George named an all-star starter

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By Michael Kinney

In the first half of the NBA season, there are very few players who have been as good as Oklahoma City’s Paul George. The veteran forward has seemingly proven why he resigned with the Thunder in the offseason with his play so far.

George reached another milestone this week when he was named a starter for the 2019 All-Star Game. He is slated to make his sixth career All-Star appearance and his third All-Star start.

“When I got traded here, people thought it was going to be the end of me an all-star,” George said. “Coming out to the west. But… God is good.”

In 46 games this season, George is leading the Thunder in scoring while averaging career-highs in points (27.0), rebounds (7.9), steals (2.33) and made threes (3.4). He currently ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring, second in steals and first in points off turnovers (5.0). He leads the league in loose balls recovered (2.3) while ranking second in deflections (3.8).

Since Oct. 28, George has registered the second-best plus-minus rating in the NBA (+9.7) while helping lead the Thunder to a 29-14 record during this span.

“It’s great man,” Russell Westbrook said. “It’s amazing. Just to see the work he’s been putting in over the summer and coming to this year, obviously, in a very very high level and that’s no surprise to me at all. Shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.”

The 2019 NBA All-Star Game will follow last year’s format whereby LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will draft rosters from a pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference, making their picks regardless of conference affiliation.

Fan voting accounted for 50 percent of the overall vote while NBA players and a media panel each accounted for 25 percent of the vote. Among frontcourt players, George received the third-most fan votes (3,122,346) in the Western Conference.

“I’m completely honored, grateful, not only for the state of Oklahoma but for the world for voting,” George said. “Can’t thank the fans enough for being in my corner and behind me all season long.”

TNT will announce the reserves, selected by NBA head coaches, on Thursday, Jan. 31 during NBA Tip-Off. Russell Westbrook is expected to be named a reserve. Steven Adams has an outside shot.

“I think the world, the league, his competition, they all respect what he brings to the table. Steven is a two-way big man,” George said. “He’s going to play on offense and defense. I think teams respect his ability to do everything. That’s a big position and I think he’s very underrated, but his opponents, guys and teams we go up against, they know how much they have to scout for Steven, as much as they have to scout for us.”

The 68th NBA All-Star Game will take place at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. TNT will televise the NBA All-Star Game for a 17th consecutive year.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider


Sooners introduce new staff

By Michael Kinney

In the three weeks since Oklahoma lost in the Orange Bowl to Alabama, much has taken place inside the Sooners football program. Coach Lincoln Riley held his first media availability since the loss in the playoffs to talk about all the changes and introduce members of his new staff.

Bringing Hurts to OU

Last week former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts announced he would be playing his final year of college football at Oklahoma. Riley talked about the process of bringing the grad transfer to OU.

‘It’s been an interesting process,” Riley said. “When you have a situation like we did with Kyler (Murray), where I think all three options initially were on the table. One of those being coming back here. Had a discussion with him a week and a half ago… I knew after that night that he was going to go play professionally, one way or another and was not going to come back to OU. Once I knew that then obviously you have a chance to take a look at your room and see what you have, what you need, what are your concerns. After I knew that, I started thinking about adding somebody older in that room. Jalen came up here and visited. It was kind of a quick visit. You bring a grad transfer in, they don’t care about a lot of stuff. It went well and Jalen let us know that he was coming.”

Austin Kendall Situation

While the Sooners are gaining one quarterback in Hurts, they are losing another in Auston Kendall. He announced he was transferring to West Virginia last week.,

However, it didn’t come without a bit of controversy when Riley initially refused to grant Kendall permission to play at WVU in the 2019 season.

“Honestly, I encouraged the family to enter the transfer portal. There are parts of this transfer stuff I don’t agree with. But when asked the question from his dad, ‘if he were your son, what would you do,’ that was my honest answer. I had great conversations with him It was kind of just an open honest process all the way throughout… Despite everyone in the world wanting to jump the gun without any accurate info, it was a very smooth process. It was a tough decision on allowing them to be immediately eligible considering it is another conference opponent. Considering this is the pone conference you play every opponent. And sometimes, as you’ve seen the last couple of years, you’re going to play somebody twice.”

The deciding factor on Kendall

“It was the human element. With the way the transfers are going, with the way this thing is headed, we finally got to the point where we felt like we can do it,” Riley said. “In his time here we’ve brought in two other transfers at his position and done a great job here. In the end, the human element and my relationship with him. The thing that probably pushed me over the edge was my last conversation with him that morning. Then I released him that afternoon. The human element won out. It got the point where I could come to terms with it in my mind that it wouldn’t be an awful thing for our place.”

Hurts intangibles

“He certainly has the ability to be a really good leader for us,” Riley said. “But he’s got to get in here and learn this team, learn this offense. He’s got to get in here and compete for this quarterback job. There’s a lot of steps ahead. But there is no the guy has been in some of college football’s biggest and best games the last few years. I’ve been really impressed with how he carries himself and the way he works. There is not going to be much that happens to this kid that he hasn’t been through already. But he’s got to come do it here. It’s not going to immediately snap in just because he had success at another school. He realizes that.”

Grinch has arrived

Riley introduced the Sooners newest defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch. The first bit of news he put forth was that coaches Ruffin McNeil (outside linebackers) and Calvin Thibodeaux (defensive line) would be staying with the program.

“I’m thrilled to have the staff that we have,” Grinch said. “Coach McNeil, coach Thibodeaux round out that staff. You’ve got good coaches, good recruiters, and good teachers.”

What is Grinch’s philosophy?

“We kind of use the phrase, downhill approach,” Grinch said. “Really what we mean by that is being less reactionary. The offense knows the play their running, obviously, we have to react to where the ball is. That’s football. But try as best we can to put our guy in a situation that an offense has to react to you to a certain extent. Single gap defense in our front. From a coverage standpoint, attempt as best we can to make receivers win. The game is space and speed. Structurally it will be multiple on the front and the back end.”

Turnovers will be a priority

In 2018 the Sooners ranked 120th in the nation in turnovers gained with only 11. Grinch says he is bringing an emphasis on creating turnovers with him.

“We kind of coined the phrase ‘takeaways equal victory,’” Grinch said. “It stems from the fact that the sole purpose of the defense to be on the football field is to get the ball back to the offense. The purpose behind every play in football is for the defense to get the ball back to the offense. The ball doesn’t have any working knowledge of who its supposed to be thrown to. It doesn’t know the quarterback is supposed to throw it to the receiver. It doesn’t know it’s supposed to stay in the runningbacks arms. So if the ball doesn’t know, then how on the earth do we know. It affects possessions. We did a study several years ago. Essentially 24 takeaways equated to nine wins regardless of any other statistic in football.”

New staff

Oklahoma’s newest coaches were also introduced Sunday. Both Roy Manning (cornerbacks) and Brian Odom (inside linebackers) said they are entering their new position with an empty slate. Nothing that happened in the past will be used as far as evaluation on current players.

No excuses

Manning says he enters his new job with only high expectations.

“Just a no excuse mentality. I don’t like to waste anyone’s time and I don’t want them to waste my time. So I am just going to expect the best. Your best is good enough. It’s that simple. Only your best is good enough.”

Linebacker U?

Odom says the Sooners have a long and storied past at linebacker. Living up to that legacy will be important.

“I probably know the tradition at inside linebacker at the University of Oklahoma as well as anybody. TO be able to have the title of position coach over that group is awesome,” Odom said. “With that awesomeness comes a lot of responsibility. With those guys in there, they have a lot to live up to from the guys that came in during the past. There is an expectation level with the inside linebackers, going back as far as I can remember. I know there were people before I was born that were great players. There is a tradition here of inside linebacker play that is second to none.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance content provider

Local artist inspired by Thunder star

By Michael Kinney

Despite having only started painting in 2012, Robert Peterson has seen his work hanging in some pretty impressive places.

The Oklahoma native says some of his art is part of collections belonging to billionaires, princes and small shop owners.

Yet, it’s one of Peterson’s newest works of art that could become his most popular.

“Honestly, it’s something that I’ll put on my resume of accomplishments,” said the 37-year-old Peterson. “I think that it’ll be good, it will be something that hopefully impresses galleries and museums.”

On Dec. 6, the Oklahoma City Thunder unveiled a commissioned painting from Peterson. His subject: Russell Westbrook.

The night before in Brooklyn, the star guard collected his 108th career triple-double, which moved him into third all-time.

“We thought there was an opportunity to be creative and to be a little different in helping to acknowledge that achievement,” Thunder Vice President of Broadcasting and Corporate Communications Dan Mahoney said. “We had our discussions with Robert Peterson, a tremendously gifted artist and big Thunder fan. We thought he was the perfect one to be part of that.”

The painting made its public debut via a one-minute Instagram video, which showed Peterson’s process of creating the mural of Westbrook.

The next night, with the Thunder taking on the Bulls in Chicago, fans who watched the local television broadcast of the game saw the broadcast crew talk about Westbrook’s record. But they also focused on Peterson and the painting.

“I’m just kind of using it to help push my brand,” Peterson said. “I picked up maybe like 50 new followers on Instagram. I use all of my social media to market my art and to push my art.”

Peterson has been able to make a living as an artist despite not living in an area that is known nationally for its diverse art. Peterson has sold paintings to Kevin Durant, Floyd Mayweather and Miley Cyrus.

But it was old-fashioned word-of-mouth that got him hired for the Westbrook painting.

In 2016, Peterson painted a mural on the side of a building in his hometown of Lawton. It was of Westbrook, after he decided to sign his long-term contract and stay in Oklahoma.

“I didn’t expect anything in return – I did the mural because Lawton and Oklahoma itself, they support my art,” Peterson said.

Word of the mural reached Michael Zubach, the broadcast creative lead for the Thunder.

“We knew of Robert based on his experience in Lawton with the mural of Russell Westbrook,” Zubach said. “We did a piece on him a couple of years ago. When we started conceptualizing for ideas on what we were going to do for 108, he was the person who we brought up in a conversation.”

The painting is currently sitting in the third-floor offices of the Thunder executive staff. It is surrounded by other special memorabilia the franchise has collected.

“Right now we’re just hanging onto it for our Thunder archives,” Mahoney said. “Don’t know what the future of it is. It’s a wonderful piece and we want to keep it and find the right use for it at a later date.”

Whether it’s hanging in the arena or seen on social media, thousands of people will get a chance to see the painting in all its detail and ferocity. Peterson wants it to be a message to the rest of the art world.

“This will be just something that adds to it as I try to build my career and eventually put a name for the art community on the map because there’s not a lot of artists from Oklahoma that are known for anything other than Native American or Western art,” Peterson said.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Story appeared in The Journal Record




Ugly loss overshawdowed by postgame remarks

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By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Chesapeake Energy Arena used to be like Superman’s fortress of solitude. It was nearly impregnable to opposing teams when they took on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

However, that has not been the case of late. With Oklahoma City’s 119-117 loss to Minnesota Wednesday, the team has lost back to back games at home and are 13-6 at the Peake this season.

However, the defeat became secondary to a series of plays in the second half and one post-game sound bite. Both were instigated by the Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins finished with a game-high 40 points on 11 of 24 shooting. He was also 16 of 18 from the charity stripe to go along with 10 rebounds and four assists.

But it was a play he made in the third quarter that seemed to spark the Timberwolves and infuriate some of the Thunder.

In the middle of the third, Wiggins went strong to the basket for a dunk, but reserve Oklahoma City center Nerlens Noel tried to block the dunk attempt. In midair, Wiggins’ forearm hit Noel in the face which caused him to crumple to the ground. His head then banged on the floor and he seemed to have been knocked out briefly.

The Thunder quickly called for medical attention and Noel was taken off the court on a stretcher.

“I just tried to make an aggressive move and dunk,” Wiggins said. “He tried to contest it. I think he fell wrong. I didn’t really see it until I saw him on the ground. Hopefully, he’s good. I hope nothing but the best for him. I hope he gets healthy soon and comes back stronger.”

Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder was seemingly upset with the reactions of the Timberwolves during the medical timeout as Noel was being attended to and yelled: “What are you laughing at?”

When play resumed, he and Minnesota’s Jeff Teague got into a pushing match. Teague was ejected with a double technical. A technical was called on Schroder, who has a history of beef with Teague that stretches back to their days in Atlanta.

Schroder left the arena without talking to the media and guard Russell Westbrook said very little on about anything that took place in the game in his very brief media session.

However, when Wiggins was asked about the incident after the game, his words caused a bit of controversy on social media.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Uh, he was just gay. He was acting crazy for no reason,” Wiggins said. “I look right through him. He’s not someone I look at as a problem. Not at all.”

However, Wiggins came out later on his own Twitter account and said that was not what he said.

“Id like to clarify what I said tonight during my postgame media session,” Wiggins posted. “I said: “I don’t know what’s wrong with him he was just getting… acting crazy for no reason”.

Wiggins went onto to say, “I have the utmost love and respect for the LGBTQIA community and I would never use any term to disrespect them in anyway.”

According to Billy Donovan, Noel was taken to the OU Medical Center, but he had no update on his condition.

However, Donovan was able to pinpoint why the Thunder struggled against the Timberwolves.

“I thought we did some really good things offensively tonight,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we moved the ball, I thought we generated some good looks, and I think a lot of the shooting percentages, both from the field, and from the three-point line were byproducts of some good ball movement. I thought the difference in the game was we put them to the free throw line too many times and I think we got hurt on the offensive glass, our defensive glass. They made a couple timely threes on some offensive rebounds and some kickouts, but other than that I thought the difference was their rebounding and us fouling.”

It was those issues that cost the Thunder late when they were unable to get any key stops or keep the Timberwolves off the line. That was especially true of Andrew Wiggins who made a living at the free throw line the entire night.

“Yeah. Coach put the ball in my hands in the end,” Wiggins said, “and I just did the best I could to get everyone involved and try to make the plays we needed to win.”

After Minnesota took a two-point lead, the Thunder had the ball with 16 seconds left. After a timeout, they got the ball to Westbrook, who dribbled into the paint then floated out to the left corner where he hoisted up a 3-point attempt with center Karl-Anthony Towns defending him. The shot was off the mark, but Steven Adams got the rebound and threw it back out to Westbrook, who attempted another difficult 3-pointer. It also missed its target as time expired.

“We got a switch with Russell on Towns. He got a pretty clean look off,” Donovan said. “I thought Steven did a great job offensive rebounding and was able to kick it back out to Russ. I think that the floor, when Russell drove on the initial action, got a little bit congested. We maybe could have been a little better with our spacing, but for the most part, we got our point guard on their center, which we felt was a pretty good matchup.”

According to Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders, who picked up his first win as a head coach, they knew exactly what play Oklahoma City was going to run in that situation.

“Our assistant coaches had the play down perfect,” Saunders said. “They have put a ton of time in to see what they were going to run. We just made extra efforts.”

Paul George led the Thunder in scoring with 27 points. However, he scored only three points in the fourth quarter.

Westbrook ended the night with 25 points and shot 11 of 22 from the field. However, he was 1 of 6 from behind the arc and racked up seven turnovers.

Adams posted 20 points and 12 rebounds while Terrance Ferguson chipped in with 14 points.

The Thunder (25-15) travel to San Antonio (24-17) Thursday for a matchup with the Spurs. Both teams will be back in Oklahoma City Saturday night for a rematch.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Grinch to the rescue?

By Michael Kinney

Some thought the search for a defensive coordinator would take a long time. But Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley is showing he doesn’t like to wait on things.

In his first major hire since becoming the Sooners head coach, Riley has chosen Alex Grinch to be OU’s new defensive coordinator.

Grinch spent the 2018 season as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State before Riley plucked him away last week.

The 38-year old Grinch comes to the job with a wealth of credentials. That includes being a three-time nominee and 2017 semifinalist for the Broyles Award (given to the nation’s top assistant coach) while at Washington State.

In his time at WSU and Ohio State, Grinch has shown he can lead a defense that plays alongside a high scoring, fast-paced offense.

“The scheme is designed to let players play fast,” Grinch said. “It’s a downhill approach. We work into gaps in our front and speed is our calling card. Today’s offenses are built on space and speed. You have to combat that with speed of your own. With speed on defense, it affords you the opportunity to run a multiplicity of coverages and fronts.”

In 2014, the year before Grinch’s arrival at Washington State, the Cougars ranked 99th nationally in total defense (442.3 ypg), 127th in pass defense (296.6 ypg) and 127th in turnovers gained (8). In 2017, he presided over a WSU unit that ranked 16th in total defense (323.3 ypg), ninth in passing defense (170.9 ypg) and ninth in turnovers gained (28). Washington State also allowed only 11 touchdown passes in 2017, tied for fifth-fewest in the country. And its 103 tackles for loss were tied for eighth-fewest nationally.

“Alex has an outstanding track record as a defensive coach and a defensive coordinator,” Riley, who has led the Sooners to Big 12 titles and College Football Playoff appearances in each of his two years as head coach. “He’s been one of the most sought-after guys in the country here the last couple of years, especially for the work that he did at Washington State. Taking that defense where he did in a short amount of time is one of the best coaching jobs in the country over the last several years.”

One thing Grinch has yet to prove in his career that the Sooners sorely need is recruiting in the South. The two biggest decencies on Oklahoma’s defensives have bee, big mobile defensive linemen and tall, rangy, fast cornerbacks. Teams such as Alabama, Clemson and LSU have found a way to grab them all.

If Grinch wants to make a significant change to the Sooner’s defense, he will have to find a way to battle for those same 5-star recruits.

“He’s a very diligent and very, very involved recruiter. His specialty has been the secondary, but he’ll certainly be involved in all aspects of our defensive recruiting,” Riley said. “He’s a personable guy and has an outstanding track record in that area. It’s something he’s very invested in and he fits with the standard that we’ve created here. Recruiting is going to be at the forefront of everything we do. Alex certainly agrees with that and fits in perfectly.”

One day after the announcement that Grinch was coming to Oklahoma, linebacker coach Tim Kish announced he was retiring. Many believe this is the first dominoes in what could be massive coaching changes.

“After 43 years of coaching I have decided to retire and look forward to a new chapter for myself and my family,” Kish stated on Twitter. “I want to thank Coaches Bob and Mike Stoops for giving me the opportunity to coach here at Oklahoma and Coach Riley for extending that opportunity. I’m truly grateful to have worked with our football staff and administration. Thank you to all my players past and present for all of their hard work and dedication. I’m honored to have traveled on this journey with all of you! I wish nothing but the best for Coach Riley and the Oklahoma football program moving forward.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Riley staying put… for now


By Michael Kinney

Days after the Sooners lost to No. 1 Alabama in the Orange Bowl, the University of Oklahoma showed how much faith they have in their head coach. Lincoln Riley and the university have reached an agreement in principle on a contract extension and salary increase. The contract terms are being finalized and will be subject to approval by the OU Board of Regents, which will meet later this month.

“We felt it important to extend and amend Lincoln’s contract at this time as we want him at the University of Oklahoma for a long time,” OU President James Gallogly said. “He is a great coach and role model for our student-athletes. His record of success speaks for itself.”

Since taking over as the head football coach at Oklahoma in the summer of 2017, Riley has led OU to a pair of appearances in the College Football Playoffs. He was also the offensive coordinator for a third trip in 2015.

Riley has also produced back to back Heisman Trophy winners in quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

“Lincoln is also the right representative for our university in such a high-profile position,” Gallogly said. “I am proud to work with him and anxious to support him as he takes our program into the future.”

What makes the contract extension so important now is that OU hopes it will silence all of the talk about Riley leaving the school to head to the NFL. Despite his age and limited experience as a head coach, Riley sits on the top of most teams wish list in the league due to the offensive wizardry he has shown at Oklahoma.

In 2018, the Sooners were the No. 1 ranked offense in the country as they averaged 48 points and 570 yards a game.

In his first two years as a head coach, Riley has also racked up a pair of Big 12 Championships, a 24-4 record, a 16-2 mark in the Big 12 and was the 2018 Co-Big 12 Coach of the Year.

“My family and I are very appreciative of the support the University of Oklahoma has shown. We’re thankful for the relationships we have with President Gallogly, Joe Castiglione, the OU Board of Regents and the entire Norman community,” Riley said. “This has been a great home for us. We’ve had a great start and we’re excited for many more great years in the future.”

According to Oklahoma athletic director, Joe Castiglione, having Riley locked up for the foreseeable future is not just important for the football team, but the university itself.

“We’re obviously appreciative of what’s already been accomplished in such a short time, but strengthening our relationship with Lincoln is also important as we collectively focus on the larger goals of our program,” said Castiglione. “He has proven to be one of the most innovative minds in the game today as well as a very successful leader for his student-athletes. His remarkable ascent as one of the most outstanding football coaches in America is grounded in creating the right environment for developing the best growth opportunities for all of his players. The incredible level of achievement and energy around our program all point to a very bright future under his leadership.”

Before the latest extension, Riley was scheduled to make 4.9 Million in 2019, $5.0 million in 2020, $5.1 million in 2021 and $5.2 million in the final year.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider


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