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Thursday Wakeup Call: The courtside chat

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

SALT LAKE CITY – Morning, lunatics, from way up in the mountains …

>> The Thursday news piece I wrote for our newspaper’s Page A-1 today takes a broader look at the incredible rise of the NCAA bracket into our culture.

Hope you like it. Passed on the standard column format to go this route. Sometimes, the straightest approach to a story works best.

Today’s opening day for Pitt, of course, with tipoff against Wichita State slated for 1:40 p.m. Pittsburgh time. Here’s beat man Kevin Gorman’s game preview, Kevin’s coverage of Jamie Dixon rumors, and finally, my notebook from the Pitt locker room.

Oh, and here’s my favorite Trib video ever …

… only because Gorman and I were obnoxious enough to stand on the court during Gonzaga’s practice.

>> The weekly chat will take place almost as close to the floor, just a row back. It’ll be at noon, as usual, and all topics are on the table.

>> The Pirates’ overwhelming — if entertaining — incompetence at identifying shortstops through any means of acquisition added a new chapter yesterday with the signing of 38-year-old toothpick bat John McDonald.

That prompted me to rehash old those glorious names – Ramon Vazquez, Bobby Crosby, Jordy Mercer, Brian Bixler, Chase d’Arnaud, Ronny Cedeno, Luis Rivas, Brandon Wood, Argenis Diaz — as well as my old line about how this management team wouldn’t be able to recognize Ozzie Smith if he was out doing backflips on Federal Street.

Cue local photographer Mike Darnay with this instant Warhol-ian hit …

>> Think you’ll like this Joe Starkey column looking back at that amazing Tuesday night.

>> Oh, those rebellious Steelers. The next Raiders?

>> Hope to have you along in the chat. Remember, entries can go up as early as 6 a.m.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and more, including his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the top four columnists in the country -- highest circulation category -- by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the top three columnists in the country by the National Headliners Awards. For 2013, he was named top columnist in the state by the Keystone Awards and second-place by the Pennsylvania AP Managing Editors.


  1. It was a good video of you and Kevin. I’m concerned that they are game planning Syracuse and not the Shockers. Loved the soundtrack provided by the activity in the gym.

    Brackets are part of the culture now. The Prez has Pitt losing to Gonzaga. Wonder if future presidents will do public brackets. So pervasive is it, that my wife, whose last basketball game she saw in person involved the Harlem Globetrotters, sought my counsel for her office pool.

  2. Ok, I’ll bite…not a bad pickup for when Barmes gets pinch-hit for in the 7th inning. From what I’ve read (2 Pittsburgh blogs and twitter), McDonald plays pretty good defense so the worry of a late-inning PH for Barmes wouldn’t be too bad.

    Seriously, that’s all I got though. And I still came off like a FO apologist so I probably shouldn’t even have bothered.

  3. Don’t forget Pedro Ciriaco among shortstops. We gave away Adam Laroche for him.

  4. This McDonald move seems to be more about identifying a utility infielder and not so much about identifying a shortstop.

    That list is not a good one but this is not a big deal for me.

  5. Dejan,

    At 12:22 AM your Front Page piece is still not coming up under your provided link.

    I read the column through your twitter link, and I really enjoyed the paragraphs under
    “Hometown Advantage” section. I like the idea of 13 cities welcoming teams and people like the Olympics.

    And, of course, the Rugby ending.

  6. Just got my Pitt tickets for tomorrow! Now, to see if I can pick out Dejan from the nosebleeds…

    Seriously though, I am so excited. I’ll be going with my little sister, who’s also living out here (my wife doesn’t do basketball). We always planned on going to a Big East Tourney together at The Garden, but our schedules never lined up right. It was a bummer watching this year knowing there were no more chances. So this is our consolation prize. Not bad.

  7. The “toothpick bat” must be offset by outstanding “patience at the plate” a.k.a. “plate discipline.”

  8. The bigger the bracket business has gotten, the more my interest in what used to be a really cool event for the sport of it has waned. Haven’t watched more than three tournament games in the past four years. Won’t be watching one anytime soon.
    Until the year Duquesne makes it. :-)

    • Also – wasn’t it “MARCH Madness”? The first round isn’t starting until the last week of March. Sorry, April is baseball season.

  9. *Had to really laugh at the Bylsma comments that basically think I’m being unfair. The Penguins judge themselves by winning the Stanley Cup and being a top notch organization for the players, their families, and their fans. They are unquestionably the best organization in town as it relates to players, families, and fans. Some would even say in the NHL and probably US sports.

    *If I think blowing a 3-1 series lead is unacceptable, that’s based on the expectation the franchise has laid out for itself and to the fans. If the ’95-96 Florida Panthers can beat the Penguins, then the Penguins can beat the Lightning without Crosby and Malkin. That’s how much I think Bylsma can coach grinders and as he did over the last half of that season.

    *I’m not going to apologize or change my opinion of Bylsma’s willingness to change his system. It took way too long this season for him to finally allow his penalty-killers the freedom to pressure the puck before it entered into the defensive zone or attack the puck carrier once he entered the zone.

    *I’m not going to back away that I think the breakout was broken with the long stretch passes, I think it has improved during this streak but it still happens too much. Works great with a 1-goal late in third period to dump the puck in, keep the clock moving, and clog the neutral zone.

    *Then there’s the personnel decisions with regard to Despres and Engelland. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see the talent level gap between the two defensemen but somehow the youngster gets a seat in the press box before the injury to Letang. Sitting Despres against good teams, tough matchups will not have him ready for playoff hockey, if he’s not battle tested.

    *Bylsma’s adjustments were late but at least they happened, unlike the playoffs over the last three years. I look forward to seeing what adjustments he’ll make over the next month as teams start to adjust to their puck retrieval in the corners, breakouts, penalty-killing, and power-play. Come playoff time, it is important the team has played in all system scenarios to have that experience to overcome adversity and fallback on the knowledge and confidence of their successes in those different systems.


    * John McDonald, Pirates… in the same sentence… glory is soon upon us.

    * Neal Huntington still hasn’t learned to speak…. great way to earn respect with the players.

    * Heard Ray Searage on Wednesday morning, he had a long pause when asked if his recommendation was different than Neal’s… he said no… but that pause told me all that I needed to hear. When Cole is up in June, he’ll be one motivated, ticked off pitcher.


    * Good luck to Pitt… history won’t be on their side this week.

    * Great win by Robert Morris, Andy Toole can’t possibly be back next season? Some major conference program is going to want him right?

    *Duquesne basketball is third in town… wonder how the board feels about that?


    * Steelers…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh sorry, did someone say they still need a RB, FB, TE, WR, third QB, OLB, backup ILB, and DT? I’m sure some local high school star is a free agent
    and love to come home.

    * Just win baby! – Pittsburgh Raiders… errr Steelers. No vote on tuck rule… really?


    Have a great day!!

      • Nope. Not a trained monkey, though my wife would like rebuttal.

        Eric and I each have expressed our differing opinions and I am happy to leave it at that.

        Nothing personal. We disagree.

        I think anything more would become tiresome for everyone else. Especially since it will all play out in front of us, on ice and during the playoffs.

    • Agree on the no vote for the tuck rule. Rooney says “it wasn’t broken”. Yes it was. NE should have lost to Oakland.

    • “If I think blowing a 3-1 series lead is unacceptable, that’s based on the expectation the franchise has laid out for itself and to the fans. If the ’95-96 Florida Panthers can beat the Penguins…”
      Anything can happen in hockey, but it just so happens that many teams have blown 3-1 leads, including teams much better than the hampered ’10-’11 Pens. The Lightning were very much the better team that season. The Pens scored what, 5 goals that series? They were lucky to have won 3 games. Tyler Kennedy was the Pens’ best offensive weapon after Crosby and Malkin got hurt. TYLER KENNEDY.

    • Agreed on all points on Bylsma.

      However, I will agree that during this win streak he has done a great job making the needed adjustments to this team.

      My concern with the Pens is this — When Geno returns are we going to see the same thing as last year when Sid came back? Are they going to abandon the defense they’ve been playing to try and hang 8 on everyone?

    • Fido Eric,

      Goodness!! When your daughter comes home with 4 A’s and a B, do you punish her?

      You can’t eat jello until it hardens. Bylsma is a coach, not a mad scientist, and the players are people, not robots. It takes time to install/understand/accomplish a system.

      They’re getting all A’s right now!!

  10. is it churlish of me to point out that the graphic isn’t on Federal, but at General Robinson and Mazeroski Way?

  11. * Maybe in 2015, Gift Ngoepe is ready to start at SS for our Buccos and he breaks the streak of positional ineptitude !? ;-)
    * Go PITT PANTHERS…beat the Shockers !
    ( I sure hope the USC rumors are just another set of meaningless “annual speculation”…and that Coach Jamie stays here for a long time)

  12. Headed to Pirate City for myself to check out these reports by Thundercrack of Sasquatches. Looking to avoid any guys wearing fish around their neck.

    Getting out of Central OH as the first day of spring greets us with snow falling and 17 degrees. When is that global warming thing going to arrive?

    Any suggestion on places to visit, Drew? You will appreciate that I waited to make my pilgrimage until a certain someone is across the country.

    • I would avoid them, too. I wore mine on my head.

      And yeah, don’t be surprised if he calls out to you and asks where you are sitting. Wait for it. He’ll be right down.

      If going to a game, eat at Popi’s just outside McKechnie. Better food than inside the park. Though that’s a low bar. Otherwise, get out of Bradenton for other meals and entertainment. Lots of places along lots of beaches. However if you are another anti-beachacevic type, there’s a cool, anti-beach area in downtown Sarasota. Also, many people like St Armand’s Circle.

  13. JAL’s Diana Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Go Buccos- Pirate News (from external sources)

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Spring Training Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    5—Pirates Prospects

    First Pitch: Tarantino-ing the Poor Bench Moves Over the Last Few Years

    Minor League Injury Updates: Chambers, Pribanic, Fuesser, Hornback

    6 Bucs Dugout

    Pirates acquire John McDonald for PTBNL

    Pirates’ pitchers rocked as Bucs lose 18-9

    7 Bleacher Report

    Pittsburgh Pirates’ Season Preview: Corner Infield

    8 Rant Sports

    Gaby Sanchez Could Be a Nice Surprise for the Pittsburgh Pirates

    9 Rumbunter

    Braves Rip Pirates 18-9, Disney Trip Ruined For McPherson, Mazzaro, Watson

    10 Green Weenie

    Cuts Get A Little Easier As Bucs Bow 18-9

    • Diana Paul Anka 1957 The first of number hits written by Paul Anka. Probably the most listened to Anka song is The Theme for the Tonight Show. Other hits he wrote are Put Your Head on My Shoulder, Lonely Boys, She’s a Lady (Hit for Tom Jones), and the English lyrics for Sinatra’s My Way.

  14. NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media


    2013 National League Central preview

    12 KDKA

    Pirates Pitching Coach Ray Searage: Cole Needs ‘Skin As Thick As An Iguana’

    13 Yahoo Sports

    Is Russell Martin the Answer at Catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates?–mlb.html

    14 WLFI

    Talent headed to Indianapolis this spring at Victory Field

    15 MLB

    Walker has unique perspective on Bucs’ drought

    16 NBC Sports

    The Power of Tony Pena

    17 Sweetspot

    The all-Haiku season preview

    18 PBC SITE

    McCutchen hits second home run of spring

    Pirates acquire McDonald from D-Backs


    19 Baseball Prospectus

    Watching Jered Weaver

    20 Fangraphs

    2013 Positional Power Rankings: Center Field

  15. Steelers Blogs

    21 Behind the Steel Curtain

    NFL Competition Committee passes “Tuck” and Helmet rules

    If the Steelers needed to bid on Jake Long, why no interest in Max Starks?

    22 Steelers Depot

    -Steelers Only Team That Voted to Keep the Tuck Rule


    23 Daily Telegraph

    Luis Suárez admits he could leave Liverpool in the future for a team with Champions League prospects

    24 World Soccer Daily

    World Soccer Daily: 10 stories you need to read, 19th March, 2013


    25 Pensburgh

    Sidney Crosby is Back with a Vengeance.

  16. John McDonald acquired by Pirates.

    Can’t. Stay. Awake. Falling. Asleep. Boredom. Setting. In. Yawn.

    • McDonald is 38; I’m sure he has the same problem while sitting on the bench.

    • Boredom would be an upgrade from Old McDonald.

    • That pickup is the least of our worries…

      • +5

        We have 2 1/2 starters actually ready and we’re worried about Brandon Inge getting released? You’re right, Biz.

        • Yeah, I know its ST and all that, but I sure would feel a bit better if some of the starters started to kick things up a notch

          • ST has always been a no-win situation for fans. Only causes grief.

            Locke and McPherson could be lighting it up and as much as some of you claim the oposite, their success would still be hollow because its only spring training.

            On the other end of the spectrum, its only natural to get worried after a bad start. Even thought its only spring training.

            We’re fans. We don’t have to be rational.

          • Mark Melancon has an ERA of 1.29.

            Joel Hanrahan has an ERA of 9.00.

            Anybody feel better about the trade because of that? Anybody?

            • Good stuff NMR.

              Can anyone remember who had a “good spring” 5 years ago? Last year? Anybody know the Pirates’ ST record last year?

              I’m a huge baseball fan. One of my enduring loves, really. But every year I find it difficult to care about ST shortly after it begins.

            • NMR-

              You lived in SLC. I’m looking at Dejan’s photo. Do the mountains hold in fog and smog in the city. Doesn’t look like there is any place for the air to go.

              Only drove by it on my way to San Fran years ago.

              • Great observation, John.

                SLC has some of the worst air quality in the country during the winter because of what they call an “inversion layer”. Best explanation I can give is that the atmospheric conditions create a cap at a certain altitude and everything underneath stays where it was produced.

                You can drive I-80 down the mountain from the East and go from crystal clear skies up top to a thick yellow soup that you can literally taste and back into clear air at the bottom. Really wierd.

              • Thanks. Much obliged.

  17. I thought it kind of intersting that perhaps both Pitt and UCLA could both lose today and both coaches could end up in different places next year. Perhaps Dixon in USC and the mention of Howland possibly returning to Pitt.

    If Dixon does leave I don’t think Howland is at the top of my list; yes he’s an incredible coach but I’d have Miller and the kid from Butler at the top of my list but that kid from Butler could easily be at the top of UCLA’s list as well.

    How many picked the Panthers to win today?

    • I picked Pitt to win. It sounds like they are focused and determined to redeem themselves from the ‘Cuse loss.

      I told my boss that I wasn’t feeling well. Might have to go home at noon. Funny, I usually feel the same way on Pirates opening day.

      Hope he doesn’t see the brats, chips and 12 pack sitting in my car enjoying nature’s refrigeration. (Yesterday, was the coldest start of spring here in 27 years. So long ago the Pirates actually had a winning team).

  18. DK:

    Does the thin air make the hair turn gray faster?

  19. Has anyone read or heard what exactly are the problems with his mechanics/delivery that Tony Watson is working on?

  20. Listening to the FAN this am, they noted that caffeine/aka coffee isn’t sold in a lot of places in Salt Lake City??

    That can’t be good for Dejan….

  21. Where’s Jandy, anyway? Did she sleep in or get thrown in jail for killing rodents in Punxy?

  22. Again, I am not getting too worked up about them acquiring McDonald. A strong defensive backup who can play multiple positions isn’t a bad thing to have. But I am really interested in the rest of the bench. I want some guys who can hit a pinch hit homer. I want to see what Mercer can do. I like Harrison’s energy. Presley or Pie?

    But I do predict that at some point in the season McDonald will be cut in favor for Mercer or Chase. And the blog will go wild about how he was another bad infielder picked up by NH and how NH wastes money

    • Well if you add his salary of 1.5mil and then send cash to complete the deal and then ultimately cut the guy then yes I would say thats a waste of cash.

      But then again the Pirates gave up a player in a trade this winter for a pitcher they ultimately removed from the 40 man roster only to have him claimed by another team.

      If NH isn’t worried about what he’s doing why should I? Its like trying to figure out why I can now take a small pocket knife through security at the airport but can’t take a bottle of water.

      • It’s just part of the waste of money stream. Not as big of a waste as some, but still money spent for no good reason.

        • We’re already calling this a waste of money based on a hypothetical situation in which McDonald is cut at some point?

          • The only way it isn’t a waste of money is if McDonald suddenly outperforms his entire career, and then signs up for another year or two and performs then.

            Which I find highly unlikely. If the guys in AAA are so bad that you go out and get a guy like this, what are they hanging around on Indy’s roster for? I’d love to know if Mercer can play, but it looks like that will be a mystery forever.

            He’s big, heck that alone means he might have SOME power. Looks good in a uniform… :)

            • The only way its not a waste is if he outperforms the sum of money he is said to be worth? I don’t get it.

              I will join you on Mercer, though. I don’t know what he can do. You don’t know what he can do. And most importantly, Hurdle doesn’t know what he can do.

              The Ciriaco mistake blew up the whole what-does-it-say-about-Player X-when-the-manager-won’t-start-him narrative. Sometimes the manager is just plain wrong.

        • Glad to see your concern over Bob Nutting’s money.

    • The problem isn’t McDonald in and of himself. The problem is that I really don’t see how this improves the team, unless you still truly view Mercer as the heir apparent at SS. I do not; I believe Mercer to be adequate as a backup but as a starter would deliver less value than Clint Barmes. Further, Josh Harrison can cover SS if absolutely necessary, and there’s at least d’Arnaud once he gets healthy in AAA that can also cover the position if someone else is hurt.

      I don’t have an interest in seeing what Mercer can do, but truly McDonald’s acquisition does little to hurt Mercer’s chances IMO. It was going to take Barmes getting hurt (or DFA’d or traded) to get someone else an opportunity, and it still will. If Jordy can’t get playing time even if/when Barmes is hurt, well then frankly he stinks worse than Old McDonald.

      • Not trying to change your mind, but I think you just proved why McDonald WILL improve the team, albeit slightly.

        “I believe Mercer to be adequate as a backup but as a starter would deliver less value than Clint Barmes. Further, Josh Harrison can cover SS if absolutely necessary…”. I’m going to forget you even mentioned d’Arnaud.

        McDonald hit .249/.295/.386 last year with comparable defense to Barmes. If Mercer delivers less value than Barmes, then he also delivers less value than McDonald.

        Same can be said of Harrison, who provides even less value at the position because of his defense.

        Barmes played in 144 games last year and racked up under 500 PA’s. That’s about 150 PA’s given to guys who provide less value than McDonald.

  23. Link 16 is a nice article on Tony Pena. The comments below the article are interesting too

  24. Dejan should enjoy today. The atmosphere at the NCAA tournaments is fantastic, particularly the early rounds. fans of multiple teams, pep bands, and the teams. I have been to several and was at the one when Pitt and Butler played the game with weird ending with two fouls that should not have been committed.

  25. Sporting thoughts on a March-Madness-Tourney-Start-Thursday…

    * Enjoyed the column this morning. As a kid, you’d imagine the clock running down and hitting that final shot to win the tournament. I remember watching perhaps the greatest college basketball team (’96 UK team coach by Petino) cut down the nets and being mesmerized. I remember cutting classes in college on Thursday and Friday to sit around 3 or 4 TVs and computer screens with all the game action, drinks & friends.

    * Good luck to all the teams in this years tournament, but, I’m pulling for Miami this year.

    * Rugby is a CRAZY game. I like to watch it sometimes, but then I get confused because I don’t know all of the rules. I can still follow it though, and the scoring is somewhat similar to our version (football). Cricket, however,……that’s just stupid!

    * Clint Barmes is a good defensive SS. I thought it was about being solid defensively up the middle, no?

    * Take a look at this list ( Perhaps it’s just a bad era for shortstops. When a 38 (or is he 39 now) year old coming off a broken ankle is still 1 of the best in the league, it might tell you something. Perhaps it’s not just the boobs running the Pirates that can’t find a SS.

    * While I do not like the “crown of the helmet” rule that will be implemented on running backs, I also find it refreshing that the owners are giving 1 back to the defense. Since the Steelers won the Superbowl in 2008, it just feels like every year they were making rules changes to make it easier for the offense to score points (obviously to attract the casual fan and increase fantasy football popularity). Now an offensive player has to think about how he plays the game. Good.

    * It’s good that they finally got rid of the tuck rule, but this may hurt Big Ben. The man pump fakes a ton. He also holds the ball probably longer than any other QB in the league. I’ll be interested to see how many fumbles he loses this year that would’ve been ruled incomplete. I don’t think it’ll be anything crazy, but it could surprise me.

    * While I was outraged at the “defenseless receiver” rule and thought there should’ve been more fan backlash, I was surprised at the amount of backlash the helmet rule is getting from the general public. Is it b/c they’re imposing a rule on offense? Is it b/c they think now referees can change the outcome of a game moreso than before? Defenses have been losing 15 yds for good, hard plays for awhile now b/c referees err on the side of caution and just throw flags when a play looks “bad”.

    * The Penguins are good. Well, at least they’re on a good stretch. We’ll see when Malkin gets back. Could disrupt the chemistry. Maybe we’ll have to make him a healthy scratch…………


  26. Saw this on twitter: Expect the Reds to announce that Chapman will close. The best laid plans of mice and men……

    • How ironic on a day where Pirate fans complain about spending $1.5m on a backup shortstop, the Reds decide to spend $21m on a set-up man.

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