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Archive for June 27th, 2007

Kevin Pritchard’s Long and Winding Road

pritchard.jpgI’ve been hearing Portland GM Kevin Pritchard’s name bandied about for some time now, thanks to his immense good fortune in having to decide between Greg Oden and Kevin Durant come Thursday of this week. It feels very, very strange to me to hear his name so often, because for the last 15 years or so, if I had mentioned him to just about any sports fan I know, I would have received a blank stare in response. I felt like a fan club of one.

Why do I love Kevin Pritchard? Easy answer – I was a freshman at the University of Kansas in 1988, and he was a key player on that famous Danny and the Miracles team that won the championship and turned Lawrence, Kansas upside down for several days. Since that team changed my life, I remember all kinds of absurd things about it. For instance, backup guard Clint Normore, who played crucial minutes in that game, was a varsity linebacker defensive player for KU’s gridiron team. Compared to that bit of ephemera, remembering Kevin Pritchard is easy. He went 6 of 7 from the floor and scored 13 that night, one off his jersey number.

pritchardmaddox.jpgPritchard also made one of the finest hustle plays I’ve ever seen in person. Back in those days, I couldn’t afford to go to many live KU games, but I often picked off undesirable tickets from my friends who were going home for winter break. One such event was a dismal Arizona State at Kansas game that was relatively meaningless. It was Pritchard’s senior season, if I remember correctly, and the Jayhawks were not having a difficult time with the Sun Devils. Nonetheless, when a maroon-and-gold clad guard stole the ball from Kansas and streaked away for the easy layup, Pritchard chased him down and blocked the kid’s shot cleanly from behind. The moral of the story? Don’t sleep on Kevin Pritchard. In addition to being a damn fine player, he made the Big 8 all-academic team for three years running.

Pritchard’s post-Kansas career was nothing to write home about. He was the 34th pick in the 1990 NBA draft, going to Golden State, where he started once. It was the only start of his NBA career. He played a few games over the next handful of seasons before moving to the now-defunct CBA, and then went overseas. When playing opportunities dried up, Pritchard sold mutual funds for about a year, before landing a front-office gig with the ABA’s Kansas City Knights, where he wore many hats, including GM, Director of Player Personnel, and Head Coach. He won an ABA championship in those roles in 2000-2001.

pritchard_kevin.jpgThat was his entree back into the NBA ranks, as he joined the staff of the San Antonio Spurs. As a scout, he once again worked with Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, who knew Kevin from their days as assistants on Larry Brown’s staff at KU. Two years with the Spurs led to the Director of Player Personnel job with Portland, which led to the Assistant GM spot, and then to the enviable position he is in today.

Oddly enough, he is not the only player from that 1988 Kansas team to find success in a suit. Milt “Alfreeka” Newton is VP of Player Personnel for the Wizards. The small matter of a long NBA career got Danny Manning a late start, but he currently serves as an assistant coach at his alma mater under Bill Self.

Can Pritchard bring that Miracle magic to the rainy Pacific coast? Who knows. Luck has already played its role for Pritchard, handing him the #1 pick and two franchise players to choose from. The rest will come down to the same thing it always has for the kid from Tulsa – hard work.

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Crucial Source: Groomed for Success [Portland Tribune]

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OK, we’re here today to meet Delmon Young. Here you go:

Allrighty, we’re done here, thanks!

I’m kidding, of course. But Delmon is damn lucky that his career has blossomed in Tampa Bay, because otherwise, this would be the ONLY thing baseball fans would remember about him. As it is, he’ll be branded as “the bat-thrower” no matter what else he does in his career. Perhaps next time the Ump will hand Delmon a bottle of gatorade before he heaves him. Wait… that’s Elijah Dukes… these kids in Tampa are just a hot mess.

But I’m here neither to praise Delmon, nor to bury him, but to supply you with facts. Delmon Damarcus Young was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1985, but eventually his family moved to California. The younger brother of Dmitri Young sprouted into a 6’3″ power-hitting outfielder who was drafted #1 overall out of high school in 2003. That made he and brother Dmitri the siblings with the highest combined draft position ever until, perversely, his record was broken by the brother of the #2 pick in the 2003 draft, his Devil Rays teammate B.J. Upton. He bats righty and throws righty, becoming the first player to ever do both during a single at-bat (see above).

delyoungbat.jpgDelmon played very, very well in the minors, amassing a .317 overall average during his teenage years. He was even able to log some time in the city of his birth, amassing an impressive OPS of .986 with 20 home runs and 71 RBIs in just half of a regular season with the Montgomery Biscuits. In 2005, he played for the storied Durham Bulls, where the, er, impromptu discussion of the strike zone happened. The resulting 50-game suspension did not dim the ardor of the big club, and the Rays called Delmon up on August 28th of 2006.

The hot-headed tyro paid immediate dividends, crushing a two-run dinger against the Chicago White Sox in his first major league game. Unlike his unkempt older brother, Delmon is an excellent fielder with a rocket-powered throwing arm and accuracy to boot. His speed and a growing appreciation for situational hitting may just make him the complete package.

Young is having a sterling 2007 season at the tender age of 21, standing out on a roster full of future stars (assuming they can stay away from the po-po). In 75 games this season, often batting 5th or 6th in the lineup, Delmon has 43 RBIs and 37 runs, with 15 doubles and 9 home runs. To the best of my knowledge, he has kept his temper under control, allowing teammate Elijah Dukes to hog all of the headlines for now.

Should he keep a firm grip on his emotions, and that darn slippery bat, Delmon Damarcus Young could continue to play a big part in bringing exciting offensive baseball to Tropicana Field. With B.J. Upton and Japanese import Akinori Iwamura on the field, the Rays are an intriguing unknown quantity with a great deal of potential. If the Tampa pitching can keep up with a minor-league system packed with hitting prospects, they just might have something down there in the old Juice Bowl.

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