Hornets Noticed By A Legend, The Australian Open's NC Connection And High School Basketball Playoffs
The Charlotte Hornets get big praise from an NBA legend; the Australian Open has a North Carolina connection and high school basketball playoffs start this week. Joining "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to talk about sports is Charlotte Observer sports writer Langston Wertz Jr.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Happy Monday, Langston!
Langston Wertz Jr: Hey Gwen, how are you?
Glenn: The Charlotte Hornets have 13 wins and 15 losses after losing Sunday 122-110 to the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won three out of their last five games and former LA Laker superstar Magic Johnson tweeted that the Hornets are, “One of the most exciting teams in the league.” What do you think he means and is seeing?
Wertz: I think he's seeing up-tempo basketball. I think he's seen a player in LaMelo Ball who plays a similar game to what he played. And, you know, it's pass-first, exciting basketball and they are fun to watch.
Glenn: And Miles Bridges has stepped up from the bench, especially after a few players either tested positive for COVID-19 or were in contact with someone who did. Tell us about Bridges and the COVID situation.
Wertz: Well, Bridges is averaging about 10.6 rebounds for the season. He's upped that in the last five games to 14 points and 10 rebounds. Now, he struggled against San Antonio, he had five points, six rebounds. But here's the reason -- the Hornets were down PJ Washington and the Martin twins, they were both quarantined. Gordon Hayward missed the game with lower back problems and starting guard Devonte Graham left the game in the third quarter. They were just down to like, nobody.
Glenn: Langston, COVID is also posing a big problem in college basketball too. Tuesday's Virginia Tech-University of North Carolina Chapel Hill game. Clemson's and Notre Dame's game will be postponed due to COVID-19 cases. That's more than 30 ACC games postponed due to the virus. And some are calling for next month's ACC tournament in Greensboro to be canceled. What do you think?
Wertz: I almost think they probably should because not playing conference tournaments in college basketball makes a little more sense this year. It gives more time to get ready, get healthy. If you do have kids on COVID protocol, let them get cleared and then have a tournament.
Glenn: OK, and Langston, I’m sure you are deep into the high school basketball playoffs this week. What are the big games and players to watch?
Wertz: Well, the big games, Gwen, are really going to start next week, the first week at private school playoffs. There's a good match up potentially coming up on Saturday between Charlotte Christian and Carmel Christian. The matchup of two of the best players in the area, Brice Cash, Charlotte Christian and Ben Burnham of Carmel Christian. The public schools are going to come out for their playoff pairings on Saturday, and they'll start playoffs the following Tuesday, so we'll be knee-deep in high school basketball.
Glenn: Let’s talk the Australian Open which is going on now. The North Carolina connection is tennis star Naomi Osaka.Osaka is co-owner of the National Women’s Soccer League team the North Carolina Courage. She wore the team’s new gear at the Open — seen for the first time, inspired by the state’s oceans and mountains. Give us a brief rundown of the team.
Wertz: Well, the Courage are the back-to-back champions of the National Women's Soccer League, as you mentioned. It's the highest division in women's professional soccer. They used to be the Western New York Flash. The owner, Steve Malik, relocated the team to North Carolina four years ago and he renamed it after the Carolina Courage, which was the first women's soccer team in North Carolina. They've been very, very successful. They're hooking up with a really good tennis player. Naomi's won three Grand Slam championships. She's going to be in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open with a potential match up with Serena Williams in the championship.
Glenn: Osaka, whose mom is Japanese and dad Haitian, is a staunch supporter for Black Lives Matter and other causes against racism. She seems a fit for a team that is taking on these causes as well.
Wertz: You know, she definitely has been outspoken in especially the Black Lives Matter movement. Also, the team was one of the first to kneel in the country back in June to support Black Lives Matter. They have an entire page and section on the website where they talk about Black Lives Matter causes and talk about players. They encouraged people to vote big-time during the recent election. So both the owner and the team seem to be aligned in this way.
Glenn: And ending on a sad anniversary. This year’s Daytona 500 marks the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the last lap of that 2001 race there.
Sound from the 2001 race.
Glenn: That last tape was from WBTV … on the third lap Sunday, the crowd held up three fingers, the number of his car.
Wertz: Dale Earnhardt is always going to be one of the biggest stars in NASCAR. He's just one of those guys that everybody loves. Everybody follows. He was bigger than the sport. If you go to his hometown of Kannapolis, there's a big 9-foot, 900-pound pound statue and Dale Earnhardt was one of the first kind of breakthrough stars that sport had to kind of went mainstream. And he just kind of defines NASCAR. I mean, Sunday, Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500 on the last lap. I guarantee that more Americans know who Dale Earnhardt is than know who Michael McDowell is. This is a tribute to the type of man he was; he was a great man.
Glenn: Thanks Langston.
Langston Wertz is a veteran sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.