JaKarr is dreaming

Sophomore St. John’s University forward JaKarr Sampson surprised nearly everyone by declaring that he would be leaving the Red Storm with the hopes of being drafted by an NBA team this coming June.

The 6’8″ Sampson is a good player who averaged around 14 points per game this past season but he is not an exceptional talent since every college team has a player just like him on its roster. He was not listed on the Wooden Award ballot in which media members select the outstanding college basketball player of the year and it should be noted that there are a lot of names on it. Toss in the fact that St. John’s was “one and done” in both the Big East and the National Invitational Tournaments and you get the feeling that NBA teams are not exactly lining up for his services.

Felipe Lopez, who was one of the best high school players in the US during the early ‘90s and even made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager before embarking on a fine college career at St. John’s. He was one of the many hoops legends who returned to Madison Square Garden last Wednesday for a press event commemorating the return of the NCAA Tournament to New York City for the first time since 1961.

Lopez tried to be diplomatic when the topic of Sampson’s decision to leave SJU inevitably came up. “I always believe that everyone should get a four-year degree like I did. I would not be a manager for NBA Cares (the philanthropic arm of the National Basketball Association) if I did not have a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “JaKarr does have a few months to work on his game and impress the scouts,” he added in a way that was anything but a ringing endorsement.

In 2012 when former Forest Hills High School star Maurice Harkless decided to ditch SJU after his freshman year for NBA glory (he was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers who had the 15th selection in the first round that year before being traded shortly afterwards to the Orlando Magic), the St. John’s University Athletics Department arranged to hold a press conference for Mo at Madison Square Garden. In this case they arranged for JaKarr to meet with reporters at Taffner Field House the day after he made his decision. That’s a big difference in stature.

The best case scenario for Sampson is that he will be a late second round draft pick but the odds are that he will not be selected. If he is not drafted then he will have to try to wrangle an invitation to an NBA training camp and be willing to start off in  pro basketball’s minors, the NBA Developmental League. The other option is to play professionally overseas.

It was nostalgic to see baseball played at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium last weekend for the first time since the end of the 2004 season as the Mets played two games with the hosting Toronto Blue Jays. Over 100,000 spectators witnessed the games.

Former Montreal Expos star Warren Cromartie is trying to arrange a syndicate that would bring a big league team back to Montreal. My suggestion to both Cromartie and Major League Baseball is to arrange for Montreal to get a Triple-A team and see how that draws.

As expected, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang is fielding offers for his team.  A key reason why Wang agreed to sign a lease to have his team play at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center beginning in the fall of 2015 and for the next 25 years after that was to dramatically increase the value of the franchise and therefore cash out with a nice capital gain.

It has been 30 years since the Islanders were in a Stanley Cup Finals and they don’t appear to be returning to the National Hockey League’s list of elite clubs anytime soon in spite of having one of the NHL’s best players, center John Tavares.

A new owner would be wise not to follow the example of New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris who bought that team from Jeff Vanderbeek and basically kept the same personnel from general manager Lou Lamoriello on down. My suggestion to any incoming Isles owner is to clean house from top to bottom.

Speaking of the Devils and the Islanders, New Jersey radio voice Matt Loughlin had a great line following the Devils’ 2-1 loss to the Isles last Saturday which put a severe crimp in their playoff aspirations. “When you are winning it is said that you have a veteran team, and when you are not, it’s called an old team.”

Putting aside Michael Vick’s past off-field troubles, I can’t understand why Jets management would rather have him compete with Geno Smith for the starting QB job instead of Mark Sanchez who is younger with more upside and knows the Jets’ personnel and offensive schemes better.

The Yankees’ biggest off-season acquisition, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, won the James P. Dawson Award for having the best spring of any rookie in Yankees camp. He was also the subject of Sports Illustrated’s cover story this week. Yankees fans have reason for concern because both of those honors have often been associated with jinxes.

The Manhattan-centric weekly, the New York Observer, put Mets third baseman David Wright on its cover last week with the headline “It’s Always Sunny in Queens.” Writer Rafi Kohan did a nice job profiling him. When Kohan asked Wright if he had any thoughts of leaving the Mets for a better team in order to win a World Series ring, he gave a very refreshing answer. “Winning is nice but that would almost be like cheating.” He went on to say that it means a lot more to be part of an organization that keeps improving itself to eventually get itself into a World Series.

Philadelphia Magazine has always been one of the best regional monthly glossies. It maintains its reputation with an overview of the late City of Brotherly Love sports columnist Bill Conlin whose wit and sarcasm made him a must read for 46 years in the Philadelphia Daily News as well as in The Sporting News in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Conlin was elected the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 but a few months later nearly everyone’s mouth dropped when members of his family came forward with charges that he had sexually abused them when they were young. Philadelphia Magazine reporter Robert Huber gives a balanced look at the public and private life of the controversial Conlin.

Baseball fans have always been perceived to be significantly older than basketball fans and Major League Baseball is well aware of that perception and is trying to remedy it. MLB began  partnering with Viacom’s MTV2 to create a Tuesday night 11 PM show, “Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave,” in which star players such as the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper visit the site of the old Tower Records in the East Village to discuss pop culture.

Likewise, baseball teams are looking for working harder to find ways of attracting new consumers. The Mets will once again be holding four post-game concerts from various musical genres this season and they will be giving out free T-shirts on Fridays. The Los Angeles Dodgers will be showing movies on their scoreboard after certain weekend evening games.

This nugget should make both baby boomers and Gen Xers feel older. This Sunday World Wrestling Entertainment will hold its 30th Wrestlemania which is its answer to the NFL’s Super Bowl. Wrestlemania helped usher in the world of cable pay-per-view events. It is an event that is actively sought by various cities’ tourism bureaus because of Wrestlemania’s drawing power. Wrestlemania XXX will take place at the New Orleans Superdome and will be hosted by arguably the most famous grappler of all-time, Hulk Hogan.

Former Giants running back Tiki Barber, linebacker Clay Matthews, boxing legend Larry Holmes, and just retired Yankees reliever and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera were among the sports notables who appeared at various manufacturers booth at Vision Expo East this past weekend, the optical industry’s annual trade show at the Javits Center.

Athletic performance eyewear has increasingly become a bigger part of the optical trade and things have  come a long way since those Rec Specs Fred Flintstone goggles that former Cincinnati Reds third baseman Chris Sabo famously wore.

While industry giant Oakley did not bother to have a booth, Safilo, Marchon, and Clearvision  showed off their newest styles for golfers, boaters, and motorcycle enthusiasts.

A Rhode Island company, Gargoyles, was touting its shatterproof lenses and it has hired Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez as an endorser. That makes sense since protecting one’s eyes from a rapidly thrown baseball is something that has to be in the back of every ballplayer’s mind.

Hawaii’s Maui Jim has achieved recognition as a fashion accessory to accompany floral shirts but the truth is that the company has been in the forefront of optical technology. Its Pure Air line of shades features feather-light but very durable titanium frames with lenses that not only protect the eyes from harmful UV rays but in the winter allow eyes to discern the glare from black ice, preventing spills or skids if you are driving.

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