wanted, but Malone was a good coach. He has proven that in Denver, making the Nuggets the “Denver Internationals” with a fun, balanced-style that features all kinds of entertaining foreign players such as Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic and Danilo Gallinari. It would have been interesting if Malone was still the coach in Sacramento. I guarantee you they probably would have been in the playoff hunt longer last season.

But Malone really was the tip of the iceberg. Cousins failed to get along with coaches post-Malone, through a combination of his and the coaches’ fault. Vivek, unable to let go of his micro-managing ways and harboring the desire to compete with Joe Lacob and Robert Pera of the Grizzlies for title of “most obnoxious” owner, continued to meddle to the Kings’ detriment. He hired and fired or (didn’t fire sooner, as was the case with George Karl) coaches without reason. He brought in guys in the organization who were unprepared to work in a NBA front office (sorry Vlade). He let his biases negatively affect the Kings when it came to player acquisition, putting them back development wise year after year. (Stauskas!) Vivek basically represented all the negative collateral damage of the “new  brand” of NBA owner who had arrived in the league post 2010: meddlesome, wanting to be in the spotlight more than necessary.

And in that process, with the combination of Vivek’s inability to balance ego and appeasing fans, the Kings started to fade from the neat little “Moneyball” franchise to the typical, shitty, in no-man’s land NBA team. Petey D left. After setting scoring records in the D-League the past two years thanks to head coach David Arsenault Jr’s experimental system from Grinnell College, the Big Horns let go of Arsenault this off-season and seem to be content to revert to traditional, not to mention joyless, minor-league basketball. Speaking of up-tempo, Karl and his push-the-pace preference (the Kings led the league in pace last year) were kicked out of town for a more typical, grind-it-out style under new coach Dave Joerger. And that’s no offense to Joerger. He’s an excellent coach and I think he has the chance to do good things in Sacramento. It’s just that…he’s a typical NBA coach who will play a typical NBA style…and that’s disappointing considering I thought the Kings were going to be more than that with Vivek took over in 2013.

I know that’s weird to be disappointed about. But in all honesty, I loved the Kings last year. Yes, the chemistry was awful. Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay needed to go. Cousins needed a new coach with less baggage. But holy fuck. The way they played. The way they scored (and gave up) points proved to be fun to watch night after night. For all the lackluster matador defense of Rondo and Cousins, you had Omri Casspi catching fire from beyond the arc and Quincy Acy going beast mode on the boards. The Kings weren’t good. They weren’t a playoff team. But they looked to be developing something special. Just a tweak from a coach who advocated that similar style, and perhaps they could be the Warriors-lite, with worse defense, but still as effective when it comes to getting buckets.

However, that seems to be gone. The Kings have resorted to aging and retread vets like Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson to build around Cousins. It sucks. This team reeks of a Brooklyn Nets team during the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett years. It feels boring. It feels unlikable. (seriously, how can anyone like Barnes?) And it still feels like it’s going to suck. At least the last couple of years, the Kings were fun as they sucked.

So why pay to watch that? Why pay to watch Barnes bitch at other players in his typical “Respect me! I’m Matt Barnes! I don’t care if my wife left me for Derek Fisher!” way? Why watch a Kings team that feels like the late 2000’s/early 2010’s ones that appeared to be “dead men walking” when it came to staying in Sacramento?

200 bucks isn’t worth that. And that’s hard because I love Boogie. I love what he did this summer with the Olympic team. I still want to see him as a King for life.

Yet the rest of the Kings roster, organization and future? I just can’t back that.


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I pretty much ordered League Pass to indulge in not only my passion for the NBA, but my two favorite teams: the Warriors and Kings. And do so from afar here in Kansas City, where there is no NBA team within driving distance. For a couple of years, I was able to happily enjoy those two franchises, albeit in different ways. However, this summer and off-season has just been miserable for me. I don’t feel optimistic about the future of either team, and in that pessimism, I have grown distant from not just the Warriors and Kings, but the NBA.

My twitter, which is pretty much a NBA news source, remains relatively unchecked and unused for days at a time, sometimes weeks.

I rarely listen to my NBA Ringer or Lowe Post podcasts. They were required listening for me on my daily commute to work not just during the season, but all year long.

I felt more unprepared and apathetic for my NBA Fantasy draft in comparison to years past. I am depending on Mirza Teletovic and Doug McDermott for threes.

In one summer, thanks to my two favorite teams’ off-seasons, I have not just grown more apathetic to the NBA, but perhaps cynical and jaded. I don’t believe I will be able to enjoy this year as much as I have the previous years post-2009, when I graduated from Gonzaga and switched from primarily following college basketball to the NBA.

NBA League Pass was the greatest thing to happen for me leisurely the past few years and now I will be without it. And I don’t feel bad or sad or frustrated or anything. I am just in “meh” mode, fuckified from a NBA off-season from hell for me personally and spiritually as a NBA fan.

Who knows though.

Maybe my jadedness will fade and I will rekindle my passion for drinking Miller High Life and watching multiple NBA games during the week by December.

League Pass goes down by fifty bucks around Christmas time.

Residency at Park Central

Although I grew up in London, I spent summers in Missouri, where my dad lived. It’s quite a liberal town, Kansas City. You’d be surprised…

I’m getting to about four years of living here in Kansas City. This will be my second year living in Midtown, at the Park Central apartments off of Armour and Broadway. Four years sounds like a lot of time to me in Kansas City, especially considering I lived in the Northwest and California most of my life, and nearly moved from Kansas City twice in this time span.

I chose to live in Park Central primarily due to its location. After graduating from Rockhurst in 2015 in May, I had decided to stay in Kansas City rather than move back for a teaching job in Pine Ridge, South Dakota (on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at an old school I used to work). However, I was living up in the Northland, Gladstone to be specific, with an older divorced co-worker, and I didn’t necessarily enjoy living in a Suburban area as a single guy. After all, at the time I was in my late 20’s, finished with school, and looking to have more of a social and urban experience after living on the outskirts in my first couple of years (first in Kansas City, Kansas and then in the Northland).

My two options were Park Central and the Bellerive off of Armour Blvd. They were both former major hotels in the Kansas City area that had been revitalized into apartments thanks to the gentrification going on in the Midtown area of Kansas City over the past decade. Though the Bellerive had nice amenities, I chose to live in Park Central, as it was nearly 100 dollars cheaper and literally the same distance from my job (about a 10 minute walk from the school I taught at).

I no longer work at the same school, but I still live in Park Central (even though my new school is in Kansas City, Kansas). Over the past couple of years, living in Park Central has helped me swoon for and grow more and more fascinated with Kansas City, from the people to the bars to the neighborhoods to the history that has deeper peaks and valleys than I ever thought possible when I moved here from southwestern South Dakota nearly four years ago.

For me, Kansas City and Park Central go hand-in-hand, spiritually connected at the hip.


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Park Central is located right outside of Hyde and Gillham Park. The Hyde Park area is something of an old-money neighborhood, classic in the old sense, with houses designed in a way that resemble ones straight out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Hyde Park, originally one of the first golf courses of Kansas City, is a product of the Tom Pendergast era: its beautifully maintained houses consist of generational residents who lean primarily on the liberal and democratic side, hailing from old European-American ancestry, with their children avoiding the public school system (a reason for the beautiful old Westport High and Middle Schools buildings being currently closed today) for nearby private institutions like Notre Dame de Sion, Pembroke Hill, St. Theresa Academy and Rockhurst (high school, not university).

Mixed in with these old homeowners are newer renting residents: hipster families who have bought cheap housing close to Troost, and recently out-of-college or still-in-school young adults who rent out of the many different apartments mostly owned by Mac Properties, and other smaller property management firms. Park Central is located in this area, and thus, I fall into one of these categories, though only marginally (I am recently out of graduate school, not undergraduate like most).

Park Central is an eclectic mix of residents. Yes, there are young grad students and young professionals, as expected. That being said, the eight floors of the apartment complex also consist of older retirees, most likely widows, who are living out their remaining years in the heart of the city, in much smaller accommodations. Being a pet-free environment, nearly everyone has a dog, and it’s common to see people go in and out of the elevator with their dogs in leashes, ready to take morning and evening walks with their pets before and after work, respectively. There are a surprising amount of young couples who live together in the apartments, some from the Kansas City area, some from abroad, including India and Palestine and China, just to name a few, as well as same-sex couples who are within close distance to many of the gay bars down Broadway and Main.

All in all, Park Central is the quintessential urban apartment, no different in many ways than an apartment you would perhaps find in Brooklyn, San Francisco or Boston (albeit much, much cheaper).

But there is more to Park Central than it just being the modern apartment. It’s more than the kind of complex that one would see on sitcoms such as Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, and Master of None. Park Central is also a microcosm of Kansas City, a capsule that has undergone an exterior, and perhaps spiritual, change to help newer potential residents to forget or be unaware of the history of the building as well as the area.

One of the most famous stories of Park Central is the fact that in 1934, mob boss Johnny Lazia was gunned down at the then hotel by rival gangster associates. The fact that a mob boss like Lazia stayed in the Park Central makes sense, as it is central to most establishments in Kansas City, and was in close proximity to Downtown and the Jazz District back then (and even to this day). For some, the history is neat tidbit that displays the history of Kansas City: as a free-wheeling Las Vegas of the Midwest in 1920’s-1940’s.

Kansas City used to be something one would likely see in a Martin Scorsese film or James Ellroy novel: jazz, gangster, gambling, call girls, murder, political corruption, you name it. During the prohibition, alcohol laws were not only ignored, but almost mocked, thanks to Pendergast and his Jackson Democratic Club political machine, as well as the Italian Mafia that ran things in the Northeast. Even up to the 1970’s, Kansas City was the midway point of criminal activity, connecting the East Coast to lucrative laundering deals going on in the West Coast in Las Vegas, as profiled in the movie Casino.

It made sense that Kansas City had this reputation because of it being a center of the railroad system across the country, which aren’t as active today, but it’s remnants still ever present. Kansas City never had the population or glitz of a New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, but you could argue that Kansas City was every bit as fascinating as those cities, and deserved as much, perhaps even more profiles than those other three bigger “noir” meccas. There was no Elliot Ness-Al Capone or William Parker-Mickey Cohen rivalry. The criminals pretty much ran the town (thanks to Pendergast), and that’s what made Kansas City a magnet for seediness that went uncovered for decades. Nobody wants to cover the bad guys if there are no good guys to defeat them, and unlike a Chicago or LA, Kansas City never got that “White Knight” that came in and cleaned up Kansas City for good.

The clean up just came with years of convictions of criminals in court and strong municipal policies.

In other words, boring. Kansas City deserved so much better.


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So what does this have to do with me? How does this affect my own experience with Kansas City?

Well, I live in Midtown because it is close to everything. It is close to the characters. It is close to the nightlife. It is right on the border of that Troost wall where the injustice of rich and poor, and black and white segregation still exists today as it did decades ago. It is in a blue part of the Midwest that is normally as deep red as old, caked blood.

For somebody that has craved the city experience for so long, since my teenage years, I can’t imagine going anywhere else. Where I am is perfect. I am inspired by new stories every day, whether it’s from the past or present. Whether it’s the stories of elections being fixed by the Pendergast machine, near riots outside of the Donald Trump rally outside of the Midland Theater, or the sight of soaring-high vagrants punching air on the streets of Broadway past midnight right outside of Westport. As somebody who is trying to make his way as a writer, trying to find the right stories to journal, Park Central is the perfect holding spot personally, a DMZ of sorts of the Kansas City urban experience.

This living experience has come with its share of problems of course. Maintaining or finding relationships has been difficult. I have had countless dates that have constantly gone south due to my inability to part with my current home and the stories that flutter around it. I dated a girl for four months, and we struggled to go deeper in the relationship due to her desire to be more settled. She wanted to be out in Leawood or South Kansas City or somewhere perhaps more rural. I told her that I continued to want the city. I wanted to help people in the city. I wanted to help make the city better and deep down, though I never told her, I wanted to be able to write stories about the city that don’t get told or profiled in the KC Star or evening news. She wanted that “White Picket Fence Midwest” experience. I wanted the Jazz Era one. She couldn’t fathom that I was content with living in a studio apartment and sleeping on a futon.

And the same story has been true with various other dates. One girl couldn’t understand my democratic leanings. I struggled recently with another who had kids who wanted to live the rest of her life in Kansas City Kansas around her family and the friends she grew up with for decades. It seems like young adults in the Midwest generally want the same thing: marriage, kids, stability and all rather early in life. I have struggled with those concepts, because even though I want it or think I want that kind of life (my parents certainly want me to), I fall back into my Park Central apartment, sink into its presence, and realize that though I am 29 and single and without any romantic or prospects of long-term stability on the horizon, I am happy or at the very least content with it all. And I think I’m content because I still have the city. The stories. The people. The night. The parks. The runs through Gilham and Hyde Park where I think about what to write on next. The hookah lounges where I smoke and socialize and sometimes write. The coffee places where I can just stare out on the streets for hours. The bars where I can just people watch and eavesdrop and find amusement in some of the stories I hear and so on.

Some might think of all that as the product of a lonely life. And sometimes it feels that way. But I grew up a bit of a loner. I didn’t have many close friends growing up. It’s a reason why I have never had the desire to go back to Sacramento. I don’t need familiar. I don’t need “safe”. I don’t need “it’s time to settle down.” Writing and blogging keep me stable and sane. It’s cheap therapy, and writing about the city, much like therapy, helps give me the ideas and tools to not only help my own life and progress in it, but also help me understand how I can help my own community, this city, the surrounding area of Park Central also known as Midtown Kansas City.

Because cities are wonderful things. Nothing is more fascinating than the American city. They are decaying in ways because people have their biases. They don’t think their children should go into schools in the cities or they think the crime is too much. I don’t have to worry about those things (because I don’t have kids or nice shit), and thus, I can do what I need to help, and learn about the day to day, night to night of what goes in Kansas City, a city with its own history of sordidness that it battles with each and every day. Kansas City is really a perfect city for me. Small enough to get wrapped up in, but big enough to still find new places, circles and issues to discover.

And I am able to do that from the central of it all in my current apartment, which has its own sordid history which it’s trying to get rid of, like the city itself.

When I first moved to Kansas City, I thought I was on my way to settling into the Midwest experience. I had plans for marriage within a couple of years. I thought about living in a house, and having my own self-built smoker. I pictured barbeques and hanging out at the community pools with my neighbors over cans of Bud Light. I thought about sending my kids to Catholic School, much like my parents did for me.

I remember one night I spent with my ex at the time. We were in St. John’s park, looking out on the Kansas City skyline from Strawberry Hill, which is a beautiful damn thing at night. I knew we were going to break up, but I made one last pitch to her to convince her to stay together.

You know. When I was young, I pictured myself living in a big city. I pictured myself living paycheck to paycheck as a writer. I would be living in a small apartment and writing freelance or for a newspaper living pretty simply with the idea that I would make it big. I pictured myself living like a Charles Bukowski or John Fante and that’s what I wanted more than anything when I was growing up in middle and high school.”

“What happened?”

“Well, now I don’t want that anymore. I realized that was just a stupid fantasy. I want to settle down. I want to have kids. I want to have a house and raise a family now.

We broke up a week later. And though it’s not exact, I’m closer to that former dream than the latter nearly three years later.

I wonder if I really wanted the latter or I was just saying it because I scared rejection or was scared of being in and taking on Kansas City alone.

I know what they mean now by certain events being blessings in disguise.

My blessing comes in an Eight-story former hotel called the Park Central.

Wyandotte County: the “Small, Off-Beat Town” within Kansas City

“Really…you work in Wyandotte?”

It’s a comment I hear all the time, but somebody uttered this statement to me a weekend ago at a community event I worked at in Johnson County. I found the comment to be rude and surprising, especially considering the event I worked at mostly involved people who were not born in this part of the country, let alone this country in general. And yet, despite their outsider status, that doesn’t prevent them from holding that negative opinion of Wyandotte County that most people in Johnson County (or other counties in Missouri or Kansas) have of people or places from Wyandotte.

To me, Wyandotte County is synonymous with Kansas City. There is no Kansas City experience without Wyandotte County for me. In my four years of living in Kansas City, only 1 year involved me not working or living in Wyandotte County, specifically Kansas City, Kansas. To me, Wyandotte County has a special place in my heart, in my mind and in my goals down the road. Yes, I am currently a Jackson County resident now, living in the MidTown area of Kansas City. But I have a feeling I will be moving back to KCK soon in the near future, especially now that I’m working again in the county, and realizing how much the area and the citizens of the county fascinate me and make me want to be a part of it again.

But for those who are unfamiliar (whether unwillingly or not), what do I need to know about Wyandotte County?


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Wyandotte County is the most northeast county of the state of Kansas, as its main city, Kansas City, Kansas, is just a stone’s throw across the river from Kansas City, Missouri (the 70 and 670 highways connect the downtown area of KCMO to KCK). The county is separated into 8 districts, with a commissioner seats for each district, as well as two at-large commissioners for Districts 1 and 2. The mayor/ceo currently is Mark Holland, who has been the mayor since April 2, 2013. In addition to Kansas City, Kansas, the county also includes neighborhood communities such as Bonner Springs and Edwardsville to the southwest of the county, the Piper and Legends/Speedway area to the northwest; Argentine, Armourdale, and Turner in the south; Rosedale in the southeast, right near the border on Southwest Boulevard; the KU Med area to the West; Quindaro to the Northeast; and Welborn in the North.

Demographically, Wyandotte county also remains a diverse county, especially in comparison to neighboring Kansas counties. The projected population of Wyandotte County in 2015 is 163,369, which would be a 3.7 percent increase from their population total recorded in the 2010 census. From the 2015 projections according to the census, the population within the county is 42.1 percent non-Latino white, 24.3 percent African-American, 27.7 percent Hispanic/Latino, 4.1 percent Asian, and 1.3 Native American. All of those populations are an increase from the 2010 census, with the exception of African-Americans, whose population went down from 25.2 percent to 24.3 percent, and non-Latino white, which went from 43.3 to 42.1 percent.

Education-wise there are four districts that serve citizens in Wyandotte County: Tuner USD 202, Piper USD 203, Bonner Springs USD 204 and Kansas City USD 500. In addition, the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas has five K-8 elementary schools (Resurrection, Our Lady of Unity, Christ the King, St. Patrick’s and Holy Name) and one high school (Bishop Ward High School), which is one of the oldest high schools in the state of Kansas (it was established in 1908). In terms of post-secondary education, Kansas City Kansas Community College is the main junior college for secondary graduates in Wyandotte County, and the University of Kansas Medical Center (right on the border of Missouri and Kansas) also provides medical studies for students, in addition to medical services for people in the area.

One of the most interesting aspects of Wyandotte County is its economic and educational status, as well as where it stands politically in comparison to the state overall. In terms of economic and educational statistics,  65.9 percent of the population in Wyandotte County 16 and over is in the workforce, with the household median income low at $39, 326. The poverty population in Wyandotte County is at 24.4 percent, 18.9 percent of the population is without health care, and and the percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher is only 15.8 percent (to put things further into context, those with a high school diploma is 78.4 percent).

Compare this with statistics of those same categories in neighboring Johnson County: 72.9 percent of the population 16 and over is in the civilian workforce; the household median income $75,017; the poverty population is only 6.6 percent, and only 7.6 percent of the population is without health care; and 52.1 percent of the county population has a college degree (and 95.7 percent of the population has a high school diploma). When you look at the whole picture, not only is Johnson County a wealthier county, but they dwarf Wyandotte in so many categories. It’s crazy to think that just a few miles south, a person is three times more likely to have a college degree, and will make almost twice more than someone. And that’s where the bias and prejudice steps in: because of their higher incomes, more education and less people in poverty, Johnson County naturally has this bias over their Wyandotte County neighbors. The stats overall prove it in their mind, and those stats prove why people who get more money or education are more than apt to move south beyond the county lines.

The story of Wyandotte County’s economic and educational woes in comparison to the larger neighboring suburb of Johnson County is one thing, but what makes it even more interesting is how different both counties are politically: while Johnson county tends to be more of a red county, falling in line with what is typical voting wise throughout the state of Kansas (i.e. conservative republican), Wyandotte County tends to fall in the opposite category.

Of the elected state senators representing Wyandotte County, two of the four senators (as of 2015), David Haley (4th District) and Pat Pettey (6th District) are democrats. All seven state representatives representing the county are democrats. And all 16 judges as well as the district attorney, are democrats. And this political affiliation was even stronger represented in the last presidential election, as Wyandotte County was one of two counties in all of Kansas to vote for Barack Obama by a wide margin as he earned 67.3 percent of the vote in Wyandotte County (compare this to Johnson, which saw a 58-40 split in favor of Mitt Romney). Even Douglas County, which includes Lawrence and students from the University of Kansas (college towns tend to be more democrat leaning due to students being more liberal), didn’t have as high a percentage (60.3 percent) for Obama in the latest elections.

So, Wyandotte County is heavily democrat and lags in terms of education as well as economically to some of the neighboring counties. For most people in the Midwest, this may sound like a cruddy place to live.

On the other hand, I would argue otherwise, and I would credit it’s intimate population that are actually HELPING the county over the past five years, and make it even more prime for positive growth.


“The one thing about Wyandotte county is that it’s a small town…and everyone knows your business in one way or the other.”

My principal, who originally was from New York and moved here for school, told me this during my first year in Kansas City, Kansas. I didn’t know if she meant it in a bad or good way, but while there is some obvious negative aspects to this statement (like people can be big time gossip hounds), one could look at this statement in a positive way.

One of the main positives of living in Wyandotte County is that if you get involved in a group or network, that network can grow incredibly fast and be incredibly supportive. I have been in Kansas City for four years, and some of my closest connections stem from people I know who live or work in Wyandotte County. As a business teacher, I have already gotten multitudes of offers from local business people to help speak in classes or help students with connections. I taught in a school in Kansas City, Missouri, and though we had some help here and there, people were not as eager to help or provide the same kind of assistance. That’s not to say people on the Missouri side didn’t give a shit. But there are so many schools in KCMO. One charter school is just another in the whole grand mix of things. And with so many schools closing within 10 year periods in Missouri, people can be suspect of “newer” schools: will it even be around in 20 years and is my time to help worth it if the school won’t even be around?

In Kansas City, Kansas there is a stability here that KCMO doesn’t necessarily enjoy. Yes businesses change, but they take new identities rather than demolished or abandoned. There is a certain pride in the diversity of the population displayed through community celebrations, be it a parish ice cream social or a neighborhood fall parade, that seems organic and genuine and not put together solely for economic purposes. And the schools, though struggling in some ways, are still accredited, still producing an education that means something. Despite KCMO and other districts on the Missouri side’s struggles with keeping accreditation, KCKPS has continued to keep theirs and continued to keep high student populations despite wild changes in racial and economic backgrounds of students attending their schools from decades ago.

And I think that is what makes Wyandotte the “small town” worth admiring in the Kansas City metro area. They know their population isn’t as big as on the Missouri side or even south of them in Johnson County. They don’t have the economic advantages down south either, or the educational advantage. That being said, they make do, they get things done, and they rally behind people in their community that are trying to do good. The city government tries things to help build the economy and promote entrepreneurship. “A Cup on the Hill” is the latest example of such progressive thinking. Yes, it’s a coffee shop, but it’s a coffee shop that is run by the Community Housing Authority of Wyandotte County that looks to help with employment, while also promoting the positive of Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County not just by selling coffee, but also by displaying art in their shop local artists. It’s similar to what “Homeboy Industries” is doing in Los Angeles: giving those in need in the community a chance to make steps in the right direction personally, while helping the local economy as well. (After all, how many coffee shops are there in KCK? Not a lot, and “A Cup on the Hill” will help bring in more independent coffee houses who may find it tough to compete in MidTown KC’s over-saturated market.)

And Wyandotte County’s population is growing, which just goes to show you how people are starting to recognize the positives in living in such a community with a genuine “small town” feel. The 3.7 percent jump is a major bright spot for a county that had suffered a decrease in population according to their last census in 2010. And the reasons to come to Wyandotte County are plenty: it’s still close to the city (especially if you live in Strawberry Hill), the downtown economy is growing, and the real estate is a lot cheaper than what most would find not just in Johnson County, but especially in comparison to MidTown and Downtown Kansas City. Young people are realizing that living in KCK, especially Strawberry Hill or Rosedale is a better deal, and you aren’t far off from it all either.

Of course, there has to be a bit of caution with such growth. We have seen how gentrification can have “inverse” effects on cities and communities. Even in Kansas City we have seen it. 15 years ago, living in the Westside and MidTown off of Armour was a bargain. Now, thanks to gentrification, people have been priced out of their respective neighborhoods. Yes, there are more restaurants and bars and shops and nicer houses and apartment complexes. However, the soul of the communities are dwindling, nearly gone. Just look at the Westside, as it struggles to fight for the spirit of their neighborhood against developers who are trying to mold it more for economic purposes rather than community ones. That is a risk KCK could experience, especially as a younger population starts to migrate toward that downtown area.

But I think what will make KCK push up against that “community blunting” from gentrification is their community spirit. The neighborhoods in KCMO are part of a huge whole, and really, one district is going to struggle to have a voice in the midst of so many other voices in the big city. The greater good (in the city’s mind) will trump the desires of the small, as is natural in any big city. In KCK, the population is still intimate, and those neighborhoods can have their voice. And we have seen it. There has been an embrace of the changing diversity of the KCK population. It has grown from a primarily Slavic population to mostly Latino one, but you know what? People are still active, and I think the Latino population in KCK is about as active as any in the KC Metro (though the Westside and Northeast certainly are also active). Even with this latest election coming up, we are seeing advocates against some of the new Kansas registration policies that could be deemed as “racist” and “prejudiced” in nature, in order to sway the election toward a party’s “candidate” (you know who I am referring to). These kind of actions demonstrate not only the change in Wyandotte County, but how the community continues to supports one another despite the difference in race and cultural. The old supporting the new is the prime characteristic of a strong community, no matter what the population size or part of the country.

I don’t live in Wyandotte County currently. I work there and if I continue to stay in Kansas City, I plan to move back soon. Wyandotte County is different. It’s a blue dot in a sea of red. The people are working class who offer a stark diversity to what is typical of most communities in the Kansas City metro. There is pride in the work being done within the county, even if most of the stories and reputation of the county tends to focus on the bad, the crime, the poverty and all the other negative noise. And lastly, there seems to be a sense of hope on the horizon. The population and the economic growth in parts of the county where “naysayers” thought it couldn’t be done showcases that rise.

The looks and questions still abound when I tell people I work and used to live in Wyandotte County. I don’t think I will ever shake them.

But they don’t know. They don’t know about the “small town” community of Wyandotte County. They don’t know about the support, the charm, or hidden opportunities this area of Kansas City provides.

I’m glad they’re missing out. Wyandotte County doesn’t need them anyways.

So how do you find yourself in the Midwest?

I have a strange fascination with the Midwest… -Jason Reitman

 

Unlike many people who reminisce or get nostalgic about the Midwest, I am not from this part of the country. I was born and raised in California, and spent most of my life in a part of the country where snow was rare-to-non-existent, and a trip to the beach was a three-hour drive, not a three-hour flight.

But here I am…now a Midwest transplant for at least a little bit longer.  (Kansas City transplant to be specific; Missouri side for now, though I have lived in Kansas and may move back since I work in Kansas again.)

So, how did a West Coast guy get here?

To those who don’t know me (which probably is about 80-90 percent of people who come across this blog), for about a year and a half I was studying to be a Jesuit priest. I had just graduated from a small Catholic college in Washington state, and the August after my grduated I joined the California Province for the Society of Jesus and entered their novitiate (like a seminary, but less focus on “studying” and more focus on “living the life”) in Culver City, California, which is in the heart of Los Angeles. Typically how the process works, after a two year tenure in the novitiate, the next step in  the Jesuit formation to become a priest is to attend a university (of their choosing, though you have options) for philosophy studies and earn a master’s degree in philosophy in a 3-4 year timetable (again, I will probably talk more about the whole process of being a priest, and what separates a “Jesuit” priest from a “regular” priest in some subsequent posts). At about the one-year-point in my Jesuit novice tenure, I sat down with the person responsible for “study” assignments, which basically meant I told him what my educational and personal interests and goals were going to be during this important time in religious formation. (Did I just want to study philosophy or was I thinking about getting additional studies in another area? And how would this help me contribute to the Society and Catholic community and well…world? So yeah, no pressure, right? )

We basically had three choices: Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, Loyola University in Chicago, and Fordham University in the Bronx.

Fordham was my overwhelming favorite followed by Loyola Chicago. I didn’t even consider St. Louis, because to be perfectly honest, I didn’t see myself in a small city in the Midwest in my future. (And I know there are those saying right now “But Chicago is in the Midwest!” I get it. But let’s face it, Chicago is technically the mecca of the Midwest, and closer in spirit to an East Coast city; it just happens to geographically be in the Midwest and get a lot of Midwest transplants.)

Almost 30 years old, I have been in the Midwest for six years. I spent two years in South Dakota, living and working on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota near the South Dakota-Nebraska border (Pine Ridge for those that needed clarification), and have resided for about four years in Kansas City (two years on the Kansas side and coming on two years on the Missouri side).

In all honesty, that is six more years in the Midwest than I ever would have thought when I was fresh out of college or even still in novitiate. But now as I enter the third decade of my life, I am finding it harder and harder to think I will ever leave.

It’s amazing how a certain place, a geographical area, can change one’s perspective over time.

I had the chance to move back to California last year, in the Spring for the upcoming Fall. I had a teaching job offer in California, San Jose, to be specific. The idea of moving back to the South Bay was intriguing to me (I worked in San Jose for about a semester in the Spring after leaving the Jesuits). I would be paid handsomely salary-wise (though in retrospect, while the figure was high, I wonder if it would have been much more than my current circumstances here in the Midwest).I would have been closer to my parents, who are getting older in years, and moved into a cozy house in the Midtown area of Sacramento. I would have been around the sports teams I cheered for in my youth (the San Francisco Giants, 49ers, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks, and California Golden Bears). I would have been out of snow, and around good public rail transportation. Years ago, San Jose was a bit of a dream destination, not the absolute dream like San Francisco (I have always had a profound fondness for that city), but a good, comfortable second I would have been satisfied with.

Though I initially made a commitment months before I had to report to my job, I ended up not going. I had to arrive  in August, and from the time I accepted the job in early April, my excitement in the job started to slowly fade. Over a month’s time, I realized that though job was a tremendous offer and opportunity, I couldn’t take it.

To be cut and dry about it, well…I was not ready to leave Kansas City and the Midwest.

It’s amazing to think to someone who hasn’t lived here or visited here much my reasons for wanting to stay in Middle America over the West Coast (or East Coast for that matter). I had college and high school friends ask me if I “was making the right decision?” I had family that questioned my desire to not be closer to home (though more extended family, not parents). Even Midwest natives wondered why I wouldn’t want to be back in California after spending so much time away, as the decision to leave the Midwest for sunny Northern California was a no-brainer to them. (This is not necessarily Native Americans, but people who grew up in the Midwest…though ironically, this personal circle also included some Native Americans).

And I get it. It bothers me at times as well, the idea that a place with a reputation for flat, endless farmland; hot, muggy, and story, summers; and cold and icy winters, would be a more enticing place to live.

And yet, there is something about the Midwest that keep me here. Something that prevents me from leaving, even when I think I would be better served personally and professionally back in an an area of the United States where I grew up, and possessed more familiar roots and connections.

If there is a reason to explain my stay in the Midwest despite opportunities elsewhere, I guess I would have to say the “lifestyle” of the Midwest is what attracts me the most here. And not just my personal lifestyle on it’s own, but how my own lifestyle meshes into the predominant lifestyle of the diversity of people here in Kansas City as well as in the Midwest. Because though people don’t like to think about it, there is a diversity here in the Midwest. Yes, some ethnic groups are under-represented in comparison to other areas of the country. And yes, this area of the country tends to be more Christian, Conservative and Republican, something I am not quite used to being from the West Coast.

However, to say that represents ALL the Midwest would be silly and misinforming. In my six years, I have discovered so much about the Kansas City and the Midwest:

  • The Latino and Chicano culture and communities in the Midwest who are growing and developing rapidly over the past couple of decades, and differ a bit in values and feel from the Latino cultures of major communities on the coasts.
  • The Middle-Eastern influence that is growing in many of the Midwestern cities thanks to foreign exchange students growing accustomed to the Midwest life as well as opportunistic businessmen who are trying to make a better living for their families here and abroad, as I have learned from my frequent visits to hookah lounges, something I never did until I came to the Midwest. (Yes, I lived in California and Washington and it wasn’t until I moved to Kansas City that I started using Hookah.)
  • The African-American communities, which despite years of injustice and discrimination in this part of the country, who continue to push forward for change in their communities and schools, while still maintaining their proud heritage and contributions in the Midwest, including their influence on the media (The weekly newspaper “The Call” is one of the oldest African-American-run newspapers in the United States), Jazz as a musical art form, as well as baseball, including the Negro Leagues (the Midwest was where it really shone; Kansas City being the mecca for it) and the many former NL players who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in the late 40’s.
  • The BBQ culture known nationally that spans from the “mom and pop” shacks in rural areas of Kansas and Missouri to the urban center of Kansas City where African-American owned BBQ restaurants helped Kansas City become the BBQ capital of the USA in comparison to their brethren in the Carolina’s and Memphis.
  • The Catholic community who credit their roots in the Midwest from strong and proud immigrants from Croatia, Slovenia, Ireland, Italy, and Poland (just to name a few), and has a closer, more familial feel in comparison to their Coastal counterparts, as evidenced by their emphasis on putting on frequent church socials, high priority in sending their children to Catholic schools, and financial and spiritual contributions to their local parishes.

I could go on and on, and I know I will go into more depth onto these topics and more in the future. There is so much to write about on the Midwest, and not just Kansas City, either (though I know I will go on plenty about Kansas City considering that is my home and where a majority of my life in the Midwest has taken place). The people. The issues. The history. The traditions. The culture. The future.

Perhaps that’s why I stayed in Kansas City and the Midwest. This part of the area inspires me, almost serves as my muse, and I still feel like I have only scratched the surface, have yet to go deep into what really makes the Midwest Life what it is, not to mention different from life on the East or West Coast. I have invested a lot in my six years in the Midwest. I have invested in my job and my students, sure. But, I also have invested in my communities, whether it has been on the reservation, in Wyandotte County, or in Jackson County. And despite that investment, I still know I can do more, and more importantly, I want to do more.

And that’s why I have created this blog. To chronicle my experience as I continue to dig deeper and deeper into my experiences with “This Midwest Life.” Furthermore, I also intend to tell stories of and about the people here in Kansas City and the Midwest. (Though to be honest, my stories will probably be more predominant; sorry, I am not a professional journalist, just an amateur one at this point). Some stories will be short memoirs. Some stories might be fictional. Some stories might be simple reviews or reflections. And some stories might blur all those genres together in some weird, chaotic fashion that I can’t even begin to describe.

Just like I have learned from my own experiences, the Midwest is a surprising fusion of all kinds: transplants and homebodies; old and new; traditional and modern; conservative and liberal; backward and forward thinking; slow and… less-slow (well, I guess that is one thing I can say about the Midwest: life is a little bit slower here than on the Coasts; though I hear it is faster than in the Deep South).

I hope that’s what “This Midwest Life” will try to portray: a glance into the life and culture and diversity and mystery that is in the middle of the country, i.e. the glorious Midwest.

What six years in this part of the country can do to a person.

Four Teams to Watch in the Eurocup Next Season

Expect Jamar Smith to play a key role in helping Unicaja make a run to the Eurocup championship.

In terms of the premiere second-tier European basketball competition, the Eurocup continues to hold the title, though FIBA’s Basketball Champions League has given the ULEB-sponsored competition fierce competition this summer (mostly due to FIBA muscling clubs with possible National Team and Domestic League sanctions; Italy and France were two countries who deferred to FIBA this off-season by not sending any teams to the Eurocup). However, only the Eurocup has the automatic Euroleague qualifier for whoever wins the competition, and with a new format, and less Euroleague/Eurocup crossover (no teams will be sent down to the Eurocup mid-season as in years past), the ULEB second-tier competition promises to be the most competitive in its 14-year history (the competition began in 2002-2003).

So, with an automatic berth and possible Wild Card spot on the line (the Euroleague offers one Wild Card slot out of its 16 teams), which of the 24 Eurocup participants will have the greatest chance of punching their ticket to the Euroleague in 2017-2018? Who will be worth watching, especially when the playoffs begin in the Spring?

In this post, I will take a look at four Eurocup participants who’ll be worth paying close attention to this upcoming season, and should make a run at that coveted Eurocup title and Euroleague berth.

Joan Plaza should have a much better year in Malaga this season after Unicaja limped to finish line in the Euroleague and ACB a year ago.

1. Unicaja Malaga

Unicaja will be participating in the Eurocup for the first time in club history. For some squads, that is an honor, but for Unicaja, it’s quite a buzzkill. Unicaja has been a Euroleague mainstay, who qualified for the Top 16 for the 11th consecutive season last year, and made the Final Four in 2007. But, despite a hot 7-3 start in the Regular Season of the Euroleague, injuries and roster turmoil resulted in a 4-10 record in Top 16 play (11-13 overall) and a first-round sweep in the ACB playoffs to Valencia. And thus, after a mediocre campaign and without an A license lock, Unicaja proved to be the odd-team out when it came to picking the Euroleague field of 16 in 2016-2017, losing out on the lone Wild Card spot to Turkish upstart Darussafaka Dogus.

With the demotion to the Eurocup, the summer didn’t start off well for Unicaja, as star Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who was one of the best players in the Regular Season round, and had masterful performances in road wins over Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow, ended up leaving Malaga (first going to Darussafaka before the New York Knicks bought out his rights from the Turkish club). In addition, center Fran Vazquez, one of the leading shot blockers in Euroleague history, also left the club, signing with ACB rival Iberostar Tenerife. Much like Lokomotiv Kuban experienced a mass exodus of talent after their Eurocup demotion, it appeared Unicaja was going to suffer the same fate this summer.

However, Unicaja has rebounded quickly, and has suddenly put together one of the most competitive squads in the Eurocup this summer. To make up for Kuzminskas’ departure, they added shooting guard Adam Waczynski, a Polish national who averaged 14.6 ppg with Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro of the ACB last season. His arrival should mesh well with Jamar Smith and Nemanja Nedovic, two returning wing scorers from last year’s squad. Additionally, Unicaja got stronger in the playmaking department, as they added solid point guard options in Oliver Lafayette (from Olimpia Milano) and Kyle Fogg (from Eisbaeren Bremerhaven) who should help solidify the backcourt with Alberto Diaz, a young, rising star who should get more playing time opportunities than a season ago. And lastly, in the front court, Unicaja added depth and athleticism by signing Trevor Mbakwe (from Maccabi Tel Aviv), Jeff Brooks (from Nizhny Novgorod) and Dejan Musli (from Manresa). This trio should help Unicaja be more effective in the post not just in terms of rebounding and offense, but defensively, as they should improve a block rate (2.8 percent) that was below average in the Euroleague a year ago.

With added depth at his disposal, head coach Joan Plaza should have an easier time coaching this squad than a season ago. Plaza stayed at Unicaja despite other job openings  in his home country being available, such as Laboral Kutxa Baskonia and FC Barcelona. Then again though, Plaza’s stock took a bit of a hit after such a poor finish in Malaga last season, so it is possible that he wasn’t in serious consideration for those positions despite his coaching pedigree. That being said, with a deeper, more athletic roster and a bit easier Eurocup schedule (which should ease the burden of also playing in the ACB), Plaza should make Unicaja competitive again, with a Eurocup championship not only a possibility, but an expectation in 2017.

Amare Stoudemire’s signing with Hapoel Jerusalem will make the Israeli club a favorite in the Eurocup.

2. Hapoel Jerusalem

Though they traditionally are overlooked in comparison to rival Maccabi Tel Aviv (who has an A license in the Euroleague), Hapoel Jerusalem was arguably the best team in Israel a season ago. Not only did they have the best record in regular season Winner League play, but they also made it to championship game, something rival Maccabi did not do. Unfotunately, their loss to 4th-seeded Maccabi Rishon (who is playing in the Champions League) in the title game left the Jerusalem-based club with little to show for what was an extremely successful campaign overall in 2015-2016.

Not ready to rest on their laurels, Jerusalem was as active as any Israeli club this summer, Maccabi Tel Aviv included. They hired Simone Pianigiani, an Italian head coach who had Euroleague success with Montepaschi Siena and Fenerbahce Ulker. And in terms of the roster, they added an influx of American talent, which included combo guards Jerome Dyson of Auxilium Turin, Curtis Jerrells of Galatasaray, and Tarence Kinsey of Crvena Zvezda, who should be pulling main point guard duties next season. They also boosted their size in the post with Travis Peterson, most recently of Valencia, and Isaac Rosefelt, who comes locally from Hapoel Holon.

However, though those signings added some much needed depth to their roster, no acquisition generated as much splash as the recent signing of Amare Stoudemire, who recently retired from the NBA, but signed a two-year deal with Jerusalem. A partial owner of the franchise (though he did have to sell his shares as a requirement of joining the team so there was no conflict of interest), Stoudemire, a former NBA All-Star and All-NBA player, is one of the most high profile players to ever come to Israel, and should add a dimension in the post that the Winner League or Eurocup has rarely seen. Though Stoudamire has struggled with injury since leaving the Phoenix Suns during their “Seven Seconds or Less” days, he still was an effective bench player last season with the Miami Heat, and is only 33-years-old, still relatively young considering how long he has been playing professional basketball.

To think Stoudemire will channel his Phoenix or early New York Knick days is foolish, but Amare should have an impact on this team immediately. He is still immensely talented on the offensive end as a scorer, and he and Kinsey should thrive in the pick and roll. Furthermore, Stoudemire is coming motivated to Jerusalem, as this is something he “wanted” to do, not a last-end resort, as is the case with most imports. I could see this situation being similar to Stephon Marbury’s success in China, as Stoudemire could achieve a positive revitalization for both himself and this Jerusalem team in the next couple of years. And if that revitalization could result in a Eurocup title and Euroleague berth in 2017-2018, that would only add to Stoudemire’s legacy individually, and make Jerusalem’s risk well worth it in the end.

After a down year with Panathinaikos, Sasha Djordjevic looks to rebound with Bayern Munich.

3. FC Bayern Munich

Much like Unicaja, Bayern was another victim of the downsizing in the Euroleague, as their failure to get out of the Regular Season, or ability to win the BBL from Brose Baskets Bamberg resulted in them being left out of the Euroleague field. However, much like Unicaja, instead of letting such a demotion get to them, they instead have reloaded with a formidable team that looks to compete for the Eurocup crown.

The biggest addition for the Munich-based club was the hiring of former Panathinaikos head coach Sasha Djordjevic. Djordjevic, the current Serbian Men’s National Team coach and a former European club legend in his playing days, is coming off an uneven campaign in Athens where he was unable to bring the Greek power back in the spotlight, as PAO were swept in the Euroleague playoffs by Baskonia a year ago. Though his one-year tenure in Greece was underwhelming, he is coming back to a smaller club with less pressure in Germany. Prior to Panathinaikos, Djordjevic also coached in Italy, first with Olimpia Milano from 2006-2007 and then with Benetton Treviso from 2011-2012.

Another plus is that Djordjevic is that he will have top player Nihad Djedovic to mold his offensive strategy around. The Bosnian National was one of Bayern’s most productive players a year ago, as he had the highest touches per game on the team in Euroleague play, and averaged 0.97 PPP, not extremely productive, but not bad in comparison to his high usage (the higher the usage, the harder it is to produce higher PPP). Djedovic, who has spent most of his professional career in Germany, was definitely in high demand this summer, but it appears that he enjoys his role in Munich as well as the community, and that was a big plus for the club as they aim to return to the Euroleague in 2017-2018.

In addition to keeping Djedovic, Bayern also was able to keep wing and team captain Bryce Taylor, who underperformed in the Euroleague but scored 13.6 ppg in the BBL, as well as big man John Bryant, who was arguably Bayern’s most effective post player, as evidenced by his team-high 62.6 percent True Shooting percentage and 1.15 PPP in Euroleague play. Bryant is not particularly graceful or athletic, but he has always been an efficient, highly productive player, and he should continue to be so under Djordjevic, who demands a lot from his big men. Another big signing in the post by Bayern was Devin Booker, the reigning French League MVP with Chalon a season ago. Booker should be a nice replacement for Deon Thompson, who signed with Galatasaray this summer.

In many ways, Bayern is pretty much the same team that went 4-6 in the Euroleague a season ago, as the roster remains pretty much intact, perhaps even better with the Booker acquisition as well as other signings such as Vladimir Lucic from Valencia, Ondrej Balvin from Sevilla and Danilo Barthel from Fraport Skyliners, all players who should add depth to their front court. Add that with a motivated head coach in Djordjevic, who is looking to rebound after his failed one-year voyage in Athens, and the outlook appears pretty rosy for the Munich-based club in terms of competing for a title in both the Eurocup and BBL, both roads back to the Euroleague.

David Stockton should help bring a jolt from the PG position for Cedevita Zagreb.

4. Cedevita Zagreb

The Croatian club is coming off a pretty solid year in Euroleague play, as they qualified for the Top 16 for the first time in club history. Considering the club (or country in general) doesn’t have the history of other Balkan rivals (such as Serbian clubs Partizan or Crvena Zvezda) in terms of Euroleague success, their appearance in the Top 16 could be a sign of breakthrough.

Unfortunately, what may be breakthrough in the long run didn’t help their consideration in 2016-2017, as they didn’t have the season nor the kind of money or fanbase to merit a wild card berth in the Euroleague this season. However, Cedevita may be even better than last year, even though they will not be seen or on fans’ radar as much as they were in the Euroleague a season ago.

First off, Cedevita didn’t necessarily make any big time moves, but rather they opted for quality and fit rather than quantity. Gone are imports Jacob Pullen and Bill Walker, former college stars and NBA journeymen. Instead, Cedevita concentrated on keeping their young core together. They re-signed Luka Babic, who had some interest from other clubs, and they also were able to keep other crucial roster pieces such as Miro Bilan and Marko Arapovic. Also, they brought in athletic wing Scotty Hopson, who scored over 22 ppg in China last year, but averaged 15.5 ppg with Anadolu Efes back in 2013-2014. He will add some much needed athleticism and isolation scoring for this Croatian club.

The biggest player returning though may be Dzanan Musa, the Bosnian teenage star who is probably the most sought-after prospect in Europe. The MVP of the U16 European Championship a year ago, Musa is only 17 years old, but saw some playing time with the Cedevita senior squad a year ago. Musa is a special talent, and he will be given a much bigger role, especially now that he is a year older and has experience playing and practicing with the senior club. I don’t think Cedevita will expose him too much, out of fear for hurting his development (and they have Hopson and Babic so there isn’t a tremendous need to rush him), but he definitely will play a key role in the rotation in 2016-2017. To see his development will be exciting to follow, especially considering he is expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA in a couple of years.

Cedevita also made one of the more underrated signings in David Stockton, the son of NBA Hall of Famer, John. Stockton, though small in stature and lacking in natural athleticism like his father, is the kind of true playmaker that will help this Cedevita squad on the offensive end. D-Stock lives to make assists, as he has that passing gene that made his dad the NBA career leader in assists. Stockton was the starting point guard and leading assist man not only at prestigious college program Gonzaga his senior year (home of Lithuanian power forward and OKC Thunder draft pick Domantas Sabonis) but also of the most productive offense in the D-League with the Reno Bighorns (the most fun team to watch in the D-League thanks to head coach David Arsenault’s offense). Those kind of merits show that Stockton can produce on the professional level, and that he is ready to transition that playmaking skill set to the Eurocup and ABA.

Cedevita will benefit from the chemistry they developed last year during their Top 16 run, as well as new acquisitions, like Hopson and Stockton, who should mesh seamlessly with the culture of this club. There were a lot more teams that may have made “bigger name” signings, but I like the core Cedevita brings back and the potential for breakout from some of their young stars (like Musa), which should make them a dark horse in the Eurocup this season.

Some honorable mentions to watch in the Eurocup

  • Nizhny Novgorod: They barely missed out on the semis after a double-ot loss to Strasbourg a year ago, and they signed an excellent combo guard in DeAndre Kane, formerly of Iowa State. They lost a lot of talent though from last year, and they will have a new 31-year-old coach in Arturs Stalbergs, who has no head coaching experience, so that dampens the enthusiasm for this year a bit.
  • Alba Berlin: They made some good signings to solidify their backcourt with young talent in Malcolm Miller and Peyton Siva, and Engin Atsur should add some veteran leadership to their squad. They also have added a lot to their junior team, as they are looking more into the future rather than winning in the present. However, they are thin in the post, and it will be interesting to see if new head coach Ahmet Caki will see that solidified in the months leading up to the season.
  • AEK Athens: They loaded up with a lot of local Greek talent, including 22-year-old Giannoulis Larentzakis, who signed a four-year deal after averaging 11.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 2.9 apg with VAP Kolossos Rodou a year ago. However, while they have quantity in terms of acquisitions, it’s hard to see if there is much real quality with this AEK roster, which makes it hard to see them as a genuine contender (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see them buck expectations).
  • Lokomotiv Kuban: I think it’s going to be a rebuilding year, even though they have been making a late run in talent acquisition this summer (they signed Mardy Collins from Strasbourg and somehow got Kenny Gabriel from Pinar Karsiyaka even though he seemed to have offers from bigger clubs like Olympiacos). The most fascinating thing to watch will be new head coach Fotis Katsikaris, the former Greek National Team head coach, who had a solid campaign last year with UCAM Murcia of the ACB. Katsikaris has known to overachieve with teams (with the exception of the Greek national team, which blew it in the Eurobasket in 2015 and OQT this summer), as Murcia was one of the more fun teams to watch in the ACB a year ago thanks to do-everything Argentinian point guard Facundo Campazzo. Will Katsikaris be able to pull that “Murcia Magic” with Kuban, a team coming off a Euroleague Final Four appearance a year ago?