Part of what made baseball manager Bobby Valentine - formerly of the Texas Rangers and New York Mets and currently of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan - so interesting to cover was that he seemed to challenge himself to give unconventional responses to questions.
For example, when asked if he thought ESPN SportsCenter had a detrimental effect on the way the game of baseball is played because it turned players into hot dogs, Valentine paused for a long moment and offered the opinion that just the opposite is true.
The best possible result of a baseball swing is a home run, and those are the swings shown over and over every night during the six-month baseball season. Hitter see, hitter do. Specifically, Valentine said, seeing all those home run swings has led more hitters to finish their swings on an upward arc. So SportsCenter, according to Valentine, is a subtle factor in the increase in power.
It would be difficult to make the case that SportsCenter highlights have improved the quality of basketball. Difficult plays fill the highlights. Easy plays make offenses click. Easy plays win games.
The Lawrence High girls basketball team in general and senior center Sydnei Tolefree in particular demonstrated that superbly by playing a near perfect game at the end of a 58-54 victory at Olathe Northwest on Friday.
The Lions finished on a 14-4 run, and Tolefree was right there in the middle of everything, making the smart play, the simple play. In the final few minutes, Tolefree twice showed perfect timing in moving without the ball, executed a three-point play, blocked a shot and had a key assist.
When the Lions were faced with full-court pressure, Tolefree released at the perfect time to make herself a target to catch the ball past midcourt. A few dribbles later, she made the simple pass to Katelyn Hobbs for an insurance bucket. Earlier, Tolefree had a taken a few steps to freedom, received a pass from Taylor Bird, went up strong, made a bank shot and went to the line to make the free throw. Free State senior post player Kelsey Harrison plays with the same brainy, Tim Duncan-like approach.
Ask Marquette coach Tom Crean about the best player he ever coached, and he's more likely to talk about Dwyane Wade's greatness at making the simple play than he is to marvel at Wade's high-wire act.
Kansas University coach Bill Self has been urging Sherron Collins to resist the temptation to try to make the spectacular play, and Collins recently has become better at making the easy play. Self has praised Mario Chalmers of late for his ability to make the simple pass after jetting into the lane. Chalmers never has played better.
Julian Wright, who has a knack for working his way onto SportsCenter with the over-the-shoulder blind pass from the post, has the ability to take an easier path to the highlights. He can still finish the simple play - catching the ball in the post and making a quick drop-step to freedom - in spectacular fashion by slamming it home.
The more Wright looks to make the simple play, the scoring play, today on television at South Carolina, the greater chance the Jayhawks will have of heading into Big 12 play with seven consecutive victories and a 13-2 record.