1. I’ll start, naturally, with college basketball. Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis was on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Thursday, and he said he’s been encouraged by some of the physical improvements made by some of his returning players. “Blake Hinson really has reshaped his body,” Davis said. “Here’s a kid that probably weighed 250 pounds in high school. He really lost some weight and his body started to transition when he was at Sunrise. He’s probably at 230-232 and his body fat has really started to go down. KJ Buffen probably finished the year at 215-216 and now he’s around 225. That’s going to help him.” Luis Rodriguez, Davis said, “has probably made the most progress of anybody on our team.” Center Carlos Curry, who redshirted last season, has also made tremendous progress in his efforts to become strong enough to play at the college level. Curry is expected to be in the rotation this season. Davis can’t talk about specific recruits, but he said Ole Miss’ success last season has carried over to the recruiting trail. Ole Miss enjoyed a 24 percent increase in attendance in SEC home games. Recruits have noticed. “Now they see the connection with the fan base and we always talk about it — a fan base will speed up the process of growth and ours is definitely doing that,” Davis said.
2. Breein Tyree had an All-SEC season as a junior but Davis and the Rebels’ coaching staff challenged him in the days after Ole Miss’ finale to take his game to another level. “He’s got to take the next step as far as making others better off the dribble, transitioning more even to some point guard,” Davis said. “His assists to turnovers has to evolve and get better. There was so much improvement from his sophomore to his junior year, so it’s just assist to turnover, playmaking and just becoming a more determined defender the entire game. He’s been off to a great start this summer.” Tyree, Davis said, has accepted the challenge. “With Breein, he lives in the gym,” Davis said. “He’s bringing others with him. I think he’s really just determined to try to be the best guard in the SEC which is obviously very difficult to do. His leadership has been really, really good. He’s matured.”
3. The Opening will be held this week in Frisco, Texas. There should be good news for Ole Miss coming out of the event at some point. Murfreesboro (Oakland), Tennessee, cornerback De’Arre McDonald is, according to sources, planning to commit to Ole Miss. If it’s Ole Miss landing McDonald’s commitment, and I think it absolutely is, it’s a big victory for the Rebels. McDonald is a big, physical, athletic cornerback with tremendous upside. Sure, it’s even more momentum for the program this summer and McDonald’s presence on the commitment list is going to push the Rebels even closer to the top 10. However, McDonald can play. That’s really all that matters. Ole Miss is stacking talented players in this class, fortifying a foundation that Matt Luke and Co. hope to build upon in future seasons.
4. Ole Miss elected not to roll over/extend Mike Bianco’s contract, meaning he has three years left on his deal going into the 2020 season. I doubt the move made Bianco, who has been the face of Ole Miss’ program for 19 years, all that happy. However, I think it was the right move. Here’s the deal, fairly or not: Even though Ole Miss finished strong and made it to a super regional before losing to Arkansas, fans have grown weary of the lack of consistent postseason success. Ole Miss is likely going to take a slight step. backwards next season, and if that happens, it just makes sense to lower Bianco’s buyout in case the powers that be at the time elect to make a change. Also, there will be a lot of comparisons made to the decision made by Mr. Personality himself, Jeff Vitter, to not roll over Andy Kennedy’s contract a year before Kennedy’s tenure at Ole Miss ended. That was an error. It cost Ole Miss players. Vitter should have taken his lenses off, cleared his head and either fired Kennedy or extended his deal. Bianco’s situation is different. This won’t cost him players; they commit years ahead in baseball. Further, and I hesitate to do this on a site that reveres college baseball, but making the Sweet 16 in college baseball is not as difficult as it is in hoops. Making the NCAA Tournament in baseball is not as difficult as it is in basketball. It’s just not. In basketball, virtually every program in America is putting emphasis on the sport. The same can’t be said for baseball. The bottom line is this: Rightly or wrongly, smartly or not, Ole Miss has decided to emphasize baseball. A season is judged on postseason success. Ole Miss has made it to Omaha once in Bianco’s 19 years. At some point, that math is going to spell Bianco’s end. When and if it does, lowering the price of Bianco’s buyout is just good business.
5. The New Orleans Pelicans are fast becoming must-watch television. Not only did the Pelicans fleece the Lakers in the Anthony Davis deal and draft Zion Williamson, they added Antonio Daniels to Joel Myers to form one of the more talented and entertaining broadcast teams in the NBA. Myers is just fantastic, one of the more underrated broadcasters around. Daniels, meanwhile, worked on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s pregame and postgame show and is just tremendous. He made Thunder broadcasts complete with his incisive commentary and sense of humor. My League Pass is going to get stuck on Pelicans games this season, I suspect.
6. Free agency has begun. Kyrie Irving is a Net. Klay Thompson is staying in Golden State. Jimmy Butler appears Miami-bound. Kemba Walker is headed to Boston. All eyes are squarely on Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. The Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Nets and Raptors are all involved with one or both of the duo, and the direction of the league is in their hands. For his part, Durant is expected to announce his decision tonight on his company-owned sports business network. Al Horford is headed somewhere besides Boston. The Thunder would like to shed salary and improve at the same time. Houston is still hoping to make a splash. Utah has improved and isn’t done yet. Denver is a contender. Portland is locking up Damian Lillard. In short, for those of us who love the NBA, this is the start of what should be a fascinating few days.
7. One of the things that occupied my staycation was the Atlanta Braves-Chicago Cubs series at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won easily on Monday. The Braves countered with two wins on Tuesday and Wednesday before the Cubs managed a split with a win Thursday afternoon. Many believe it was a preview of a postseason series, as neither team is likely to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would entertain the wildcard winner. If that’s the case, baseball fans are in for a treat. I think the Braves are a better club than Chicago, though the Cubs have more postseason experience. It would be fun for baseball fans, as they’d get to see exciting players such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Javy Baez, two of the game’s best first basemen (Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo) and a ton of star power on both sides. I’m still not sure the Cubs have enough firepower to win the Central, but if they do, they’ll get the Braves and whatever network has that series won’t have to work hard to market that divisional series.
8. Three years ago, I voted for Cubs president Theo Epstein for president. Forgive me; the Cubs had won the World Series six days earlier. I may have still been drunk. I’m not sure who I’ll vote for, if I’m still alive, in 2020. I doubt I’ll vote for President Trump. I also can’t imagine voting for any of the collection of circus clowns I watched in the Democratic debate last week. So, for now, the leader in the clubhouse for my coveted presidential vote is Kathy Kehoe. The 73-year-old Pennsylvania grandmother killed a five-foot cobra outside of an apartment complex in Falls, Pa., some. 30 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Can you freaking imagine? I can’t. If I encountered a cobra while I was out gardening, I’d likely have a heart attack right there. In the event I didn’t have a coronary, I’d almost certainly scream like a little girl, lose control of most if not all of my bodily function and run, Forrest Gump-style, for the better part of the next month. Not Kehoe, however. She chopped the cobra’s head off. “I knew what I was doing was dangerous, I’m not a fool,” she said in a phone interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday. “I just acted. I thought of the kids and other people in this community and I said ‘I can’t let this thing get away.’” That’s the leader we need. That’s the leader we deserve. Let’s make this happen.
9. Here’s Jonathan Howard, who will be a guest this week on the Beer Garden, presented by Oxford Krystal, for this week’s drink of the week. NBA Free agency is here. As a Knicks fan _ I know I know _ I've been looking forward to this day since we traded Porzigis, because honestly I needed to look forward to something after that debacle. But, in the next 48 hours, we will sign 2 Time NBA Champion Kevin Durant. Now, this is the Knicks so I am holding on for dear life, so for a mix of victory and defeat, how about a Champagne Julep for your drink of the week? The Champagne Julep shows up as early as the 1940s as a low-proof option to the often very boozy bourbon variety. The drink calls for a base of champagne with a hint of cognac, a dash of angostura bitters and the usually amount of sugar and mint leaves. The champagne makes the drink lighter and dryer but not fizzy, as the crushed ice is going to almost completely kill the effervescence. Cognac is a brandy distilled to a few higher and more strict standards in the Cognac region of France. They almost use exclusively Saint-Emilion grapes that are distilled twice in copper pot stills. Cognac is to brandy as bourbon is to American whiskey, if that makes sense. I’m a huge fan of the Pierre Ferrand label of cognac and if you can find it, Lustau Grand Reserva Spanish Brandy is also incredible for the price. For the champagne, which is the star of this particular beverage, my favorite of all cocktail champagnes is Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne. It has the perfect blend of dry and sweet, really delicate bubbles and a long finish. I do not recommend Prosecco or Cava for this cocktail. Both are going to make the drink fat, sweet, and nowhere close to the dynamic version of the drink served in the 1940s. The drink is polarizing in its distinct taste, dry and bright, with a subtle sweetness and fresh aromatics. It is a drink that certainly doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves due to the extreme popularity of its older brother, the Mint Julep. Give this one a try this summer, you will not be disappointed. Directions: In a julep cup, add mint and simple syrup. Lightly press with a muddler or end of a spoon. Add cognac and crushed ice. Then pour in champagne, top with more ice. Add in a straw, and garnish with a large plume of mint, and the twist of a lemon.