Toronto's Kyle Lowry sees the NBA All-Star weekend as a chance to do some up-close scouting on other point guards like Stephen Curry and Chris Paul. This might give him enough insight to try stealing a technique or two. Here's Lowry's thinking:
For three full seasons, Chris Rubio was the long-snapper for UCLA. During that span, he never botched a single snap.
People didn't treat him like a hero or anything -- long-snappers aren't exactly quarterbacks.
But that's where Rubio would disagree completely. On fourth downs, they more or less are the quarterback.
"When they come in, they have to snap that ball perfectly," Rubio says. "If you could recruit a third-down quarterback to just convert third-downs, and they could do that every single time, wouldn't you do it?"A good long-snapper may not be converting first downs, but in Rubio's estimation he's doing something much more important: Preventing back-breaking errors. One errant snap can cause a punt to get blocked, or it could sail over the punter's head and into a free-for-all down the field.
Rubio understood the need for specialization at the long-snapper position, and he saw an opportunity to kickstart a revolution within football. Instead of leaving the task of long-snapping to a tight end or lineman who took on the duty as a side job, he founded Rubio Long Snapping, a camp designed to teach long-snapping to developing football players who wanted to learn the trade.
It might seem like an unlikely passion, especially within the realm of football, where so many kids want to be glory-getting quarterbacks and hard-hitting linebackers. But Rubio said kids were quick to recognize how much they could gain by specializing in a rare niche.
"I haven’t had to sell [long-snapping] in a long time," Rubio said. "I think the more articles that come out, the more people read about kids getting scholarships, people are saying, 'If there’s a scholarship available for snapping a ball, let’s do it.'"One of the first students I had, he did it just to get a spot on the varsity squad. Now he plays for the Cleveland Browns as a long-snapper."
That Browns long-snapper is Christian Yount, and he went to UCLA just like Rubio. Another of Rubio's former students is Tanner Gibas. Gibas was a tight end without much of a shot at extending his football career beyond high school. But he had watched his older brother study under Rubio and earn a long-snapping scholarship, making him the first in his family to attend college. Gibas followed the same path, and he made it to the University of Kansas as a scholarship long-snapper.
Gibas is still a student there, and he's no longer a long-snapper. Instead, he's turned his attention toward documentary work. This winter, he released a full-length feature he directed that tells the story of Rubio and his highly effective -- and family-oriented -- training program.
When Gibas first approached his former coach about making a documentary, Rubio laughed. Then he figured why not: he was expecting a three or four minute YouTube video. When Gibas explained that no, he'd like to make something longer, he was shocked.
I was pretty surprised," Rubio said, "But I thought, 'OK, man, let’s see how this goes."
Gibas raised money, put together a small crew, and started work on the project. His focus wasn't just on the unprecedented success of Rubio's approach: he wanted to publicize Rubio's personality, his affect on his students, and the unique family atmosphere that has been fostered throughout the long-snapping community."I think [the program's success] has to do with the fact that it’s me and only me that does it," Rubio explained. "I run the entire camp. I run the social media, I do the blog. If you email, I’m the one that answers. If you call, I’m the one that answers."
Rubio is an extremely outgoing and charismatic individual, but a large part of his appeal has to do with his focus on creating opportunities for his students. He isn't just teaching a skill for the sake of teaching it -- he's trying to show his students that they can create incredible opportunities.
In 2014 alone, Rubio said he sent 100 of his long-snapping students to college, with even the most venerated programs offering scholarships to lock down his top-flight recruits. For the 2015 recruiting class -- a group that could continue growing up until the season starts in August -- he already has 85 who have committed to a school.
Within some programs, his recruits are seen as can't-miss investments. A Rubio student has been the long-snapper at Oregon for each of the past 12 seasons. The team's current long-snapper, Tanner Carew, was Rubio's top student in his class.
A handful of students from Rubio's camps have even gone on to the NFL, drawing huge paychecks just for snapping a football.
"College coaches have started to figure it out," Rubio said. "Coaches started jumping on board.
"I was speaking recently to a very, very, very prominent college football coach, and he said he wanted our best long-snapper. I said, 'You'll have to offer a scholarship,' and he said, 'Are you serious?' I told him, 'You don't have to offer him, but he's already got three scholarships waiting for him.
It might have one been seen as foolish to burn a scholarship on a football player whose only skill is snapping the football. But Rubio says that once coaches have been burned by bungled snaps enough times, they change their tune. And Rubio's students come in polished and game-ready.
"They want the best, and they know that I train the best," he said.
When Gibas decided to go ahead with a documentary, he enlisted a friend from high school, Adam Gatdula, to be his assistant director. Together, the two of them planned out their shooting schedule and their vision for the documentary. The process for making the film took a year-and-a-half.
"We all filmed at the camps, -- Rubio gave us the go-ahead to see what we could get creatively," Gatdula said. "He gave us full play to [do what we thought was best]."
Gatdula and Gibas, who are both originally from Covina, California, also set up a Kickstarter fund to raise $20,000 for the movie's production.
With the documentary complete, the young filmmakers have had three showings: in Lawrence, Kansas, where Gibas goes to school, in the Los Angeles area, and in Lewiston, Idaho, Rubio's hometown.
The documentary is also available in its entirely online through Vimeo, and the duo plans on submitting the film to festivals and continuing to share Rubio's story. Although the completed project is a nice feather in each of their caps, they are passionate about spreading the word for what Rubio has done for his students.
"To see him changing boys’ lives from all across the country," Gatdula says, "it's inspiring."
"I don’t want to say [the movie] is finished. People need to hear his story."
The NBA's Slam Dunk competition is on tap this weekend, and even though every attempt isn't pretty to watch, it still serves as a useful homage to one of basketball's signature plays.
But on the actual court -- one where Nate Robinson is not kryptonite and Blake Griffin doesn't have to hurdle any Kias -- dunks don't carry the same clout as in years past. According to The Wall Street Journal, 17 percent of NBA players logging major minutes this season haven't dunked the ball -- not even once. That's an increase from last year, when the figure was 15 percent.
There's always a segment of the NBA population that simply doesn't have the height or vertical to reliably dunk. In rare cases like Derrick Rose, the fear of injury might dissuade a player from rising higher off the ground than necessary.
Kyle Lowry, an All-Star for the Toronto Raptors, hasn't dunked the ball since 2008. This year and last year, he was the league's leading scorers among guys who never threw down a dunk.
Then there's guys like J.J. Redick. At 6-foot-4, the Clippers sharpshooter has the height and vertical to dunk, and he did -- once. It was in the 2011 playoffs, when he was playing for the Orlando Magic.
Redick is still fully capable of dunking, but he's never been one to throw it down. As a middle-schooler, he broke his wrist going in for a dunk and concluded he'd be better served by avoiding the force and contact of a dunk and instead playing smarter to avoid a possible injury.
He can still dunk, and does -- but only in warm-ups, even though it gets him grief from his teammates, including Blake Griffin.
Griffin is an interesting case because his reputation is built off of his dunking ability. After averaging a career-high 2.9 dunks per game in 2012, the power forward is only averaging 1.4 per game this year.
What happened? Basically, Griffin got tired.
"My first few years in the league, I was relying on my athleticism to get me by, because that’s what got me to the NBA," Griffin recently wrote in The Players' Tribune. "The problem with that is, you end up getting really, really tired by February.
"My rookie year I tried to get out of bed on a road trip near the end of the season and I was like, Am I physically able to walk right now? I went out on the floor that night and ran up and down just trying to look like a real NBA human."
Avoiding dunks is now seen as a way to conserve energy, and during the course of 82 regular-season games, there's a cumulative benefit to taking the less brutalizing road. It might strip fans of some of their coveted dunks, but the result is that, come the playoffs, guys like Griffin are fresher -- and ready to throw down.
Smoking may seem counterintuitive to building up the lung strength and endurance for running. But when it comes to ultramarathon racing, some seasoned vets are finding notable benefits in marijuana use.
According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, pot has become a veritable trend among ultramarathoners, most of whom use it as a way of managing the grueling nature of ultramarathons themselves.
As runners in the story note, the extreme length of an ultra -- which typically ranges from 30 to 200 miles and covers rigorous terrains -- presents challenges that aren't necessarily endurance-related, at least in terms of oxygen intake. Join and muscle pain, general body strain, potential dehydration and even boredom -- which can zap a runner's motivation in an instant -- can all conspire to take an ultramarathoner down.
“The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm,” said veteran runner Jenn Shelton to the WSJ. “Pot does all three of those things.”
Because it's so effective, pot has spurred a debate about the ethics of using it in ultra racing. It may be legal in states like Colorado, which is a favorite locale of many extreme runners, but its affect on runners would place it in the category of a performance-enhancing drug.
Sides within the community are split. Some have no problem using it in races -- although the drug is considered banned by several governing bodies -- while others abstain altogether. Then there are the individuals who smoke marijuana during training, but not in competition.
Meanwhile, medical experts caution that while marijuana does have benefits -- particularly as it relates to blocking pain receptors -- it can increase the risk of injury or other health problems because those warning signals aren't getting through.
Many runners aren't willing to discuss whether they use marijuana or not as part of their ultramarathon training. But it's safe to say that with the benefits well-known, many have an interest.
As a big, strong guard on the line protecting Ben Roethlisberger, Kelvin Beachum is critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success. This year, the Steelers were lucky enough to see running back Le'Veon Bell blossom into a feature back -- and once again, Beachum was there opening up running lanes. In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, Beachum talks with ThePostGame about how he handles his offseason training, Pittsburgh's toughest foes in the AFC North, and shares some fun facts about his life fans might not know.
The Super Bowl is the premier marketing and value-building platform that exists in this country. This event transcends the narrower genre of hardcore NFL fans to reach the general public. People who don't watch or attend games are caught up in the event nature of the week. Thousands of journalists have been encamped in Phoenix filing stories for a week. Every electronic media outlet is here. The stories run in the lifestyle, business, celebrity and food pages, as well as in sports.
The audience is the largest in television each year, and the game is broadcast in 130 countries. What does this mean for players? It means that an athlete who performs dramatically in a Super Bowl will see his life changed forever. It offers the potential to move beyond a sports audience to become a household name. Dramatic performers who have engaging personalities will appear on late night shows, daytime magazine shows, magazines -- they will be fed into the celebrity-making machine that has taken over media.
Advertisers and sponsors look for these athletes to promote their products. In 1993, Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys entered the Rose Bowl as a very good quarterback. When he was named Super Bowl MVP in the Cowboys' rout of Buffalo, he instantly became "TROY AIKMAN SUPERSTAR." He was offered major endorsement contracts in all the major marketing categories. He still does national endorsements 20 years later.
Two years after Aikman's breakthrough, 49ers quarterback Steve Young escaped from the shadow of predecessor Joe Montana with a six-touchdown, MVP performance, and he became "STEVE YOUNG SUPERSTAR." He was also offered innumerable product endorsements and he still is doing them 20 years later.
A player who performs well and is a free agent will see his contract value soar. Other teams want a Super Bowl-winning player to give them leadership and set an example. Green Bay receiver and kick returner Desmond Howard was named MVP of the Packers' Super Bowl XXXI win over the Patriots. His contract value soared, we adjusted the numbers upward and he signed a rich contract with the Raiders. Victory in a Super Bowl provides a contributing player with a bright patina on his resume that never goes away.
Seahawk Richard Sherman twerked his way into national consciousness last year at this time, and his play in the Super Bowl gave him rich opportunities. Seahawk Marshawn Lynch has mummed his way to the same status this year as the rebel against the machine.
Based on the dramatic comeback victory, Tom Brady will hit legendary status. Rob Gronkowski made his presence known with one of the biggest plays in the game, in addition to Julian Edelman's 4th-quarter touchdown catch. Malcolm Butler's interception with 20 seconds left sealed a win for New England.
Some of these Patriot performers have changed their lives forever.
To her future college coach, the decision is simple.
The girl can play. So he wants her on his team. So what if Sarah Hudek is a rarity, the female who earns a college baseball scholarship?
"This is not a gimmick and I could care less about media attention," coach Aaron Vorachek said to The Shreveport Times. “I’m signing her to help us win ballgames.”
— Jimmy Watson (@JimmyWatson6) February 3, 2015
Vorachek is excited to bring in the lefty, who throws fastballs around 82 miles per hour, as a contributor to the Bossier Parish Community College baseball team in Louisiana. Hudek, whose father, John, pitched for five teams in six MLB seasons, has been playing baseball with the boys since Little League, including for her high school team.
Last summer, she competed in the WBSC Women's Baseball World Cup and dominated, posting a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings.
Her presence at the college level will be new territory for everyone involved, but Hudek is optimistic.
"[My high school teammates] have been the greatest teammates," Hudek said. "I hope my new teammates see me for what I can do to help the team, even though I'll probably stick out like a sore thumb."
The known list of female pitchers earning even partial college baseball scholarship is small with Marti Sementelli in 2011 at Montreat College in North Carolina, Molly McKesson at Christian Brothers University in 2004 and Ila Border for two California college in the 90s.
Here's a feature about Hudek from Houston's KUBE TV last season:
The more competitive amateur sports becomes, the more specialization that happens at lower levels of play, particularly in high school. Athletes with their sights set on earning a college scholarship often decide to cut out the distractions of other sports where their futures aren't as bright.
So instead of moving on to another sport when the football season ends, they move into offseason workouts, building muscle and preparing for the next football season -- focused solely on football and nothing else.
In a vacuum, it seems like a sound choice. But if you want to be an Ohio State Buckeye, that strategy is worth re-considering. A review of coach Urban Meyer's recruiting patterns reveals that the vast majority -- almost 90 percent -- of football scholarships have gone to multi-sport high school athletes.
Although Meyer himself hasn't explained this methodology, there are some obvious advantages. For one, multi-sport recruits can be trusted to possess more inherent athleticism than a player who, for example, has poured everything into football.
Additional sports also give coaching staffs more opportunities to evaluate traits that cross over to another sport -- not just agility and speed, but also how they function as a teammate.
Sharing this for all you football players who take off the winter/spring to "work out." pic.twitter.com/tThJAo03eB
— Ohio Varsity (@ohiovarsity) January 18, 2015
There's also value in playing competitive sports year-round, gaining experience working at a high level and under pressure. Football specialists don't get that in high school -- they play football for three months a year and then spend the rest of the year lifting weights and practicing, while other athletes compete at a much higher level of intensity.
Another knock against specialization is that repetitive motions cause the wear and tear on young bodies that lead to greater injury susceptibility.
Of course, Meyer might also have a preference for two-sport athletes since he was one himself, playing college football at Cincinnati while spending two years in the minor league baseball ranks.
In the seconds after Malcolm Butler's interception, you would assume the most powerful shockwaves of excitement were emanating out of Boston, where New England Patriots fans were hysterical after all-but-clinching their fourth Super Bowl victory.
You would be wrong. If we're adjusting for size, the biggest celebration was happening in Livingston, Alabama. Population: 3,506.
That's where Butler played college football at the University of West Alabama. And it's where students, former teammates, faculty, administrators and citizens alike, were over-the-moon happy just to see a former Tiger suiting up and contributing in the Super Bowl.
And then Butler picked off Russell Wilson at the goal line, dropped to the ground and rose a football hero.
Meanwhile, West Alabama was losing its mind.
"Within seconds," says UWA president Ken Tucker, regarding how long it took before the wave of phone calls and texts hit. "I mean, literally, within seconds.
"There were multiple chills going up multiple spines."
Before the interception, Butler was already a local hero. Tucker says he is the first student-athlete from the school to play in the NFL. [Note: several former student-athletes reached the NFL when the school was known as Livingston College.]
West Alabama athletic director Stan Williamson says that because Butler was so well-liked as a student-athlete by students, faculty and staff -- Tucker describes him as "such a good person, very sincere, very team-oriented" -- embracing his success came naturally.
Suffice it to say, Butler was one of the bigger things to happen to the University of West Alabama -- and that was before his critical interception.
Butler's story of success is one that the school is eager to hang its hat on. He attended West Alabama after spending two years at Hinds Community College. Although he drew interest from Division-I programs, his academic situation coming out of junior college was better served by attending UWA, a Division II school.
For Butler, who grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, West Alabama allowed him to thrive. College was an opportunity Butler struggled to maintain: In junior college, he was working full-time at Popeye's fast-food restaurant on top of his football and academic commitments. At West Alabama, he was able to participate in a work-study program while leading the football program to two straight Gulf South Conference championships.
"[Western Alabama] is primarily a rural area," Tucker says. "We offer quality, affordable, accessible education primarily to first-generation college students.
"This is a family-oriented environment, and it's a very high-performance culture. But I must admit, the energy level was probably as high [the day after the Super Bowl] as it has been in years and years and years."
West Alabama athletic director Stan Williamson can only concur. Like Tucker, most of his Monday was spent handling media inquiries and strategizing with other school officials about how to handle the newfound buzz. Williamson says he has been flooded with nonstop emails, tweets and phone calls, including some from people he hadn't heard from in decades.
"There's a feeling of excitement across campus," Williamson says. "I had a staff member who said he couldn’t go to sleep last night, his Twitter kept going off every 30 seconds on his phone. I asked him, 'You know you can turn that off, right?' And he eventually did.
"That's the thing: He wanted to go to sleep, but he didn't want to, either."
In a way, Butler's signature play -- likely be the greatest moment of his career, no matter how bright his future -- is a microcosm of his struggle to get to that point. Facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, and in a situation that would seem to call for a power running play, Seattle calls an inside slant that almost seems designed to pick on Butler, the unsuspecting rookie.
But Butler proved to be anything but a weak link. As soon as the play develops, Butler sees what happens. He actually beats Seattle wideout Ricardo Lockette in breaking inside for Wilson's pass, reaching the ball the same time as Lockette. Although Lockette outweighs Butler by about 20 pounds, the rookie wins what is essentially a jump ball, maintains his hold through contact, and makes the play of the year.
To the rest of the country, Butler will forever be defined by that play. And maybe that's how it will go down at the University of West Alabama, too. But the people on campus make it clear that their support of Butler has nothing to do with his new-found status as a Super Bowl hero.
"[Malcolm] is such a good person, and a humble person, people were cheering for him no matter what," Williamson says.
Tucker says a small group of leaders at UWA will get together soon to figure out how to best honor Butler. Everything is on the table, from a Malcolm Butler Day to a parade, to a luncheon celebrating his accomplishment.
In the meantime, the school is hoping Butler's success can strengthen the university's reputation in the region. Both the athletic department and the administration are looking at ways they create more good out of the increased media attention.
"Everybody’s reveling in the moment, but we also would like to seize the opportunity and seize some positive long-term impacts for the football program in particular and the university in general," Tucker says.
To West Alabama, Butler's story is more than 15 minutes of fame. The hard work behind his success could inspire other students to pursue the highest reaches of their potential.
"We don’t have a mall, we don't even have a Wal-Mart," Williamson says. "We have several dollar stores and a few great grocery stores, and that's about it."
"I think the thing [his performance] created was not just the play he made, it was the idea that, if you continue to work hard, there’s a good chance something good will happen."
The gloves, for example, were designed with input from Calvin Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. So as stylish as it might look, functionality is key when Nike creates gear for NFL players. To take a closer look at the science involved in developing these products, Nike Football's creative director Todd Van Horne explained the technology and practical benefits of what the Seahawks and Patriots will be wearing in Super Bowl XLIX.