Newsday (N.Y.): March Madness: Gonzaga heads to its first Final Four with victory over Xavier

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

SAN JOSE, Calif. — All the years. And for Gonzaga the tears. “Tears of joy,” from Mark Few after at last making it to basketball’s promised land, the Final Four.

Gonzaga, named for a saint, Aloysius Gonzaga, nicknamed the Bulldogs but known as the “Zags,” had qualified for the NCAA basketball tournament 19 previous times and never got past the regionals. Until Saturday.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2017 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Newsday (N.Y.): March Madness: Gonzaga survives West Virginia’s press, advances to Elite Eight

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jordan Mathews, a graduate transfer from Cal who went to summer school with the hope of playing in the NCAA championship game, kept that dream alive Thursday night for himself and Gonzaga.

With the top-seeded Zags trailing fourth-seeded West Virginia, Mathews connected on a wide-open three-pointer from the left wing with 57 seconds left to give Gonzaga the lead for good in a 61-58 win.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2017 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Donald Young finally finds satisfaction on court

By Art Spander

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The battles are over now. Donald Young against the tennis establishment. Against himself. And on Tuesday, with the temperature reaching 96 degrees, against favored Louis Pouille.

For the first time, Young was into the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open.

Not for the first time, a career that was too full of potential, of obscenities, of second-guessing, brought forth that most agonizing of phrases in sport: Oh what might have been.

Let us say this, at age 27, too late to reach the heights but not too late to achieve satisfaction, Young, who was going to be the Tiger Woods of tennis, a young black man who was the No. 1 ranked junior in the world — not just the U.S. — apparently has found contentment.

No more letters loaded with profanities castigating the United States Tennis Association, the organization that governs tennis in this country and that six years ago a frustrated Young felt was governing his life.

No more winless streaks, as in 2012 when Young went 17 matches without a victory.

No more questions from the media on why and how the kid who was labeled a prodigy, coached by his mother, a teaching professional, didn’t live up to expectations, ours as much as his.

Pouille is 15th in the world rankings, an upset winner last summer over Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open. Young is 60th. When Young blasted out in the second set Tuesday, then allowed a 5-0 lead in the third to start getting away, the result could have been predictable.

Instead, it was unforgettable.

Young was a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 winner. This after a surprising triumph in the previous match over Sam Querrey, who won the Acapulco Open a few days back and had stunned Novak Djokovic in the third round of last year’s Wimbledon.

“My hand was shaking quite a bit toward the end,” said Young of the situation against Pouille, “but I was happy to pull through. The other guy had more (total) points, but I’m winning.”

And he’s smiling, unburdened by what others thought, an individual at peace with himself, loving where he is finally and loving what he does. That certainly is a change from the painful times six and seven years ago when the USTA wanted him under its control and his mother, Ilona, and Young refused to accede.

Maybe it’s the same thing now with the Ball brothers, the basketball players whose father calls the shots as his sons follow his directions, at least off the court. For Young the instruction also came on the court, and there was a conflict.

He dashed off a tweet, with no swear words deleted, that said the “USTA screwed me for the last time.” That was in 2011, when Young should have been at his peak as a tennis player, although in retrospect he may have peaked at age 15.

Young was moved up to face older, stronger athletes. He lost matches. Surely he also lost his confidence.

“Yeah,” he said, when asked if he would change the early years looking back. “At the time it seemed right. Now, knowing, I wouldn’t take away all of it, but  ... I wouldn’t blame anybody. It was a first time. There were a few decisions. They thought I would do well at a faster pace. Hindsight is 100 percent.“

Young wished he had other Americans of his age to compete against and develop friendships, as Taylor Fritz and Francis Tiafoe have now. He was alone. And he was African-American in a sport that was predominately white.

“The kids now, they’re playing each other,” said Young. “They have a chance to get their feet wet. A great group of guys. It’s a different generation. They trash talk each other, say anything and get away with it.”

But if there was bitterness, it has gone with the years and matches.

“You live for days like this,” said Young, responding to a question. “It’s my job. I love it. When I’m gone two, three days I miss it. What else better could I do?”


S.F. Examiner: Stars without home vs. home devoid of stars

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

This is pro football at the moment in the Bay Area: The 49ers are looking for a quarterback while the Raiders — like that song about the boll weevil — are looking for a home.

You hesitate to predict which team has a greater chance of success, although that billion-dollar-plus figure being tossed around for a new Raiders facility across the state border certainly grabs your attention.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner


Rafa flexing his muscles

By Art Spander

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The bicep is the clue, the left one, so much bigger than the right, stretching the sleeve of Rafael Nadal’s post-match T-shirt. Tennis players, like blacksmiths, pound with one arm, hour after hour, day after day, season after season.

The serve, the forehand, all done with Nadal’s left. The two-handed backhand doesn’t make much difference. There’s an imbalance between the two arms, as there is for anyone who’s spent a lifetime in the sport.

Nadal is 30 now, old — veteran of more than 1,000 pro matches over 14 years, and winner of 14 Grand Slams — and yet in today’s world of improved diet and exercise techniques, he is young.

Roger Federer, beating Nadal in the final, won the Australian Open a month and a half ago at 35. And Nadal, apparently free of one injury after another, said, “I am playing at a very high level.” That includes his 6-3, 6-2, win Sunday in the BNP Paribas Open over an Argentinean named Guido Pella.

The great ones just keep playing: Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray — yes, great, even though Murray, the No. 1 seed, No. 1 in the world rankings, was upset Saturday night by Vasek Pospisil. 

Playing against the other stars. Playing against themselves.

Tennis is their life, as well as their job. Tennis is what they do, what Rafa Nadal does, until someday he won’t be able to do it any longer.

They are competitors. They are globetrotters. Starting in December, Nadal has been in Dubai, Australia, Mexico and now the California desert. It beats being trapped in an office cubicle, especially when you’re able to beat most of your opponents.

Is it unusual that in tennis, as in golf, fans cheer for the favorite, not the underdog? They want Federer to win, Nadal to win. When that happens the paying customers are satisfied they got what they expected, what they wanted. “Hey, saw Djokovic break serve.”

Hard to know what the players want other than good facilities (the Tennis Garden at Indian Wells is one of the finest), good health and an effective game. They are nomads, facing the same people across the net or in the media rooms, trying to get a little more topspin, trying to do a little less explaining. Not that they don’t understand what comes with the territory.

Most of the better players, no matter if they’re from Switzerland, Serbia or Shanghai, speak English impressively. Nadal, however, used translators for his first several years. He has picked up the language, although with a strong accent, and sometimes his thoughts as well as his words are confusing to the listener.

To his credit, what Nadal, along with others of his skill level, has learned is he must deal with all sorts of questions from the press, some professional, some personal, some stupid.

On Sunday, after Nadal said he thought he played a solid match against the 166th-ranked Pella — “For a few moments I played well; for a few moments I played less well” — he was asked where the sport would be in the future. Would the men all be 6-foot-5? Would there be limits on racquets?

Nadal doesn’t want a serve and volley game, but one in which shots go back and forth, long rallies. “People can think it’s because it helps me, but I am talking about the sport overall, no? ... I think good points, if we want to maintain a good show for the people.”

With his frantic movements and his wicked forehands, Nadal presents an exceptional show. He’s a scrambler, a battler, not as graceful as Federer but arguably more exciting to watch.

“In Melbourne,” he said, meaning the Australian Open, “I played some great matches. In Acapulco (where he lost in the final to Sam Querrey) I played well. In Brisbane (before the Australian) I played well. In Abu Dhabi (Dubai, the end of December) I played great.

“Four events I played at a very high level. Very happy the way I started the season. Now there is another opportunity.”

An opportunity to continue flexing his muscles.