Westbrook staying mum

By Michael Kinney

Of all the things that have taken place since Kevin Durant announced he was leaving Oklahoma City, nothing has surprised me more than what Russell Westbrook has said. And that is nothing.

Even with all of the rumors, anonymous source reports and predictions taking place, the Thunder point guard has remained silent to the public when it comes to the current state of his franchise.

Knowing his aversion to the media and open microphones, that really shouldn’t be too big of a shock. However, as the now unquestioned leader and face of the Thunder, you might have thought he would have taken the opportunity to settle the nerves and fears of Oklahoma City fans with a public statement, a quick press conference or one on one interview with a reporter.

Being a part of the Millennials, he could have even taken to social media to tell the fan base that all will be OK. That even though they lost a great player in Durant, the team has assembled a squad that will still compete with the top teams in the league.

Any of that would have been an easy remedy to a lot of the contract, trade and player dissatisfaction rumors that fans have feasted on for the past month.

Instead, Westbrook has chosen to stay silent. I’m sure he has his reasons and will still play like a demon possessed once the season starts.

But when you are the face of the team, a little more is expected.

 

Moultrie is now the teacher on Team USA

Michelle Moultrie has been a leader on Team USA for several years. (Photo by USA Softball)

By Michael Kinney

Michelle Moultrie has been part of the USA Softball program since 2011 and has traveled the world playing the sport she loves. Before that she was a star at the University of Florida who collected All-American credentials and College World Series appearances.

Yet, despite the success the Jacksonville, Fla. Native has earned, Moultrie still sees her career as unsuspecting and unlikely.

“It’s kind of been like surprising,” Moultrie said. “When I was a kid, I didn’t see myself going this far. I think when you get chosen for things like this, it’s almost a surreal type of thing. I had a much better college career than I thought I would. Given this opportunity was something I never imagined would happen. It’s been awesome.”

Moultrie may be the most recognizable player on the current Team USA softball team, which just won the World Championships. Wherever the team goes, she is a fan favorite. Her style of play in the outfield and at the plate is one of the factors that helps the squad play an entertaining brand of softball.

But Moultrie says being able to take the field wearing the uniform with USA emblazon across the front is reason enough to be excited about the game.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity. Just from the very first year, it doesn’t really change,” Moultrie said. “Every year that you make the team, you have that same feeling like ‘OMG, I get to represent my country.’ It’s a really amazing experience. It’s different each year. We play in different places. There is new people that come on the team. So I think it’s just a really cool, life opportunity. Just really amazing.”

Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy transition for Moultrie. After the success she found with the Gators, she suddenly had to learn to deal with failure on a national stage.

“It is a game you really have to learn, especially the failure side of having a bad day or bad at bat,” Moultrie said. “One thing I’ve learned is to try and stay calm through that and just know that each day is going to be different than the next.”

As easy as Moultrie makes it sound, she says it’s been one of her most difficult adjustments in softball. But the benefits have proven to help her in all facets of her life.

“It’s pretty tough,” Moultrie said. “But a lot of things you do on the field can just help you in life. Experiences like you can’t sit too long on things you didn’t do well. Learn from it and kind of move on. Good things will happen next time.”

As one of the longer tenured veterans on Team USA, Moultrie finds herself teaching the younger players in the program on how to deal with failure and how to respond to it on world stage.

“A lot of the young girls are great, but it is a hard transition from college to here,” Moultrie said. “The game is a little bit different. That is something we tell each other, encourage each other. It’s a long summer and we’re working towards the end. A lot of times, especially being at a high level, you can go up and down with how you’re performing. But coach (Ken) Erickson, he is so inspirational. And he always reminds us what a great opportunity it is here and how special it is to be on this field.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer and can be contacted on Eyeamtruth.com

Lawton coaches take over OCA Hall of Fame Lnduction

Former Eisenhower coach Tim Reynolds accepts his OCA Hall of Fame plaque.

By Michael Kinney

TULSA – In 2015, when former Lawton High great Will Shields was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was surrounded by his family and friends. Also by his side during that special moment was his high school coach Clarence Madden, a man Shields said helped shape his career.

So, it should not have been a surprise that when it was Madden’s turn to enter a hall of fame, Shields was front and center to watch the ceremony.

“It’s awesome Shields said. “That’s one thing about it, a guy that actually helped you with your career, started you of with the love of the game, taught you how to treat your family in high regard. He’s one of those guys that sort of did it by example.”

Madden was joined by former Eisenhower coaches Bruce Harrington and Tim Reynolds who were part of the 50th annual Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame induction Saturday night at the Marriott Southern Hills in Tulsa.

The rest of the inductees included Danny Daniels (Hominy), Jim Ferguson (Alva), Ron Lancaster (Tulsa), Doug Tolin (OBU) and Larry Turner (Owasso).

Madden coached at Lawton High for 12 years. In that time he racked up an 83-50 record as head football coach. That included three trips to the state 6A semifinals. He was also an offensive line coach with the Wolverines when they won the 1987 5A state championship.

Madden, who is now the offensive coordinator at Cache High, was in awe of the moment.

“It’s just a humbling experience,” Madden said. “There are so many great coaches out there. Coaches that I’ve worked for, coaches that I’ve worked with, coaches that I’ve had growing up, which kind of made me want to be a coach. It’s an honor.”

Harrington recently left Eisenhower in order to take a coaching position in Forth Worth, TX. at Northside High School. The move ends a 32-year stint at EHS.

In his last official act as a member of the Lawton community, Harrington was honored to join the same hall of fame thathis father, Clester Harrington, joined in 1989.

“I think to all coaches it’s one of the greatest honors you can get in Oklahoma,” Harrington said. “Following in my father’s footsteps, it’s a big deal. I’ve been going to coaches clinics since I was born. It’s a great honor.”

Harrington, who won a state title with the Eagles in 2015, tallied a 435-264 record in 25 years as head coach with the Eagles.

“A lot of my best friends are my father’s friends,” Harrington said. “And a lot of them are in the hall of fame. I always sit around the room and listen to their stories. The Oklahoma Coaches Association has a great history and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

With 27 years and four head coaching stints under his belt, Reynolds was inducted into the hall of fame. His stops include Paul’s Valley, Chickasha and one year at Noble. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State.

But it was Reynolds’ four years at Eisenhower that will be attached to his name at the very top of his resume. In that span he racked up a 40-11 record, four playoffs appearances, two trips to the Class 5A state title game, one state title and the mythical 1990 USA Today National Championship.

Despite being one of only two Oklahoma coaches to ever win a national title, Reynolds said he was stunned he made it to the hall of fame.

“For 27 years it was my passion now when I get up in the morning I work for a living,” said Reynolds, who now owns a real estate company in Chickasha. “I never considered it a job. This is one of the highlights of my life. To be recognized by your peers.”

Story first appeared in The Lawton Constitution. Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer at Eyeamtruth.com

Sooners look to have impact at Rio Olympics

Coach Mark Williams and former OU gymnast Jake Dalton talk over routines as they prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games.

By Michael Kinney

When the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics team takes to the competition floor for the first time during the 2016 Olympic games, they will have a familiar look to them. Those who have followed the Oklahoma gymnastics program for the past decade or so will recognize several faces.

Three of the five gymnasts who will represent the United States in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the Olympic games are alumni of the Sooners. They include Jake Dalton, Chris Brooks and Alex Naddour. They will join Sam Mikulak and  Danell Leyva, who round out the five-man squad.

Leading US team into Olympic battle is OU head coach Mark Williams. After four previous trips to the Olympics as an assistant and individual coach, this will be his first turn as the lead man in charge.

“I am honored,” Williams said. “It’s amazing to be in a position to lead any team at the Olympic Games, and I feel we are very fortunate to have athletes that have been part of the Olympic process in the past. I’m excited about this team. I think we have a tremendous opportunity in Rio and I’m looking forward to the journey.”

Williams, who is heading into his 18th season at Oklahoma, is coming off back to back national championships and the 10th for the Sooners’ program. That resume helped him secure the national team coaching gig.

“Obviously my Oklahoma teams have done very well over the years,” Williams said. “They want to have somebody that is in a place that continues championships. I am hoping I can put the pieces together with the five man team where we’re in a great position to be able to be put up on the medal stand at the end of the competition.”

This will be Dalton’s second trip to the Olympics. He was part of the 2012 squad that took fifth in London.

But being able to go to the games with his coach leading the way makes it even more special for him.

“It’s incredible,” Dalton said. “It has to be so rewarding for him. Even for us to watch it for him because he deserves it. No one deserves it more than this guy. He is such a good coach because he can put together a training plan and make the athletes peak at the perfect time. That’s kind of what he has been known for in college. And he’s been doing it with me the last three years, helping me put together training programs. He is going to be a great coach out on the floor.”

The men’s team has had a chance to bond and get to know each other in the weeks heading up to the games, which last from Aug. 5-21. But because of the Oklahoma connection, it was a much easier task than previous Olympic teams.

“I feel very comfortable with those guys having coached them before,” Williams said. “I know they have been on championship teams and have represented the United States at World Championships and at the Olympics for Jake. They are guys that have earned their spots and in the next three or four weeks we will put in the training necessary to go to Rio very well prepared.”

This is the first time since 1984 that there have been three members from once school on a gymnastics team. Then it was UCLA, who had three of the six Olympic gymnast.

“It’s incredible. Speaks volumes about the program, about the coaches here and even the athletes,” Dalton said. “Everybody gets here, they go through Mark’s training. It’s hard, but if you stick with it, you’re going to come out a better gymnasts. Everybody is really a family here when they are training together. They you get the support from the University and we get to team in this amazing facility every single day. Couldn’t ask for a better place to train.”

Even as the team prepares for the Olympics, controversies continue to surround the games. Everything from beaches polluted with body parts to the Zika virus has driven away other athletes from competing.

But Dalton said, for him, it’s worth the risk to fulfill a lifelong dream and wear USA across his chest.

“There is a lot of media about it. I think some of it is a little bit over hyped,” Dalton said. “I think there are concerns some people need to make sure they are aware of. For me, if I get the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympic Games, I’m not backing down.”

Kinney is a freelance writer. Go to Eyeamtruth.com

At Team USA Level, basics is at the core

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – The game of softball has changed considerably over the decades. Everything from the gloves players use to the uniforms worn has gone through a transformation.

Even the way players are taught the game has changed. There is now more technology involved in the game than ever before. However, according to two-time U.S. Olympian and Cal State Northridge softball coach Tairia Flowers, there is no better teacher of softball than the pure basics.

“The biggest thing we see is being able to play catch,” Flowers said. “Field the ball, throw it to a target, be able to hit somebody in the chest every single time. If you watch, the majority of the errors in games at this level are going to be throwing mistakes because they are rushing their tempo.”

Flowers, who is also serving as coach for USA Softball’s developmental squad, the USA Elite, led the team to a fourth-place finish at the World Cup of Softball last week in Oklahoma City. Even at the international level, Flowers likes to see her players get in serious work on the tee. Hitting the ball off a tee is something little kids do when they are first learning how to play the game, but she feels it works just as well in keeping the skills of veteran players sharp.

“I am always a fan of tee work,” Flowers said. “I think you can get a ton of work in without having to adjust to speed and tempo and the ball moving. You can perfect your swing off the tee.”

The Elite roster is filled with women of varying degrees of experience and ages. That includes Sam Fischer, who has been with USA Softball since 2012.

Fischer agrees with her coach that the most important work softball players of all experience levels can do is throw, catch, hit, and field.

“Keep it simple. Always keep it simple,” said Fischer, who is a native of Simi Valley, California. “I’ve been around for a long time, and there are more and more things that are coming out that are taking away from the basics. So if we get back to basics and just work on the foundation, girls are going to get better than if they use all these tool and different stuff. Keep it simple for sure.”

For 18-year-old Madilyn Nickles, who has yet to even start her collegiate career at UCLA, training her mind to do the right movement in the right moment is part of the keep it simple philosophy. She says it helped her land a spot with USA Softball at such a young age.

“I did mental drills more than anything,” Nickles said. “That was always my biggest issue growing up. It still is to this day. Physically I’d say do the little things. The little tweaky little drills that you need to do to become successful. You can’t really do the same exact thing every time in a game. You just really need to work on things that will make you confident in a game.”

Fischer does suggest one bit of technology to help players get better. But even that is just a prelude to more hard work.

“What I would say with the technology we have now, film yourself when you’re hitting,” Fischer said. “Film yourself when you’re fielding. Watch what the girls on the USA team or in college are doing and see what looks similar. See what they do differently, what they do better. And just get out and get reps. When I was growing up I really didn’t do a ton of drills. But I was out there getting hundreds and hundreds of reps. So no matter what, you’re going to get better when you’re practicing. Even if you are just swinging off a tee, you’re going to get better.”

Go to Eyeamtruth.com

Japan knocks of Team USA in World Cup

USA takes silver, but shows promising future

Pitcher Jaclyn Traina delivers a pitch for Team USA during World Cup of Softball XI in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a two year absence the World Cup of Softball made its return to Oklahoma City this summer. But just like in most years, the two best softball programs in the world, met up again in the finale to battle over the crown.

Facing Japan, it was all set up for Team USA in the Gold Medal game to close out the week as heroes.

Instead it was Japan who found a way to close the door on a potent USA lineup and earn a 2-1 victory July 10 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

“Tonight against a good team like Japan, we gave them some free bases and really didn’t have the type of hitting that we…

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Japan knocks of Team USA in World Cup

Pitcher Jaclyn Traina delivers a pitch for Team USA during World Cup of Softball XI in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a two year absence the World Cup of Softball made its return to Oklahoma City this summer. But just like in most years, the two best softball programs in the world, met up again in the finale to battle over the crown.

Facing Japan, it was all set up for Team USA in the Gold Medal game to close out the week as heroes.

Instead it was Japan who found a way to close the door on a potent USA lineup and earn a 2-1 victory July 10 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

“Tonight against a good team like Japan, we gave them some free bases and really didn’t have the type of hitting that we needed,” said catcher Aubree Munro.

With the victory Japan claimed the World Cup of Softball XI gold medal, while the Americans were left with the silver. It was their only loss of the week.

“I was very proud of the fact that we had young kids step up this week, we didn’t panic and sometimes the difference between a Gold and Silver is a fingernail,” USA coach Ken Eriksen said. “I think when you take a look up and down our lineup, everybody can hit it well.  We’ve got rookie pitchers out here that are moving in the right direction.  I can’t wait for us to get to the Worlds (Championships) and get started.”

Team USA faced Japan last year In the World Cup and came away with an easy 6-1 win. Japan turned the tables this time around.

Trailing 2-1 heading into the top of the seventh inning, Team USA loaded the bases with only one out on the board. A single hit could either tie the contest or also plate the go ahead run.

But Team USA was unable to connect and Japan got the final two outs to close out the night.

Japan went undefeated at 7-0 while Team USA finished the World Cup of Softball with a 6-1 record.

“I think this week was good for us in really coming together,” Munro said. “Ti felt like this tournament really gave us an opportunity to play as a team consistently. It wasn’t just a few games here or there like we had been doing over the last month. It was really good for us to be in the same area for an extended period of time. Also, every time you play Japan, you get more information. You are more prepared for the next time you play Japan. They are a really good team. They prepare very well. So this is going to help us.”

Japan has defeated Team USA in 3 of the 4 meetings this summer.

USA Elite, the national team’s developmental squad, lost a heart breaker to Japan July 9 to close out pool play. That placed them in the Bronze medal game against Australia.

One again, the Elite saw their contest come down to the final innings, before they fell 4-3.

“The team hit the ball well, it just comes down to whoever plays the best at the end,” Elite coach Tairia Flowers. “This team can swing the bat, and now they’ve gotten the chance to see how international softball is. We have some really talented girls.  They’re young, they’re excited and they want to get better.”

Because of the success of both USA teams at the World Cup, Eriksen is excited for what the future offers the rest of the year at the WBSC World Championships (July 15-24) and the Japan Cup (Aug. 24-Sept. 5).

“You take a look at what we did, and what the USA Elite did,” Eriksen said, “and you can see the future is bright for USA Softball.”

Go to Eyeamtruth.com

3 take-aways from the Kevin Durant decision

By Michael Kinney

Kevin Durant caused a massive ripple throughout the NBA and the world of sport Monday when he announced he was leaving Oklahoma City to go play for the Golden State Warriors. While it made fans in Oakland happy, it left a fan base in Oklahoma dispirited and worried about the future.

Durant had every right to choose to play for any team that wanted him. But he happened to choose the one team that would cause the most controversy.

Here are my three quick take-aways from the entire day.

  1. Alpha Males are a dying breed: No great player has ever won an NBA title by themselves. No matter what people think, Michael Jordan had a ton of help in Scottie Pippin, Horace Grant (first three titles), Dennis Rodman. The same with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. They all…

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