Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Derrick Rose Knows

U of M and sports media should focus on the go-to guy.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 4:00 AM

The meeting that sealed the fate of the University of Memphis basketball program with the NCAA cops took place in November 2007.

Basketball fans and the public know only that former Tiger Derrick Rose was questioned about his ACT and SAT scores at that meeting by university officials and coaches. Earlier that year, Rose took the ACT three times in Chicago and the SAT once in Detroit, where he finally made a score that gave him eligibility to play basketball.


The university took Rose at his word that he didn't have anyone take the test for him, even though entrance test performance over four tries in a short time is as predictable as a bench press, sprint time, or vertical jump. The 2007-2008 season had not started. There was still time to keep Rose off the team, but he played, and the rest is history.

Coach John Calipari, athletic director R.C. Johnson, and President Shirley Raines are taking the heat for the NCAA's decision to strip Memphis of its 38 wins and championship game banner. But Rose is the one who should be on the hot seat. The university's appeal of the NCAA decision has about as much chance as an 80-foot heave. The person who should take the last shot is Rose.

Rose knows what scores he made on the SAT and ACT even though those scores are blacked out in public documents and cannot be released by the testing services without his permission.

Rose knows whether someone took one or more of the tests for him, causing the score to be canceled, which happens to only one out of 6,000 tests.

Rose knows why he took the SAT in Detroit.

Rose knows what Calipari and U of M coaches told him after he had failed to make a high enough score on the ACT three times.

Rose knows what any outside adviser told him about this problem that could make or break his college career, which was his audition for his professional career.

Rose knows what his own handwriting looks like. He knows he could easily disprove or prove the findings of forensic document examiner Lee Ann Harmless in a September 2008 report that concludes he probably had someone else take the SAT.

Rose knows what he was asked and what he answered during that meeting in Memphis in November, which, like the SAT score and the handwriting analysis, has been completely eliminated from the publicly available university response.

Rose knows why he refused to take part in any investigations by the testing service or the NCAA on six occasions in 2008 and 2009.

Rose knows why he didn't answer certified letters from the Educational Testing Service that were sent to his home in Chicago in April and May of 2008 offering him three ways to clear his name. Rose knows why he declined to meet with NCAA investigators in June of 2008, August of 2008, January of 2009, and March of 2009 — all dates before the NCAA sanctions were imposed.

Rose knows that his cooperation, if he has nothing to hide, could have taken the heat off the University of Memphis. And he knows that if he does have something to hide, his cooperation could identify others who deserve blame or vindication.

Rose knows why his only "explanation" to date consists of a few brief comments saying he took his own tests.

It would be wildly inaccurate to call the University of Memphis Rose's alma mater and a stretch to suggest he was a student athlete in any meaningful sense of the word. He was an entertainer who made a lot of money for the university and himself.

But he is a man, too, who, like the rest of us, has to face himself in the mirror every day. If he does nothing, no matter how great a professional ballplayer he becomes, he will always be known as the ineligible player who cost Memphis a season that branded its basketball program as an outlaw.

If he fully explains himself, it won't be easy. It will be harder than making those free throws at the end of the Kansas game.

But superstars want the ball at crunch time.

Come on, Derrick, you're the man. Tell what happened before the clock runs out on the appeal. A lot of damage has been done, but you can still clear it up. Take the ball.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This White Boy Could Jump

Steve Keltner's long-jump record has endured for 44 years.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Steve Keltner
  • Steve Keltner

In 1982, the City of Memphis, under the highly unusual circumstances of an interim mayoral administration, signed a Beale Street deal within a deal with Elkington & Keltner.

John Elkington and Steve Keltner were bright, young thirty-somethings who had attended law school at Vanderbilt and Memphis, respectively. Their real estate partnership name had a nice polysyllabic ring to it, but it didn't last. The city and a bunch of lawyers are still fighting over Beale Street. (See related story on page 10.) Elkington became the dominant personality, but Keltner has a remarkable story as well.

Sometime between 1963 and 1965, Keltner realized he could fly. In his senior year of high school at MUS, he broad-jumped 23 feet, 6 inches, which was a local and state record. MUS is a wealthy private school with some of the best coaches and facilities in Memphis. It attracts more than its share of athletes who train harder, lift longer, and specialize in one sport from the time they are 8 or 9 years old. But 44 years later, Keltner still holds the school record in the long jump. His 1965 leap would have won the 2009 Tennessee State Division II championship by almost two feet.

Keltner, 62, still lives in Memphis and works in real estate. He is still fit but has Parkinson's Disease and has not run in a race or jumped a hurdle in 40 years, when he ran track at the University of Tennessee and helped set a short-lived world record.

Plagued by doping scandals, track has fallen in the amateur and professional pantheon. It enjoyed a brief resurgence last weekend when Usain Bolt of Jamaica set a new world record of 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters. In the 1960s, however, track meets drew big crowds in Memphis at the fairgrounds and at high schools like Manassas, where Keltner's rival, Bill Hurd, now a Memphis eye doctor and jazz musician, was the fastest man in town. In the low hurdles in the 1965 state meet, Hurd took first and Keltner third. Hurd went to Notre Dame and set a world record in the 300-meter indoor dash. The two Memphis contemporaries both set world records in track within a year of each other.

At Tennessee, Keltner found himself in fast company. "World-class" beats "very good" as surely as a Corvette beats a Mustang.

"One second equals nine yards, and that's a hell of a lot of difference," says Keltner. "I could see my competitors' times. I knew my limits."

The physics of broad-jumping can be brutal. Working out in a tobacco barn, Keltner felt his Achilles tendon explode in his push-off leg. That was the end of his career as a long-jumper, two years before Bob Beamon staggered the sports world by leaping 29 feet 2 inches in Mexico City, a record that would stand 23 years.

But Keltner had his moments. In the Modesto Relays, he ran against O.J. Simpson. In the 1967 Penn Relays, he helped set a world record in the shuttle high-hurdle relay at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in front of 35,000 people. Maryland broke it later that year. Madcap event, rarely run race, short-lived record. Say what you will, it's a big world, and for a few months Keltner was on top of it.

"I didn't dwell on it after UT," he said last weekend. "After college I never ran more than a mile. I liked playing basketball at home more than going to track meets or practice. I think I trained to my limit in high school. More strength training in college would have helped me."

His 23-foot, 6-inch broad jump was the overall state record for 13 years. For its place and time, it was a Beamonesque leap and a Bolt-like bolt from out of the blue.

"I am the farthest thing from a racist that you can be," he says with a laugh, "but I may still have the state record for white boys."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Progress in Small Doses

Consensus sought on cobblestone landing and stadium.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Life goes on, even in an interim mayoral administration. There's small but significant progress to report on a couple of nagging issues.

A meeting was scheduled Tuesday, August 11th, with the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the Corps of Engineers to discuss the $6.6 million cobblestones revitalization plan. The project is adjacent to but separately funded from Beale Street Landing, which is under construction at the north end of Tom Lee Park.

The cobblestones, to the uninitiated, are big smooth rocks, some with chain links embedded in them, that date from the heyday of Memphis as a cotton port for steamboats. As the RDC says, they're "amphibious" and hard to walk on — not that that stops people from trying or from parking cars on them. The RDC plan, which is not, uh, set in stone, envisions stabilizing them, restoring them, and improving access.

Spending $6 million on cobblestones at a time when the city is cutting school bus routes instead of grass may seem odd, but there are many pots of money involved, and that is Memphis and the RDC for you.

"Access for whom?" is a question that likely came up at the public meeting. Recreational boaters would like to land their canoes and kayaks at the cobblestones, but fear they will be excluded from them and Beale Street Landing. Expect to hear a lot about riprap in the coming days.

One recent boating event did not go well. The powerboat regatta hosted by the RDC July 31st through August 2nd was plagued by bad weather and spotty marketing. There was also the matter of a barge, owned by the Memphis Yacht Club and used for parties and Memphis in May activities. A spokesman for the club says the RDC borrowed a blacktop barge, approximately 30 feet by 12 feet, for the powerboat people to use as a platform to take pictures and movies. It was moved to the south tip of Mud Island, a muddy sandbar suitable for landing a barge. But for some reason, possibly to get a better vantage point, the barge was moved by a police boat to the other side of the harbor, along the riprap and cobblestones.

There it sat, until wave action pushed it over some sharp rocks. The barge sprang a leak and sank. No one was aboard. As of Monday afternoon, it was still at the bottom of the harbor. The yacht club is trying to work out responsibility for salvaging it with the RDC, the powerboat people, and the police department.

"There are so many hands in this darn thing that it's hard to figure out responsibility," said the yacht club spokesman. "All we know is that it wasn't us. We know how not to sink our barge. We're probably talking $5,000 to float and fix the thing."

The incident illustrates the difficulty of balancing historic preservation and public access to the river and cobblestones for extreme athletes, little old ladies in tennis shoes, and recreational boating on a working river subject to sudden fluctuations in water level. Look at it this way: If we're debating over rocks, then things could be worse.

On another front, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is getting some $5 million in improvements to locker rooms, existing ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) seating, the media room, concessions, and women's restrooms.

It's not clear whether this puts the potentially expensive ADA issue to bed for good or not. Cindy Buchanan, head of the Memphis Park Commission, said "continuing upgrades over the next four to five years" will bring the stadium into compliance.

The ADA improvements add permanent companion seats to existing seats, which are more than adequate to meet demand, according to information previously provided to the city council by Buchanan and to the Flyer by officials at the University of Memphis athletic department.

The 61,000-seat stadium has 133 pairs of wheelchair seats and companion seats. That is well below the strict ADA 2-percent standard, but enough to meet demand. The U of M sold 48 wheelchair seats all last season and no more than 8 for any game. The most wheelchair seats sold in the last three years was 50 for the 2006 game against the University of Tennessee.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Six-Ticket Ride

The next 10 weeks will be eventful, to put it mildly.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Likening the next two and a half months in Memphis to an outdoor carnival — and why not? — Beale Street club owner Bud Chittom said, "It's going to be a six-ticket ride."

The last interim mayor of Memphis had the job for a couple of weeks. Myron Lowery has it for nearly three months. He does not intend to sit quietly in his room.

And why should he? Suppose somebody handed you the keys to a car you wanted to drive all your adult life but told you to keep it in the garage. Wouldn't you look under the hood, start it up, and take it out on the road to see what it can do?

So will Lowery, despite the attempts by the car's previous driver to disable some of the parts and tamp down the horsepower. The six-ticket ride through the Memphis summer of 2009 includes:

Mayor Myron. Calming voice, procedural expert, media savvy, with nearly 18 years experience in Memphis politics. Hard-minded in the crunch and sets the facts straight in interviews like the one he did Monday on Drake and Zeke's radio show. Herenton gave him the keys and Lowery intends to keep them.

A C Wharton. He has the campaign money, but Lowery has the job until mid-October and the free publicity money can't buy. Lowery and freshly appointed CAO Jack Sammons will co-star in a black-white buddy movie that will cut into Wharton's support among white voters in East Memphis.

Sammons, a Herenton enemy and former councilman, will be counted on to find out where the bodies are buried and exhume them, communicate with the council, and wrest a key vote or two. Which won't be easy with a council divided six whites and six blacks and every member a potential tie-breaking vote.

The mayoral wannabes. Councilwoman Wanda Halbert beat the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Robert Spence in a school board election and would like to be the first female mayor. Whalum got more than 83,000 votes in the 2006 school board race. Former Councilwoman Carol Chumney got 35 percent of the vote and finished second in the 2007 mayoral election and would also like to be the first female mayor. Campaign strategist Charles Carpenter, now candidate Carpenter, carries the Herenton flame. Jerry Lawler, who got 12 percent of the vote in 1999, can play the outsider.

The city attorney sideshow. City attorney Elbert Jefferson must not have gotten the memo. He resigned, but Herenton didn't accept it, knowing full well the value of having a pawn in the legal department. Now he's whining about being mistreated. Jefferson signed off on the lucrative deals for Spence and Ricky Wilkins, turning the office into their ATM card. If Jefferson insists on playing hardball, Lowery could suspend him or assign him to count the seats in the Liberty Bowl or some other drudge task. Lowery's choice for the job is Veronica Coleman Davis, a former United States attorney has the toughness and integrity to end the shenanigans but needs council approval.

The Mid-South Fairgrounds. Prospective developer Henry Turley is still backed up near his own endzone after failing to connect on a long one to Herenton. Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb could take the field as quarterback, in partnership with former Councilman Tom Marshall, and run a play similar to Turley's but without a big-box store and with the city acting as developer.

Beale Street. Chittom and club owner Preston Lamm are scheduled to meet with Lowery this week. An 11th-hour effort to finalize the removal of John Elkington as manager of the historic district failed, even though Herenton signed off on it. Among the sticking points are Handy Park advertising revenue, payments to the city under long-term agreement, a protracted trial starting as early as next week, and the role of Wilkins and Lipscomb. Barring a trial, attorney Marty Regan could take over for Wilkins in a post-Elkington Beale, with merchants doing the marketing and the city providing sanitation and security.

"Keeping It Real." Herenton's campaign and T-shirt slogan for his 2010 congressional race, which Wilkins will manage. The Urban Dictionary offers several definitions ranging from "staying true to yourself" to "more or less a black-on-black racist expression." Let's assume it doesn't mean playing patty-cake with Steve Cohen.

All this plus the normal fight against crime and red ink and a new school year that starts next week. A six-ticket ride for sure.

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