Author Archives: bertbeiswanger

MotoGP at Indy Dominated Once Again By Marquez and Uncertainty

by Bert Beiswanger

Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix winner Marc Marquez on the grid prior to Sunday's race. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix winner Marc Marquez on the grid prior to Sunday’s race. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Attendance was up for this year’s Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix. 67,648 was reported by commercial rights holder Dorna Sports. The buzz on the grounds was strong. Last year’s event was voted best on the MotoGP calendar. Teams love being here. Manufacturers love being here. Fans love being here. Riders like being here more now that the track was re-paved and re-configured prior to last year’s race.

Marc Marquez loves being here. The Repsol Honda rider continued his Indy dominance passing Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo with a few laps to go to secure his third straight Red Bull Indianapolis GP victory and fifth race win overall at the Brickyard. A great, entertaining battle at the front ended with one of the sports very special talents on top.

It was a race that had international MotoGP commentator, Nick Harris, saying, “This is some of the best racing we’ve seen in a long time.”

And the addition of American-based MotoAmerica to the schedule of events certainly added more of a U.S. flavor this year, including two local participants for fans to root for in Matt Carr of Fishers and Gene Burcham of Plainfield. It all meant more racing – five races in all Sunday with Moto3, Moto2, MotoGP and MotoAmerica’s classes.

But once again, a topic that was present the entire weekend was whether or not MotoGP would be back at IMS in 2016. A great weekend of on-track activity and increased attendance and buzz was being mellowed to a degree by the rumors of this year’s event being the last. It certainly frustrated some journalists and fans I spoke with, who love the sport and love the event and are tired of dealing with the topic every year.

So what’s the problem?

This is modern day sports, folks, where a MotoGP event in the motorcycle haven of Qatar can be deemed a success with only 15,000 fans in attendance. So who knows, maybe Dorna wants to expand into new markets in 2016 without expanding it’s number of events (or go for a bigger pay check, to put it another way). And they have another U.S. event on the calendar at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, so maybe they deem one expendable.

I know this, there may be larger attended events on the MotoGP calendar in more MotoGP-centric parts of the world. But when you have an event that’s voted the best on the calendar, at the premier racing facility in the world in the middle of the largest economy that is the United States, it doesn’t make much sense to me for the event not to continue.

Maybe the lack of a U.S presence in MotoGP has folks at 16th and Georgetown concerned about its future marketability. But with only one U.S. rider this year (“The Kentucky Kid” Nicky Hayden), attendance increased. Maybe the net financial return is no longer large enough to justify the investment of resources. I just don’t know.

What I do know is there was a huge international fan presence in the paddock this weekend. While waiting to speak with some riders post-race, I talked to a group of guys who traveled 18 total hours from Greece. I talked to a gentleman from Venezuela, sporting a Valentino Rossi hat, who was drilling me with questions about the Indy 500. I talked to a couple from England who begged for a photo with Great Britain’s Bradley Smith…”Please, Bradley. We traveled all the way from England.” Smith obliged, then said “cheers” and rode off.  There were countless others and they all love coming to Indianapolis to see MotoGP and their stars.

At the end of the day Sunday, one of the team managers said to me, “Good seeing you again, my friend. I hope to see you next year.” I certainly hope so. I love the event and the people.

Every year the rumors swirl and every year the race finds itself back on the calendar. Let’s hope that after a year where things seem to be trending upwards, that’s the case for 2016. You can re-order tickets right now on I hope that’s a good sign.

The Red Bull Indianpolis GP in pictures:  See a complete visual gallery of the RBIGP weekend. Hats of to the artistic abilities of the IMS photographers, who do an outstanding job at every racing event.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis

Heading to into Milwaukee IndyCar Race, I Revisit Fontana

by Bert Beiswanger

Simon Pagenaud leads the field into Turn 1 at the start of the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway -- Photo by IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud leads the field into Turn 1 at the start of the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway — Photo by IndyCar

Almost two weeks have passed since I watched one of the most thrilling IndyCar races I’ve seen in quite a while. What brought this back into my consciousness? My son, who just got around to watching it on the DVR, texted me, “That Fontana race was fantastic,” …. “but I can see where some drivers wouldn’t like that.”

His thoughts pretty much summed up the thoughts of many – a tug-of-war of emotions that ranged from excitement to too dangerous.

While watching the MAVTV IndyCar race on my DVR the evening of the race, a friend who rarely watches racing said, “This is phenomenal. If I knew racing was going to be like this all the time, I’d become a race fan.”

An hour later, we heard Team Penske’s Tim Cendric tell us they shouldn’t be out there racing like that. Will Power, after a crash involving Takuma Sato, told us why one of the best races we’ve ever witnessed shouldn’t be happening that way. As much as I thought the series had converted my friend into new fan right in my living room, some figure heads were almost “un-selling” what we had just witnessed – the best race in a long time not called the Indy 500.

Let me preface any more comments with this: I don’t like true pack racing. There’s no place for it in racing and safety always comes first. I am well aware of the desire to not have pack racing. I totally get that and am completely on-board with that. But I failed to see how Will Power’s accident (a typical side-by-side racing pinch job) hasn’t happened on all kinds of tracks before. It was now as if wrecks shouldn’t happen at all at a track like Fontana; like wrecks like that don’t happen on other tracks. There seems to be this false notion that only high speed ovals are dangerous and that the sometimes tight confines of road courses aren’t as dangerous. History would say otherwise over the years. IndyCar drivers smash up their fair share of cars on road courses. Yet,  listening to Power, you would have thought side-by-side crashes only occurred on high-speed ovals.

No, I’m not risking my life at 200+ miles per hour. But I’m also not an elite athlete.  And if this comes across as being insensitive to the safety of race car drivers, I assure you it couldn’t be further from the that. I’m not arguing against safety. And I’m certainly not arguing against drivers being able to speak their minds. We need more of that. Drivers need to be free to speak their minds, show their personality – keep it real. In fact I found the takes of Will Power and Tony Kanaan compared to Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden fascinating – completely different views; I dig that. What I’m arguing against is the fact that this was a true pack race. It was the first time at this track with the new 2015 aero packages. If the series and drivers feel the need to make adjustments, then they need to keeping working on the package and make the proper adjustments.

The Fontana race got termed dangerous pack racing by some drivers, while others didn’t seem to mind it. Graham Rahal said it wasn’t pack racing. Marco Andretti described it as fun out there.  I thought the track was plenty wide enough for drivers to take care of themselves, which they did for a couple of hours. But the notion that wrecks aren’t supposed to happen at all is not logical. How many road/street courses have we seen with plenty of nasty accidents? A crash in a Houston street race a couple years ago sent Dario Franchitti into early retirement. It was a nasty, nasty crash that could have easily been much worse. In the Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix June 21, one car went over the top of another, barely missing the head on one of the drivers.

If you’re looking for security in racing, you’ll be looking for a long time. But safety has come a long way and continues to evolve in the right direction thanks largely to IndyCar, which is as good as it gets when it comes to racing saftey. Look, I don’t want to see pack racing – for manufactured competition and safety reasons. But what I watched at Fontana didn’t qualify as pack racing in the truest sense that people think of – not to me, anyway. What it did qualify as was one of the most exciting races in IndyCar history.  And for large parts of the race, it was clean  and dicey at the same time  with plenty of room for maneuvering.

IndyCar prides itself on racing at a variety of tracks offering various types of racing. What the Fontana race was to me was a different variety. And what we’ll see this weekend on the Milwaukee Mile (Sunday, 5 p.m. on NBC Sports Network), a track I thoroughly enjoy, will be another type of racing.

So while this race got lumped into the “pack racing” group. I just didn’t see it that way. It was certainly close, intense racing that required – to borrow words of the great NBC Sports F1 announcer, David Hobbs – “Huge attachments.” But there was a lot of room compared to some of the artificial packs of cars we’ve seen in past years. And I felt like everyone took care of themselves most of the race. In fact, it was some of the best display of driving skill and racing I’ve seen. I thought it really showcased the drivers’ skills at the highest level.

As for risk and danger, it looms at every racing corner. I suspect some…some frustration from a few drivers came from the fact that so few were there to watch them put their butts on the line. And some frustration probably comes from the fact that some guys just don’t like this kind of racing, which is totally fine. Mike Conway stepped out of the cockpit on ovals because he didn’t like it. That’s always an option.

As Attention Turns to Indy 500, Honda Teams Hope for Better Results

by Bert Beiswanger

Honda teams like Andretti Autosport look to turn the page heading into the Indy 500

Honda teams like Andretti Autosport look to turn the page heading into the Indy 500 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Chevy versus Honda: Just past the quarter pole of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Chevy’s dominance stood out on the road courses. Honda’s lack of results stood out, as well, and left teams frustrated.

If you aren’t Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Racing right now and you are a Honda IndyCar Series team, you are certainly searching for answers and hoping for better days on the ovals. Because other than Rahal, who has piloted his Honda to two outstanding second place finishes in the Grand Prix of Alabama and the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis this past Saturday, other Honda teams have had more questions than answers with the road course aero package.

“I don’t remember being this far off in a while,” Andretti said after failing to make it out of round 1 of knockout qualifying Friday, a result  that sent him to the back of the grid for the start of the Grand Prix. “Normally, we could see our way out. I don’t really see a light at the end of the tunnel right now.”

Andretti did everything he could do to muster a 16th place finish in Saturday’s race. Two Hondas – Rahal and Takuma Sato of ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing  – finished in the top ten.

“I wish we had more to talk about,” Andretti said after the race, exhausted and still searching for answers. “These are hard fought horrible results.”

What Rahal’s success has done, though, is make excuses excuse-less. Marco Andretti knows that; he said that. Andretti Autosport knows that. But, as Andretti pointed out to me Saturday, there’s no denying the lack of speed down the straightaways caused by too much drag – seven to ten miles per hour compared to the Chevys by Andretti’s calculations.

Too much drag is a real drag on long straightaways like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. And it certainly doesn’t work well on the famed 2.5 mile oval.

But the aero package is one thing. It’s time to turn the page. The real question right now is with the attention turning to the oval and the Indy 500, will things be different for Honda teams and their superspeedway aero kit – a completely different kit that used this past weekend?

With only one day of testing so far (May 3), teams still don’t know exactly what they’ve got with their oval package. Teams may be singing a completely different tune the rest of the month.

When you’re a team like Andretti Autosport, who has won multiple Indy 500s (including last year’s ‘500’ with Ryan Hunter-Reay) and a driver like Marco Andretti, who has come so close to winning one, staying positive and understanding what the ultimate goal is in May is what you have to do. Andretti knows that and he’s shown that. Upon exiting his No. 27 Snapple car after a very frustrating day Saturday, Andretti walked around the car and one-by-one shook the hands of every crew member who worked as hard as he did to muster a 16th place finish. Right then and there, one chapter of the Month of May was ending and another was beginning.

Perhaps light will shine through the tunnel, after all, when it’s desired most – May 24.

“We have to keep positive.” Andretti added Saturday. “I just need to look forward and look to the Indy 500, because as bad as things are right now I have to remind myself that we could be Indy 500 champs in a few weeks.”

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis


IndyCar Kicks Off On the Streets of St. Pete

by Bert Beiswanger

2013 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 Winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay during Friday practice.

2013 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 Winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay during Friday practice (photo courtesy of IndyCar).

After the cancellation of the season-opening race earlier this month in Brazil, the Verizon IndyCar Series eagerly roars to life this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Practice began Friday for Sunday’s Honda GrandPrix of St. Peteresburg (3 p.m., TV: ABC; Live Timing and Scoring: Though rain brought a halt to activities Friday afternoon, the rest of the weekend’s weather should provide for a beautiful start to the IndyCar season.

If you’re in the area like so many Hoosiers are this week, I highly recommend adding this race to your agenda. It’s a first-class event that is greatly embraced by the city and residents. And watching Indy cars in 70 degree sunshine with a backdrop of palm trees and the Tampa Bay isn’t a bad way to roll in March.

The season begins with many intriguing story lines. 24 cars will take the green flag for Sunday’s race. Many drivers are either racing in the series for the first time or driving for a different team in 2015.  The biggest move in the off-season was Simon Pagenaud joining Team Penske and 2014 series champion Will Power. Those two, along with Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, make for a heavyweight one-two-three and fourth uppercut punch.

One of the biggest driver stories of the year could be talented and charismatic rookie, Sage Karam, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. Although only on a partial schedule at this time, Karam could quickly become a youthful popularity jolt to the series. He went from the last row to finish in ninth place in last year’s Indy 500, and he certainly doesn’t lack for skill and confidence.

But the biggest change for 2015  is the introduction of new aerodynamic body kits by manufacturers Chevy and Honda. Fans have debated the aesthetics of the designs. What can’t be debated is that the publicity they’ve already created in the racing community has been a boost for the series. And their ultimate purpose of promoting engineering innovation and increasing speed have already been recognized after one day of practice.

“Racing, first of all, is all about innovation and development and that’s what we have with the aero kits,” Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “The engine manufacturers have been tasked to put on as much downforce as efficiently as possible, and what you’ve see is a complete transformation of this IndyCar where Chevy has its own look and brand and Honda has its own look and brand and stamp on the car.

“The performance is up, track records will be broken this year, and they look like you need to wear protective gloves around them, so they look awesome. They look like they should, which is incredibly fast and somewhat scary.”

Expect track records to fall like dominoes as the series plows through a busy schedule starting this weekend.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis

Longtime Brickyard Friends Will Be Missed

by Bert Beiswanger

Ron Lemasters. Photo courtesy of the Star Press.

Ron Lemasters. Photo courtesy of the Star Press.

I once walked up to Ron Lemasters in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center and said, “Ron, they always taught in journalism class to write for your audience at an eighth-grade level. At the Muncie Star, did they have to tell you to write at a seventh-grade level?”

I got a long stare after that one, followed by a smile and arm around the shoulder. It was perfect Media Center banter and right down Ron’s alley. Hey, I was proudly born and educated in Muncie, so I can get by with dishing out that kind of sarcasm.

Tuesday, I received word that the longtime Muncie Star and IMS vet, Ron Lemasters, passed away. What a sad morning that was and a what a sad day it is today as he is laid to rest in Muncie.

I grew up reading Ron Lemasters’ sports columns in the Muncie Star at an impressionable time in my life. I was a sports junky kid back then (as I am now) and Lemasters was a local voice at the height of ‘Hoosier Hysteria’ – back when the Muncie Central Bearcats were winning state championships and the Ball State Cardinals were regularly going to the NCAA Tournament. Then, to have had the opportunity to work alongside Ron for years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was an absolute pleasure.

He was a pure pro and a greater man. Those words certainly aren’t poetically appropriate enough to truly describe what a great, great human being Ron was. But as the simple headline in the Muncie Star Press read: ‘Everyone Liked Ron.’

For years, we worked together on the Daily Trackside Report staff at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a seasonal team of dedicated race event contributors. I learned so much from Ron and shared so many good moments. Our group became more than just a group of part-time workers over the years. We became good friends and dedicated teammates.

One of the happiest days of the year is walking into the Media Center for the first time in May. One of the saddest is walking out after the last race of the season. Sure, that is largely due to the racing season ending and the thought of missing the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Being event contributors only and not full-time staff, it always meant our group wouldn’t be together again until the next May. But for me, it’s every bit as much due to the people, the moments we share and the camaraderie we’ve built. Ron Lemasters was a MAJOR part of that – an understatement to say the least.

I’ll dearly miss sitting at the front desk on the fourth floor of the Media Center with Ron, working hard and enjoying every moment – the perfect balance. I will miss our lunch breaks when great stories were told – I soaked up those moments. I will miss our salutes to each other. Ron was a Vietnam Vet and served his country in the U.S. Navy. He loved his country. When I saluted him, I meant it.

No sooner was I working on finding the words to write about Ron, that I received word that Bob Clidinst had also passed away (Indy Star obit)…another very wise, dedicated Brickyard vet – a vault of institutional knowledge and all-around great man.

A good friend of mine and fellow teammate said about Bob: “We make the mistake to think in this age that all information will be easy to find forever – and that is just wrong. With Bob’s passing also passes some intelligence about the Indianapolis 500 that simply cannot be replaced.” The same can be said about Ron Lemasters. The contributions of men like Ron and Bob are priceless inside the confines of 16th and Georgetown – irreplaceable.

I’ll simply say that whatever tribute anyone who worked with Ron Lemasters and Bob Clidinst pays to their professional work, it probably doesn’t come close to what they say about these men on a personal level. They were more than legends of the Brickyard. They were legends of life to those who knew them well.

In closing, I will again borrow words from another friend and former IMS teammate of mine to pass along to the man I worked so closely with and admired so much: ” Godspeed, Ron. I know you’re cruising this morning in peaceful waters, sailor.”

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis

Hoops Round-up: The Fate of IU and the Start of IHSAA Sectionals

by Bert Beiswanger

IUIndiana’s 14 point dismantling by Iowa Tuesday night leaves the Hoosiers in a not so satisfactory position heading into tournament time. Beat Michigan State this weekend or…  Even if Indiana can beat Michigan State, it’s one heck of a bind the Hoosiers have put themselves in.

While a segment of Hoosier Nation was giddy a few weeks ago, I followed Indiana with caution. I never looked at Indiana as the overachievers some did. Their schedule, to me, hadn’t been a shock and awe of results some were making it out to be. I felt IU won the games it should’ve won.

Maybe playing one true road game the past two years – not neutral court, but true road game – before conference play (at Syracuse last year) doesn’t exactly prepare a team for tough stretch runs like this. I don’t have the answer. But when you rely so heavily on perimeter shooting and rank at the bottom of the conference in defensive efficiency, well, you sometimes get what you got against Iowa.

Take time to pull up IU’s schedule and tell me why, in a year the Big Ten is pretty average top to bottom, IU deserves a tournament bid right now. Indiana is eight games above .500, overall. They can thank  Miss. Valley St., Texas Southern, Lamar, UNC Greensboro, Savannah St., Grand Canyon and New Orleans for that. Plus, they have an abysmal road record and nothing of significance to show for their road efforts (TWO true road wins all year – not neutral court wins – true road wins).

What will happen is anyone’s guess. This season is still a work in progress, so lets let this play out. A win over Michigan State may have people breaking out the “We’re Back” shirts. Who knows?

But the big picture, to me, all depends on if IU wants to truly be IU Basketball again or just pretend it’s a very elite program. IU fans like to think of IU hoops as elite. If that’s true, short of a major turnaround starting Saturday, this chapter may be over.

Ask yourself, what would Kansas do? North Carolina? Kentucky? Louisville?  It may soon be time for athletics director Fred Glass to put on the big boy candy striped  pants and make a very big decision.

IHSAA Sectionals

ihsaa_logoFishers Upsets North Central

When the sectional draw came out, Fishers coach Joe Leonard probably didn’t feel like putting on a party hat. Coming off an emotional conference championship victory over favored Zionsville, the party came to an abrupt end when the draw came out. The sound of helium releasing from a party balloon is also the sound one might hear when you draw North Central in Game 1 of the sectional, only to have host Carmel awaiting the winner.

But Fishers made people take notice Tuesday night, getting tournament play off to a loud start on a usually quiet Tuesday evening. Fishers led post-to-post and upset  the eighth-ranked North Central Panthers 70-64.

“We wanted to control the tempo and not let them get a lead on us,” Leonard said. “This was important to us because we wanted to play man-to-man.”

The man-to-man certainly worked as North Central struggled to find an offensive flow all night. The Fishers defense set the tone early and held the Panthers to 36 percent shooting.

On its own offensive end, Fishers picked North Central apart with 3-point shooting and back door cuts, making 52 percent of its shots on the night. Senior Keegan Kollmeyer (maybe the most under-the-radar scorer in the area) was on fire. He lead the Tigers with a game-high 27 points on 9-14 shooting (4-7  from 3-point range). Junior Cam Wolter chipped in 21 points.

“I’ve had seniors come out and get me three points and a loss,” Leonard said. “He (Kollmeyer) came out and gave me a bunch of points and a win. He is the true definition of a senior for me.”

North Central, once down by as many as 18 in the third period, pulled to within five by dominating the offensive glass in the second half and forcing Fishers into some turnovers and rushed decisions. But a timeout by Leonard with three minutes to play got the Tigers re-organized and North Central was never able to get closer. Fishers sealed the game at the line.

Friday night will be Fishers against No. 2 Carmel and the Westfield/Hamilton Southeastern winner versus the Noblesville/Zionsville winner. It’s safe to say the Carmel gym will be packed will all corners of Hamilton County represented.

Cathedral over Warren Central

I must admit, I wasn’t initially a fan of the IHSAA’s decision to make Eron Gordon eligible to play for Cathedral this year after transferring. But I trust the ultimate decision made by the IHSAA was in the best interests of everyone involved.  It’s safe to say it’s in the best interests of all who love watching great players perform. It’s certainly in the best interests of Cathedral to have Eron Gordon playing for them. As was discussed on Breakfast with Kent, Gordon sparked a Cathedral team that got off to a rugged start with 17 fourth quarter points (31 total points) as the Irish knocked off Warrren Central 72-65. Next up for the Irish will be a battle Friday night with recent rival Tech.

Hoosier Hysteria is well under way thanks to these two big games Tuesday night. Get out Friday and take in some great high school sectional action and some great March atmosphere.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis

Fishers Basketball Earns First Conference Title

by Bert Beiswanger

fishersEach game is just another game, so they say. For Fishers High School basketball coach Joe Leonard and the Fishers basketball program, Friday night’s game against Zionsville (17-4 and winners of their last ten going into the game) for the Hoosier Crossroads Conference championship wasn’t just another game. The program, nine years in the making, was playing for its first conference title.

The Tigers had to scratch and claw (pun intended) to earn its first title. Though it was a close, hard-fought game throughout, Fishers pulled away in the late minutes thanks to a timely three by senior Keegan Kollmeyer and a couple of Zionsville technicals to secure the win, 68-55.

“We knew we had to come out and work,” Fishers coach Joe Leonard said after the game. “But there’s a little bit of a toughness with this group we earned in the off-season. So we’re very proud of them tonight.”

No one seemed to realize Fishers had finished runner-up in the tough HCC two out of the last three years. But no one remembers second. Only a conference title was going to give the program the respect it deserves. Coach Leonard won’t say it but I will: In regular season game terms, this was as close to a  must win as you’re going to get. And the Fishers Tigers delivered. From the coaching staff down, the Tigers delivered.

Fishers gutted out a hard-fought win against a well-coached and talented Zionsville Eagles team, led by seven-foot senior Derrik Smits (son of the Dunking Dutchman, Rik Smits) to seal the deal and bring the school it’s first conference basketball title.

“Defensively, they were the number one team in the conference and offensively, we were the number one team in the conference,” Leonard said. “So it was an offense going against the defense. Defense normally wins; you always hear defense wins championships. But we were able to move the ball around and have patience. That was going to be a key – how we attacked their two-three zone.”

That patience was rewarded as Fishers hit  11 three-pointers and out-shot the Eagles at the free throw line (19 of 23 to 12 of 17). On the other side of the coin, it was the Fishers defense that was able keep Smits in check with ten points.

Years of navigating through the waters of the HCC came to this. Playing second-fiddle to crosstown rival Hamilton Southeastern and past Mr. Basketballs Gary Harris and Zak Irvin were over. If you don’t think this game was a big deal, you weren’t in the gym Friday night. Hoosier Hysteria returned to its roots for a little bit and  local media eyes were on Fishers-Zionsville this night.

Yep, this was a big win. And the celebration after the game proved as much. Some felt pure joy. Some felt relief. Assistant coach Ray Tolbert even worked in a nice video-bomb of Coach Leonard’s interview on WRTV after the game (seen at the 2:15 mark of this video) –  a nice lighthearted punctuation to the evening.

I caught up with coach Leonard after the game to talk about the importance of this win and the process of building the program to reach this point – a nine year process that Leonard has been a part of every step of the way, including at the helm the last eight years.

“When I first got here, the first thing we had to build was a work ethic. We started getting players to come in at six in the morning and work. Then it became not only about having that work ethic but can you make plays, too. We went from a focus on kids with a great work ethic to having kids who had a great work ethic and could make plays. So we got that turned around and had five consecutive winning seasons. Then last year we dropped off a little bit. But we dropped off with sophomores. These guys came back as juniors and with the help of (senior Keegan) Kollmeyer and the leadership of the other two seniors, they’ve turned it into a pretty good program.”

On how Fishers finally won the conference having finished second two out of last three years:

“The one thing is we’ve never been able to get by Hamilton Southeastern with sometimes two Mr. Basketballs on the floor (Gary Harris and Zak Irvin) and at one point two Mr. Basketballs and an a future NFL first round draft pick (Randy Gregory of Nebraska). So there was just a wealth of talent over there. But now the tide might be turning a little bit as far as athletes coming our way.”

On the overall importance of this win:

“We put on the board before going out that this was our house and this was our conference. If you defend your house, you’re going to win the conference. The one thing we asked them was, ‘When are you going to get another opportunity like this the rest in your life?’ Will you get it again, maybe. But this is a moment you can’t let slip by, so we addressed the moment that they were in. We said bring your A-game, because it’s going to be a big deal and it’s going to be something this program needs. We’ve always looked at this as a process. This is a process, and you have to take the next step. We viewed this as the next step.”

On leading scorer senior Keegan Kollmeyer, who pumped in 28 points:

“I sure wish I had gotten my hands on him as a Freshman. He started out at HSE. He came over and showed immediate talent. But along with the rest of the kids, we had to improve his work ethic. But without him this year, would we have done this? No. He’s brought a lot of game to us. The thing is he’s done it in an unselfish way. There’s been some games he’s only had ten points, but he’s had seven rebounds. Like last night, he led us in rebounds. He’ll do what it takes. He’s also a great passer with great court vision. And a kid like Zach Eaton who doesn’t score much but he still had seven assists last night. Andre Small (a reserve guard) had five assists last night. It was a great all-around effort.”

Everyone chipped in for Fishers Friday night – Kollmeyer, Eaton, Lance Dollison with 21 points, Cam Wolter with 14 points and clutch free throws – a reflection of the team work ethic and all-around effort Leonard talked about and envisioned. Working to stamp its own footprint into the landscape of Hamilton County basketball, everyone involved with the Fishers program had reason to feel darn good about this one. It was a long time coming. Fishers has a basketball championship to boast about now. And nothing gives a program, coach and players, respect like a championship.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis


Deflated Footballs Not About a Game, It’s About Integrity of the Game.

by Bert Beiswanger

BradyLet’s make one thing clear: No one blames the Indianapolis Colts throttling at the hands of the New England Patriots on deflated footballs. Most Colts fans and Indy media are more concerned with with coaching/personnel/in-ability to make adjustments – any adjustment – that led to the embarrassment of a conference title game. And it was just that, an embarrassment. Julien Edelman is still running across the middle wide open. Tom Brady could have thrown a badminton birdie at him and completed those passes.

So what is this deflating of the footballs thing all about then? Well, what’s at stake is the credibility and integrity of the NFL. It’s that simple. Fans already don’t trust the league and how it deals with issues.

They’re frustrated with a league that over-legislates the game so much we have to have a lengthy explanation of why what we saw – one of the greatest Playoffs catches of all-time (Dez Bryant) – wasn’t really what we saw. Why we don’t really know a textbook clean hit from a personal foul anymore.

And then we get to how the league handles off-field incidents. If they’re not destroying video tapes before media can see them (the Patriots Spygate tapes), they’re claiming to have never received tapes (the Ray Rice elevator tapes).

So, excuse the fans and media for a moment if we’re all just a little skeptical of how this is all going to play out. Hey, NFL, you made your own bed.

Despite what you may think is a serious violation, cheating is cheating and it’s worse when it’s a repeat offense (if found guilty, of course.). The bottom line is, credibility is at play here.  Fans don’t trust the Patriots. They’ve been caught cheating before and I think it’s safe to assume they’ve done it other times – the Ravens reportedly tipped the Colts off to this whole deflating footballs thing. It’s like a player who gets caught smoking marijuana twice. What, those were the only two times? Come on.

If you want to spend time arguing whether this latest offense is serious or not, have at it. The bottom line is they’ve been caught before and they’ve possibly been caught again (something clearly is amiss, we’re just not sure who exactly to blame). Cheating is part of sports, no doubt. It always has been and always will be. But if you get caught, you get caught. And why the Patriots would risk what should be a glowing legacy is beyond me. But they have, according to Dan Shaugnessy of The Boston Globe.

But saying “everyone does it” isn’t an excuse. We go to that card far too often these days for rules breakers and law breakers. You get caught, you suffer the consequences. There’s nothing wrong with that. Dan Dakich mentioned on his daily radio show that all we do these days is make excuses for people. He’s absolutely right. Let’s get back to dealing with consequences.

Should this be a scandal? No, it’s a rules violation and should be treated as such. There should be consequences, for whomever is at fault. Levy the penalty swiftly and let’s move on.

A player gets suspended four games for a second offense of getting caught with marijuana in his system; a full season for a third offense. That’s for an individual’s offense – a personal offense. Yet, we’re going to let violations that involve the integrity of the game slide? Sean Payton was suspended for a year for Bountygate.

The growing perception among fans is they don’t trust the governance of the league. They know Bob Kraft and Roger Goodell are buddies. And Goodell also didn’t win over anyone  – media or fans – with the handling of the Ray Rice situation.

The NFL’s  credibility and Roger Goodell’s credibility are on the stand here. Perception is reality.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis

Stephenson Back on Pacers’ Terms – I’d Take That

by Bert Beiswanger

lanceLong before I read the trade rumors today involving Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn and Lance Stephenson, I re-visited the idea of the Pacers re-acquiring “Born Ready.”

As we know, rumors swirled weeks ago that Charlotte is interested in ending the Lance Stephenson experiment. Charlotte Hornets executive extraordinaire Michael Jordan can’t handle Lance Stephenson? No way…

I don’t care if Charlotte can’t handle Stephenson. Sure this was a playoff team last year. It’s also, by and large, been a pretty pathetic organization until last year.

Nothing has changed in my mind in recent weeks. In fact, I’ve had pretty much the same stance about this team – the players on it and Stephenson specifically. Larry Bird and the Pacers can handle Lance Stephenson. Heck they have had a hard enough time handling Roy Hibbert’s Dow Jones mindset and play on the court in recent years.  You haven’t grown tired of Hibbert’s antics? I did after last year. The Pacers can handle “Born Ready.”

Look, this isn’t a stance that the Pacers need to right a wrong. This is about being smart. If the Pacers can get Stephenson back on their terms, why not? It’s probably too late by the sound of this latest rumor but I’m going to argue the point anyway until the trade is complete.

This team went to the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row with Lance Stephenson. Yet, all I hear is you can ‘t win with Lance Stephenson. Has it dawned on anyone that the other pieces of the puzzle were just as much to blame for the failure to win a championship?  Hibbert didn’t score in four playoff games last year…FOUR. He makes $14 million per season. You don’t have a problem with that?

Hibbert was almost benched in the playoffs and he’s not exactly carrying the team in the absence of others this year. Point guard George Hill averaged just over 2 assists per game? And you think it’s all Lance Stephenson’s fault?

I’ve always heard that Stephenson stole rebounds from Hibbert to pad stats. First, let me say I don’t care who gets the rebound as long as it’s secured. Secondly, Hibbert averages a whopping .7 more boards per game this year without the rebound bandit Stephenson on the team.

And who ever said Charlotte was a great destination for Stephenson? In fact, I said all along the move made absolutely no sense. But Bird wanted him all along. And Frank Vogel wanted him back from what I’ve heard. Why? Because they know they can keep him in relative control and his contract is VERY cap-friendly.

I’m not saying Stephenson doesn’t deserve criticism. But why does everyone else get a pass?

My questions are the same as when Stephenson left. Who can you rely on on this team? Hibbert? Hill, even when healthy? Even George hadn’t reached the automatic go-to star status some thought he had – not the level of the elite. He’s had his fading moments in big games before. No one else on this team is someone I look at as an important piece moving forward. Sure they have piece that can fit, but I’m talking must-have players. The most talented players on the team last year were George and Stephenson. They could be again.

As for how Stephenson effects this team, who cares? This team isn’t going anywhere. And his contract is only good through next season. I have news for you folks, this team wasn’t going to be good enough to win the East with Paul George, let alone without. Hibbert, Hill and the aging Dave West are going to lead this team to the promise land? They’re not.

On these contract and trade terms, the Pacers can handle Lance Stephenson – and so can you.  It’s as if this team didn’t win a lot of games the last couple years. People forget how much fun they had watching this team play.  And they also forget there were others on this team that helped cause the demise down the stretch. If you think it was all Lance’s fault the Pacers didn’t get to the Finals, you’re delusional. Problems I pointed out after last season are coming to fruition now.

What, are you worried about chemistry on this year’s team? Seriously? Why not bring Lance in on your terms and see what happens. It may be the only thing that gets me interested again this year. Why not see if Stephenson can spark this team. There is nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work out, he only has one year left on his contract…one year.

I know one thing, I tuned in to watch Lance Stephenson, good or bad, last year. My kid wanted a “Born Ready” jersey for Christmas. There is nothing intriguing about this team right now. You’re worried about messing up this team chemistry? I love Rodney Stuckey and all and he indeed is a pro. But this isn’t about him, to me. If you get a deal you can’t refuse and you’re only tied to Lance through next year? That’s an easy deal to make in my opinion.

Ask yourself, what are the pieces on this current team that are musts moving forward – building blocks? Because what you had the past few years isn’t what you’ll have moving forward. West is aging, and he and Hibbert could be gone after this year. George Hill? Rodney Stuckey? Lavoy Allen? Uh, if i can get Stephenson and a first round pick in exchange for an expiring contract, I do it.  If it doesn’t work out, you move on easily and still have a first round pick out of the deal.

It amazes me. People have more problems with Lance Stephenson and forget a lot of the good things he did for this team the past two years. Last year went from how much should the Pacers offer him to , “Thank God he’s gone.” Yet, they have no problem with a $14 million center some have called to be benched and one who scored 0 points in four playoff games. People will nit-pick Stephenson apart, yet be as bothered about major flaws in others. They have no problem with Hill, a point guard who averaged 2.5 assists in 2013-2014 while Stephenson averaged 7 assists.

Lance Stephenson may be just the wake up needed on a team that keeps hitting the snooze button.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis

Appreciate Greatness While You Can

by Bert Beiswanger

PeytonManningIt won’t go away: If you were starting a team right now, would you take Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck? It’s not Colts versus Broncos, it’s Luck versus Manning. Over and over, the media bangs this over our heads.

Word of advice: Stop for a moment today and just appreciate greatness.

Yes, in the now and by the gut, Luck is hard to argue against. I don’t think that’s a tough call to make in 2015. Luck does oh so much and is the future of greatness.

But through all the minutia we go through in making these comparisons, we sometimes lose sight of the good over time and focus way too much on the bad: the losses, the plays that weren’t made. We also focus way too much on the parts we want and ignore the whole.

Manning is not same this year. It won’t be fair to me to pick him apart this year. The one thing I will say is that looking at history and statistics, the fate of anyone’s career can turn on a play by anyone on the field at any time.

If the Colts recover an onside kick versus the Saints in the Super Bowl and/or Pierre Garcon catches a slant pass and take it to the house, the Colts win another Super Bowl.

If Mike Vanderjagt hits a big kick against Pittsburg?…who knows what happens in overtime. I know Adam Vinatieri never missed big ones for the Patriots back in the day.

If Rahim Moore of the Denver Broncos doesn’t fall down like an eight year old trying to catch a fly ball and blow that game against Baltimore a couple years ago, the Broncos probably go to the Super Bowl that year.

How about that Jets Playoff game a few years ago at Lucas Oil Stadium? Manning drives the team down the field for the go ahead score (thanks also to another clutch Vinatieri field goal), and the game was lost due to a mix of special teams and coaching ineptitude.

Look at the other side of the coin – the Tom Brady side. Due to an insane tuck rule in the Playoffs versus the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots don’t win a Super Bowl that year.

During Pittsburg’s most recent run to a Super Bowl appearance, the Ravens had three turnovers inside their own 25-year-line to give Pitt 21 points. Yet, that win gets attributed to Ben Roethlisberger and his 50-yard TD pass late, not the Steelers defense or Baltimore’s inability to take care of the football.

Do not miss-interpret all of this for discrediting greats like Brady or Big Ben – not at all. Those guys are clutch players and among the best to lace ’em up. My point is so much goes into a game. A few plays here and there – in any fashion – can change the course of history. Shoot, if the Colts recover the onside kick and Moore doesn’t miss-play that ball, I don’t think anyone is having these types of discussions. Manning would have two, maybe three Super Bowls right now.

Yet, when talking about the greatest and Manning’s Playoff history, you would think – according to some – the guy shows up and lays eggs. That simply isn’t true. In fact, Manning has had some outstanding Playoff performances – certainly the run to the Super Bowl in 2009 with brilliant performances against two of the top three defenses in the league in the Ravens and Jets.

Before this year’s Playoffs, Manning’s career playoffs QB rating was #10 all-time and higher than Brady, Roethlisberger, Troy Aikman and others. Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were the only active QBs with higher Playoff QB ratings (Russell Wilson has since moved to the top after yesterday’s performance).

Does that mean Peyton has been an outstanding playoff QB? No. But he hasn’t exactly laid eggs in the playoffs, either.

Sure there were times Peyton didn’t play well, no doubt about it. But to blame him for all of the Playoff ills over the years is not fair and simply not accurate.

All of this may come across as making excuses for Peyton. If that’s the perception, oh well. I really don’t care. All I know is I’m realistic enough to understand there are multiple nuances that come into play in the game of football – line play, defense, special teams, running game, penalties, coaching, you name it.

I also know is the clock is ticking on watching one of the VERY BEST to ever play the game. Waste your time if you want comparing this guy versus that guy, but I am going to soak in the opportunity to watch a future Hall of Famer in Manning and one of the next greats in Luck.

Follow on Twitter @BertBeis