BY LEE JENKINS
July 11, 2017
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — The Conejo Valley lunch crowd was confronted by an alarming image Monday afternoon on the 3100 block of Willow Lane: Paul George lying face down on the floor of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse, garage doors open to the street, cursing under the weight of six 20-pound metal chains draped across his back. This is where George has spent the past three months, at ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, pushing 800-pound monster-truck tires alongside linebackers such as the Packers’ Clay Matthews and running backs like the Bucs’ Doug Martin. On Road Trip Fridays, George and his new NFL pals charge up 35-degree inclines on 200-yard sand dunes north of Malibu.
No one has figured more prominently in the NBA’s manic off-season than George—traded by the Pacers, rumored to the Cavs, ticketed to the Celtics, fated for the Lakers, acquired by the Thunder—yet no one has been less visible, training six days a week with Ryan Capretta at ProActive and recovering at his home in aptly named Hidden Hills. George will finally extricate himself from the chains, which he uses for resistance during pushups, and board a private plane Tuesday morning at Van Nuys Airport that was dispatched by Thunder owner Clay Bennett. He cannot fathom the outpouring that awaits him when he touches down in Oklahoma City. “I’ve heard there might be people, like, at the airport,” he says.
George has no relationship with Russell Westbrook beyond pregame pleasantries. He describes Sam Presti as one might depict a character in a spy novel. All he has ever seen of his new home is the Skirvin Hilton Hotel and Chesapeake Energy Arena. But in the 11 days since George was sent from Indiana to Oklahoma City, he has done his research, asking former Thunder players what he can expect in one of the league’s smallest but staunchest markets. One notable source was particularly insightful.
“KD was like, ‘That place will blow you away,’” George says. “He told me, ‘They can offer what other teams can’t in terms of the people and the preparation and the facility, down to the chefs and the meals.’ He was pretty high on them. He thought it was a first-class organization in every way.” The Thunder, who essentially traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for a yearlong free-agent pitch session with George, will take any recruiter they can get—even if it’s the guy who left, sweet-talking his replacement.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor
June 22, 2017
After hiding himself underneath the familiar Amana “bucket” hat that became his signature, Mark Hayes no longer can avoid the acknowledgement he richly deserves.
One of the greatest junior players in state history, who went on to notable collegiate, amateur, and the PGA Tour accomplishments, Hayes will become a member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame during the Oct. 1 induction ceremony at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.
Hayes came from an athletic lineage. His father, Larry Sr., was a gifted athlete and played for Hall of Fame basketball coach Henry P. Iba at Oklahoma A&M (1945-46; 1947-49). Larry was a member of the 1946 NCAA championship team and the national runner-up team in 1949, which is the same year Mark was born.
Larry taught all four of his sons – Larry Jr., Mark, Jim and Dan – how to play golf. Mark and Larry Jr. started at age 6 and 7, respectively. Hayes’ parents were both educators who received their doctorates from OSU so the family moved between Stillwater and Oklahoma City. In Stillwater, Mark started competing in tournaments against older kids at age 10. He remained unbeaten until age 12 when he finally experienced defeat, though only occasionally.
For the better part of a decade, Hayes essentially served as the measuring stick for other in-state junior golfers.
It was about age 12 when Hayes came under the tutelage of Oklahoma State golf coach and 2016 HOF inductee Labron Harris Sr. Around this same time, Hayes convinced another 12-year-old from Stillwater to take up golf. That kid was Doug Tewell, a fellow 2017 Oklahoma Golf HOF inductee who was born just 47 days after Hayes arrived on July 12, 1949. Hayes and Tewell quickly became lifelong friends/rivals.
Tewell said he measured himself as a golfer by how well he fared against Hayes. “I think playing against Mark meant everything for my career,” Tewell said with sincerity. “We all need somebody like that who we chase, so to speak. It’s kind of like two quarterbacks – the starter and the guy who wants to start. Mark set the bar. He was so much better than the rest of us. I wanted to beat him worse than anybody, yet we were friends. I’m not sure we really knew we were rivals.”
BY JOHN ROHDE
Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor
June 21, 2017
Doug Tewell freely admits “golf just wasn’t on my radar” when he was 12 years old. He was far too busy playing football, baseball and basketball in his hometown of Stillwater in those days.
Tewell played center in football, was a first baseman in baseball and a “benchwarmer” in basketball. “I thought my future might be in baseball,” Tewell said. “I could hit.”
However, Tewell’s athletic journey took an entirely new path when he suffered a concussion at age 12 while playing football on Lewis Field. “My parents said, ‘That’s it for you. No more football,’ ” Tewell said. “Dad said, ‘You ought to start playing golf with me.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it and see.’ It was hard to quit all those other sports because in those days there was a lot of peer pressure to play football, basketball and baseball. Here I was joining the minor sports brigade.”
Tewell wasn’t a complete stranger to golf, having already served as his father’s caddie. Turns out Tewell also could swing the clubs rather than just carry them. He played the game well, and it didn’t take long to discover this. “I got pretty good at it quickly because on my 13th birthday I went and played my first ever golf tournament in Okmulgee,” Tewell recalled. “I tied for second with a guy named Mark Hayes. I won the playoff.”
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Tewell moved to Stillwater at age 11. While Tewell dove head-first into mainstream sports, Hayes began playing golf at age 6 and had become somewhat of a prodigy by the time he was 12, frequently beating older players.
A fellow member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame class, Hayes was born roughly seven weeks before Tewell in the summer of 1949. They were in the same class while attending school, and they’ll be in the same class as HOF inductees on Oct. 1 at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.
BY JOHN ROHDE
June 12, 2017
Five days have passed since Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement at age 56. Even those closest to him were stunned when Stoops shared the news last Wednesday.
Sooners associate head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is 15 months younger than his older brother. They grew up in a close-knit family in Youngstown, Ohio, were teammates throughout their playing days in school, coached alongside each other as assistants at Kansas State and Mike spent 10 seasons at OU as an assistant under big brother.
A bit of shock lingers even for Mike.
"It still feels a little strange, but it's all good and time for a new beginning," Mike said Sunday evening. "When you really think about it, why not (retire)? Bob's not about money. He's not about records or anything like that. He's just about doing his job and being happy."
The day after his announcement, Bob Stoops and longtime friend Matt McMillen headed to a Florida beach. McMillen is OU's assistant athletics director for football operations and arrived alongside Stoops in 1999. They've been friends since 1989 working at K-State. McMillen was having dinner at Stoops' home last Tuesday night when he got blindsided.
"We were outside and Bob says, 'Matty, I'm not going to coach anymore,'" McMillen explained. "I don't think I said a word for 20-25 minutes. He started laughing at me. It was like somebody hit me on the head with a sledgehammer, or an anvil fell on my head, or something. I didn't know what to say. It was crazy."
Early in the morning on the day of the announcement, Stoops called assistant head coach Cale Gundy into his office. Gundy, who serves as director of recruiting and coaches inside receivers, has been with the OU football program for 23-plus seasons. He played quarterback for the Sooners (1990-93), served one year as a student assistant and returned to OU when Stoops became head coach 18 years ago.
"Bob told me what was going on," Gundy said. "It was kind of tough for him to tell me and it was tough for me to hear it. We have been around each other for so long and it's something I'll remember forever."
A mid-afternoon meeting was scheduled last Wednesday to inform OU players of Stoops' retirement. When word leaked, the meeting was bumped up to early afternoon. Before meeting alongside his teammates, however, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield was summoned into a meeting with Stoops and new head coach Lincoln Riley.
“By then, everybody kind of knew what was happening,” Mayfield said. “I was shocked at first, just hearing it come out of Coach Stoops' mouth. I also was taken aback that he respected me enough to call me in there and tell me in person before meeting with the team.”
Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Stoops gave him a tour of the new facilities three days before the announcement and Stoops never hinted of his pending retirement. The day after the announcement, Stoops telephoned Switzer.
"Bob said, 'The timing was right,'" Switzer said. "And I said, 'Well, you're the only one who keeps that watch. No one else keeps that watch except you. It's your clock and you set the time. I'm all for it. I can understand.'"
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a two-time, first-team All-American with the Sooners in 2002-03, won the 2003 Vince Lombardi Award, declared for the 2004 NFL Draft after his junior season and was selected 14th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears.
"I was shocked," Harris said of Stoops retiring, "but then at the same time, I was more excited for him. It showed his courage to leave at the top of your game. He can do whatever he wants with his time now."
BY ZACH LOWE
ESPN Senior Writer
June 8, 2017
Draymond Green sat along the sidelines this week at Quicken Loans Arena and pointed his right index finger at the spot where it happened -- where everything about the 2016 NBA Finals, and maybe about the next decade of NBA history, changed in a blur of angry limbs.
"That play?" Green said in a chat with ESPN.com, his voice rising. "I don't regret it. Like, I just don't. Some would say maybe I'm wrong for not regretting it. I don't live my life with regrets. I move on. It was never like, 'Oh man, I cost these guys a championship. Now, do I believe in my heart that I did cost us? Yeah, I do. Absolutely. But I still don't regret that play."
That play, of course, was Green swiping at LeBron James' groin as the world's best player stepped over him in an act Green and his team viewed as an intentional, emasculating taunt. The resulting flagrant foul mandated Green be suspended from Game 5 in Oakland. The Warriors were up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. They never won again.
It is an act with almost no parallel in sports history -- a flash of anger that upended a series on the precipice. To a man, the Warriors are sure they would have clinched the title in Game 5 at home had Green been available. Whether they are right is impossible to know, and not all that important. That they believe it is what matters. If they believe that, then they also believe Green's temper -- his accumulation of needless and violent on-court incidents -- cost them a once-in-a-lifetime chance to repeat as champions in a record-setting 73-win season.
That belief could tear a team apart. It would be natural for teammates to harbor bitterness toward Green. More trivial disputes ripped fissures in other teams that never healed. Green apologized, and the Warriors got past it, quickly. There were no further team meetings. Green did not have to pull any teammate aside and hash things out, he said. They rallied around Green, and accepted his mistake. Their bond grew stronger. Green learned to tread the line, and the Warriors are about to assume the throne again.
It did not have to be that way.
"Initially, we were upset," Shaun Livingston told ESPN.com. "Especially during that moment when we didn't know if he would be suspended. It was like, 'Come on, man. You have to be smarter.'"
The ruling from the league office galvanized them, as did rumblings -- accurate, per sources -- that the Cavaliers lobbied for a two-game suspension. "I think there was empathy for him," Bob Myers, the team's GM, told ESPN.com this week. "The worst thing, the most painful thing you can do to a player, is take him out of a game."
The Warriors list compassion as one of their core values, and they used it to digest what Green had done. "Draymond does so much for us," Bruce Fraser, an assistant coach, told ESPN.com. "You have to live with some of the emotional things he does that hurt you. He was remorseful. He spoke on it. And we have a compassionate group."
"He apologized," Steve Kerr, the team's head coach, told ESPN.com. "S--- happens. I never had any doubt the players would get over it."
Losing Games 6 and 7 helped. They had two more chances, with Green. They lost -- with Green. "I can see people thinking he cost us a championship, but it's not true," Livingston said. "We lost those games."
Owning their collective defeat shifted the focus away from any individual act. "It helped that we credited our opponents," Myers said. "In every arena now, people yell the '3-1 lead' stuff at us, and our response is: 'They beat us. They earned it.' And that is the healthiest response."
Did Green's performance in Game 7 -- 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, 9 assists -- quash any lingering resentment?
"Hell yeah," Kerr said.
Everyone understands Green's foundational importance to the team's identity -- to the very shape they form on the court. There is no impenetrable switching defense without Green, no revolutionary Death Lineup. "We couldn't play the way we do without him," said Ron Adams, the team's defensive guru.
The core players had no choice but to forgive and forget; most of them were under contract for the next season and beyond, and Green wasn't going anywhere. "What are you going to do, trade Draymond because you can't get over it?" Kerr asked. "You have two choices: accept what he does, and that it comes with the occasional outburst, or trade him for a player who isn't as competitive -- a player who won't get kicked out of a game, but also won't get you to Game 7 of the Finals."
Myers was still curious. He held private exit meetings with every player, and he used them in part to see if there was any simmering discontent about the suspension.
"Given human nature, I thought there might be," Myers said. "There wasn't."
"It was important to answer that question for our franchise going forward," Myers told ESPN.com on a podcast in March. "And nobody blamed anyone for anything. How do you get over 3-1? That day got me over it. You can lose with the right people. It makes it tolerable, as much as it sucks to lose. You look around and say, 'You know what? I'll go back and fight this fight with you guys.'"
Green has also gotten better at controlling his temper. He has only two technicals so far in the playoffs -- and zero flagrants. "We don't want to take that emotion away from him," Klay Thompson told ESPN.com "That is what makes him so great -- that dog in him. He has just learned to harness it."
As nice as this all sounds, even Green recognizes things could have turned out differently had Kevin Durant chosen another team. With four stars, including two of the five best players in the league, the Warriors are guaranteed a realistic shot at the title every season. There would be other chances; Green did not blow their last one.
"I look at it as we lost the Finals, but we ended up with KD," Green said. "That's a helluva consolation prize."
Green was already working on that as he left Oracle Arena after that gutting Game 7 loss. Green sat in his car in the parking lot and called Myers, telling him he had to sign Durant. "It's on you," Green told Myers.
Green hung up, stayed in the parking lot, and made another call -- to Durant. "That was my very next call," Green said. Two weeks later, Durant signed a maximum contract that put him in a Golden State uniform for at least one season, with several more seasons likely to come.
"If we win the championship, I'm like 99 percent sure we don't get him," Green said. "There are silver linings to everything."
BY JOHN ROHDE
June 7, 2017
Before her team began its quest to defend its 2016 NCAA crown, Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso knew she potentially had the deepest pitching staff in her 23 seasons at OU.
Final proof came Tuesday night when the Sooners edged Florida, 5-4, to sweep the best-of-three Championship Series at the Women's College World Series, capturing their second straight national title and their third crown in the last five seasons.
OU's Hall of Fame coach began smiling last summer when left-handed flame-thrower Paige Lowary decided to transfer from Missouri and would have two years of eligibility with the powerhouse Sooners.
Also arriving at OU for the 2017 season were freshmen pitchers Mariah Lopez, Nicole Mendes and Melanie Olmos. With the arrival of this foursome, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Paige Parker, who worked 59.0 percent (252.1) of her team's total innings in 2016, instantaneously had some teammates to lean on, which explains why her workload this season dipped to 43.6 percent (210.1 of 482.2 total innings).
How apropos the Sooners claimed their fourth NCAA title under Gasso by outdueling a Gators pitching staff that led the nation with a miniscule team ERA of 0.74 this season and featured the national player of the year in Kelly Barnhill.
Both pitching staffs were thinned out considerably the previous night in Game One, a 7-5 Sooners victory that required 17 innings, five hours and 28 minutes and 495 total pitches.
Under these trying circumstances, Gasso knew there was a good chance her team might be able to clinch the title pitching by committee, and that's precisely what happened.