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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team If you’ve ever seen University of Illinois Men’s basketball Head Coach Bruce Weber on television, you might notice what a happy-go-lucky guy he appears to be. In person, he’s just the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. One might even call him “cuddly.” That’s why I was shocked to learn that someone might actually treat him like a potentially dangerous criminal or terrorist.

There were numerous complaints about Detroit being the 2009 Final Four’s host city. Prepare to add another one to the list. During the final weekend of March Madness, the coaches stayed across the border in Windsor, Ontario. This led to international intrigue and authorities singling out Weber, a man who recently signed an extension (with a 50% pay raise) to coach at Illinois until 2015.weber

“Coach Keady’s wife passed away, and Matt Painter and I were his assistants; so with his wife’s illness, we had to run the practices. We had to go back and forth to Windsor. A couple of times it took two hours to get through the tunnel from Canada back to Detroit. You’re talking just three miles, but it took forever. And one day we got stopped and pulled over, and they had to check out our car. We laughed and it took a while, but then one guy came out and said: ‘Well, I’m a Michigan fan, that’s why we pulled you over, and we can make a commercial out of it,’ and we laughed.” Weber said this during the recent National Association of Basketball Coaches’ “Court of Honor” Gala in Chicago.

So there’s yet another reason (sort of) to hate Michigan Wolverines fans: a real life version of the Jordan brand advertisement that we all saw during March Madness.

However, this was not the only time the authorities decided to mess with Bruce.

“And then the next day we got pulled over, again. This time I was by myself, and I said to the guys, ‘What is going on?’ And they said, ‘Well you got a rental car, and you’re going back and forth.’ Because we have practices and meetings. It was a little bit of a hassle at the time, but I guess it’s good they’re trying to protect our country.”

It’s good to hear Weber maintain his jolly demeanor; even as he encountered some of the most annoying situations possible.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

In Kane and Sharp, the Chicago Blackhawks possess two young star forwards named Patrick. “Sharpie” the lesser known of the two, is having a much better Western Conference Finals than “Kaner.” Down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks will need both of them, (and more reinforcements) to be on their A game if Chicago is going to stand any chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sharp is often overshadowed by Kane, the 2008 Calder Memorial Trophy winner and face-of-the-franchise, but it was Sharpie who was on pace to lead the team in goals this season before being sidelined by injury down the stretch.
Kaner is having a rough series, sporting an ugly -7 in the +/- department, and he didn’t even make it onto the score sheet until notching a game 4 assist. Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock talked about how his team shut down Kane.

“Till today we always played Nick (All-Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom) against him. Today, we didn’t have that option so we just try to play a really good five man unit and limit their touches the best we can. I think Osgood did a good job, but you’re never going to shut a guy like that down totally with the amount of skill level he has. I thought the other night in game three even though he didn’t get on the sheet, I thought that line with Byufglien and Toews dominated the shifts territorally- just couldn’t get the puck in the net,” Babcock saidkane_8x10

As ugly as the 6-1 game four home loss to Detroit was, both young stars have breakout game performances in their recent memory.
Before entering this current slump, Kane recorded his first career hat trick in game 6 of the Western Conference Seminfinals, in eliminating the Vancouver Canucks. After the exciting 7-5 win, Kane told the media the criticisms from Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell fired him up. “I got a wake-up call from old Willie Mitchell over there. He made some comments saying I couldn’t play five on five, I don’t know if you want to fire up a player like that. I scored three goals five-on-five, so you’ll have to ask him about that one,” Kane said.
Friday night, Sharp was the number one star of the conference finals’ game three with two goals, including the overtime game winner. That was pretty exciting to be in the building at that point, I’ve had some double overtime ones in the minors but, it was pretty loud when the puck went in and it was exciting,” Sharp said in describing perhaps the biggest night of his career. Both Patricks will need to have more games like that as Chicago faces elimination.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Before it was an environmental clarion call spouted by business and government leaders everywhere, the phrase “go green” was the Michigan State Spartans’ battle cry. For those lucky enough to be in Detroit this weekend (Yes, it’s weird describing Detroit as a coveted destination) you’ll hear lots of “go green” and “go white” as MSU becomes the first team to play in the Final Four in their home state since Duke laced them up in Charlotte in 1994. When Tom “H to tha” Izzo brings his Spartans to Ford Field, a venue 92 miles from their campus, his resume will include 11 straight NCAA appearances, 5 Final Fours in those 11 years, a National Championship in 2000 and a 30-10 overall tournament record. With the recent collapse of the Indiana Hoosier program, Sparty has become the Big Ten’s (and the Midwest in general) finest program. No other team from the heartland is a March Madness fixture like the Spartans, with Izzo preparing each and every one of his recruited four-year players for Final Four glory. But this success is a more recent phenomenon.izzo_at_midnight_madness

State wasn’t admitted into the Big Ten until 1995 and the nation didn’t really “Meet the Spartans” until the Jud Heathcote era (1976-1995). They weren’t considered a power until the 1979 National championship- when Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and company defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana St. team in the highest watched game in college history. This established East Lansing as a haven for stellar guard play. The list includes Steve Smith, Scott Skiles, Eric Snow, Shawn Respert, Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson, Shannon Brown, Drew Neitzel and current Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas. Lucas spoke about his conversations with Mateen Cleaves, the floor general on the last Spartan championship team. “Mateen tells me this is my team and I have to be the general, I have to run the team, I have to give guys shots, but I also have to get my shots,” Lucas said.

The hard-line Izzo leads teams that get better as the season progresses and excel in rebounding (currently first nationally) and defense. “Defense can be measured in a lot of ways: points allowed, opposing field goal percentage, but it’s almost like what Jay Bilas says about heart, you measure it when things are on the line. And I thought down the stretch our defense is getting better, it’s been pretty solid when we’ve had the right lineups in there,” Izzo said

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the NBC Street Team, the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

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