Monday, June 29, 2009

R.I.P. Sheila Bleizeffer

If memory serves, it was in early spring in 1996 that Karen was volunteering at the SPCA, and she asked me to come in and meet one of the dogs. We already had Indigo at this point, who was a handful, to say the least, so after the requisite browbeating I agreed to go in and meet this dog. I insisted that I was only going to meet the dog, but we were not bringing the dog home that day... which just goes to show my level of naivete at that point in our marriage.

We came home with Sheila that day. Her given name was "Shula" (maybe her original owners were Miami Dolphin fans), and given that she was an Australian Cattledog (mostly) and she was female, we decided to change her name slightly to Sheila. Get it? Australian female? Sheila? Yeah, we're clever.

Sheila died in my arms around 3:45 today, June 29th, 2009, after the cancer in her jaw and throat made it difficult for her to breathe. She stopped eating yesterday, and she couldn't sleep because it took too much effort to breathe to relax enough to sleep. It was her time.

Sheila was the antithesis of Indigo. Indigo was too smart for her own good (it's never good to have a dog that is smarter than its owners). She was willful and mischievous... and we loved her. She seemed to take a perverse enjoyment out of pushing our buttons.

Sheila was eager to please. If she ever misbehaved, it was obviously a mistake because she would be devastated to think that she had done something wrong. Indigo thought anyone who came to the door was Jason Vorhees incarnate. Sheila thought everyone was a potential friend.

Our cats would rub up against Sheila's legs and spoon with her when she was sleeping. And she wouldn't complain.

And she purred when she was happy.

Tyler used to gleefully grab Sheila's fur and hold on tight until he got bored or Sheila's fur detached. Sheila never complained.

Carson has a friend named Rebecca. She invited Rebecca over for a playdate, but Rebecca and her mom were concerned because Rebecca was deathly afraid of dogs. We told them "You've got to meet Sheila." They met. Rebecca is no longer afraid of dogs... in fact, she now wants to get a dog of her own.

Old age was not particularly kind to Sheila. She developed arthritis and had bouts of severe joint pain over her last couple of years. At one point a couple years ago it got so bad that I built her a ramp to get up the two steps from the sidewalk to our front porch, and I was convinced that she didn't have much longer. Then, amazingly, she recovered. She still had trouble and couldn't make it up the stair to the second floor, but her mobility increased enough that worries about her quality of life went away.

Then, a little over a month ago, she started snoring while awake. A quick Google search suggested it was probably allergies, so we switched her food, but it didn't help. So I took her to the vet and they found severe cancer in her jaw and neck that was obstructing her nasal passages and throat. There was nothing to be done at that point but try to make her comfortable. The pain medication helped a little, but when she stopped eating we knew it was time.

Of course, the thing I'll miss most about Sheila is that she loved me far more than I deserve. We all need as much of that in our lives as we can get.

Goodbye, Sheila, I love you too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday morning

From 2009-Jan-20

From 2009-Jan-20

From 2009-Jan-20

From 2009-Jan-20

That's Sorcha on the left and Sebastian on the right in the photo above.

From 2009-Jan-20

Monday, January 19, 2009

Perfect team?

What does a perfect basketball team look like, in your opinion? Obviously we could say "A player at every position that is great at everything" but that's boring. I'm thinking more about the key characteristics, thinking about prior Indiana players who might resemble that player, and players on the current team or recruits that might become that player.

Here's my take:

First, I don't think a great team needs more than 8 players. In fact, part of me thinks having more than 8 players in the rotation can be a distraction. And because I think it's very important for players to understand their roles, I'm going to assume a stable starting lineup with a stable set of reserves (though in reality I think a stable starting lineup is almost always overrated). I'm only going to discuss the starting five, but the bench players would be (as you'd expect) a ballhandler, a wing, and a guy who can play in the post.

Point Guard: The three main traits I like to see in a point guard are
1. Mental toughness
2. Defensive stopper
3. Decision making
The best point guards are the guys who are always in control, who disrupt the opponent's offense everytime down the floor, who are absolutely convinced that they're smarter than you, and who play their best when the game is on the line. These are rare individuals. Right after these top 3 are things like ballhandling and court vision. And then farther down is scoring ability. Obviously we want every player on the court to be a scoring threat, and I enjoy watching point guards who can score, but I'm willing to give up a whole lot of scoring ability if I can get ridiculous mental toughness in return.

Keith Smart, who wasn't even a pure point guard, is pretty close to my archetype here. Obviously Smart was a great defensive player, and like the rest of the 1987 team he displayed amazing mental toughness. He also knew his role well and didn't often make bad decisions. I think if I could trade a little of Smart's scoring ability for a little more court vision, that would be the point guard I'd want.

In terms of current or future Indiana players, it's tough to say because mental toughness is hard to predict. I really Jones, but his defense in particular has a long way to go before he even approaches my archetype (though I do think his defensive ceiling is high). I don't know enough about Rivers or Hulls to comment. As I said, in my opinion great PGs are very rare.

Shooting Guard: Main traits:
1. Pure shooter
2. Defensive stopper
3. Mental toughness
For some reason, it seems unusual to see #1 and #2 in the same player. When I think back at the really great pure shooters in Indiana history (like Steve Alford, Jay Edwards, A.J. Guyton) it seems that most of them lack greatness on the defensive end. Everybody loves the pure shooter, but honestly I'm not a "trade baskets" kind of guy, so defensive stopper is a close second here. Mental toughness is also critical. Jay Edwards, who as far as I could see had no mental toughness off the basketball court, knew that he would sink the big shot. You want your shooting guard to be dangerous everytime down the floor, but you want to opposing team to terrified of him taking the last-second-shot-to-win-the-game. Other things I like to see in a shooting guard is the ability to slash to the basket and score (off the dribble or not), plus some amount of the ballhandling and court vision that we want in a PG. Not a "combo guard" necessarily, but someone who can contribute offensively even when they are not shooting from the perimeter.

Dane Fife is one of the best defensive players I've ever seen, and his shooting ability was phenomenal during his senior year, but he wasn't a guy a wanted shooting the last second shot and he certainly had some notable, um, mental lapses diuring games. Greg Graham as a senior is probably the closest to the archetype I can think of in one player. He could score from anywhere on the court and he was the best defensive player in the B10. All I would add to Greg Graham is a little bit of Dane Fife's mean streak and a little bit of Jay Edwards' arrogance and he'd be my archetypal point guard.

I don't see any current players or recruits who resemble my archetype. I like Dumes' lack of fear and he has the potential to be a lockdown defender, but he's not a pure shooter and his decision-making needs a lot of work. Plus he only has one more year to put it all together. Maybe Maurice Creek is closer, but as usual I don't know much about our recruits.

Small Forward: Main traits:
1. Triple threat
2. Defensive stopper
3. Rebounding
This is probably my favorite position in basektball. Really good small forwards are a delight to watch because thay are so versatile. I listed my top 3 traits but those traits miss the point - great small forwards are jacks-of-all-trades who do everything well. They can shoot from the perimeter, drive to the basket, pass the ball, rebound, defend smaller guys or bigger guys, and handle the ball reasonably well.

Of course, the easiest way to explain my archetypal small forward is simply to type, "Calbert Cheaney". I'm trying to think of what I would change about Cheaney and it's tough to think of anything. Maybe add a little more vocal leadership. Maybe a bit of a mean streak. But mostly Cheaney is my archetype.

I have high hopes for Christian Watford and Derek Elston, but I don't know how Cheaney-like their games are.

Power Forward: Main traits:
1. Quickness
2. Length
3. Rebounding
I think the "power forward" vs "center" designation is even more useless than most of the other standard player positions, particularly at the college level. This made it tough to think of my archetype because it's really the pair of interior players as a package that creates my archetype. Anyway, when I think of my favorite "power forward" type players I think of guys like Jared Jeffries, Alan Henderson, and Jeff Newton. Not strong, bulky guys or guys who play with their back to the basket (though Jeffries played with his back to the basket a lot). Rather, guys who were sneaky good because of their quickness and length... which contributes to scoring, rebounding, and defense. All three of those guys were excellent defenders and a danger to block shots. And all three could hit mid-range shots, which I think is critical. Newton had some issues with consistent effort, but when he was at his best he was very, very good.

No one on this year's squad is like that, though maybe Watford next year will be.

Center: Main traits:
1. Rebounding
2. Defensive stopper
3. Mean Streak
This is the one position where thinking of an Indiana player who resembles my archetype is tough. I don't remember pre-1986 Indiana basketball, and in the last 23 years there hasn't exactly been a parade of great centers going through the Indiana program. And I have a particular archetype in mind... big and mean. I like the "power forward" (see rant on positions above) to have finesse, but I want this guy to spit on the very idea of finesse... and then punch the idea in the mouth and kick it in the ribs while it's down. I want someone who thinks every shot within ten feet of the basket looks like a dunk, and I want the opposing team to be terrified of trying to take a charge. When this guy sets a screen it should be a felony in some states and Puerto Rico. You get the idea.

So what Indiana center resembles my archetype? Um... let me think... hell, I don't know. Maybe Jarrod Odle? A taller, bigger, meaner version of Jarrod Odle, I guess. With this one I should probably go outside Indiana and point out someone like Reggie Evans at Iowa.

Current players or recruits? Uh, let's not go there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Indiana picked the wrong year to be bad in the B10

Let me make an obvious point - Indiana's ability to win a game is based on two factors - #1. How good Indiana is, and #2. How good the opponent is. Clearly, we know the answer to #1 -- Indiana is the worst B10 team in recent memory. But let's look at #2.

Fortunately, Indiana fans usually don't have to concern ourselves with how good the bad teams in the B10 are. Whether they are kinda bad, pretty bad, or super bad, it usually just means a "W" for Indiana. This year it matters a lot. So how bad are the bad teams? Let's use Pomeroy's ratings of the bottom 4 teams in the B10 for the past six seasons (including this one):

63. Michigan
68. Iowa
77. Penn State
244. Indiana

108. Penn State
112. Michigan
116. Iowa
158. Northwestern

64. Iowa
112. Northwestern
119. Penn State
140. Minnesota

79. Minnesota
117. Penn State
123. Northwestern
159. Purdue

98. Purdue
107. Northwestern
109. Michigan
180. Penn State

94. Northwestern
109. Minnesota
117. Ohio State
210. Penn State

Two things jump out - first, sadly, Indiana is really, really bad. We know this, but the ratings knock that point out of the park. This isn't just a bad year by Indiana standards, this is a bad year by any standard. No team in 6 B10 seasons (as far back as Pomeroy goes) has been as bad as Indiana this season, and most seasons no team even comes close.

The other thing that jumps out is that the bad teams in the B10 (Indiana notwithstanding) are clearly better this season than any season in the last 6. Heck, Michigan is on the list of the 4 worst B10 teams and they are ranked in the Top 25!

Bottom line: Unlike most years, for Indiana to avoid going winless we're going to have to beat a pretty good team.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


a.k.a. “Italian Doughnuts”
(pronounced screw-PELLA)

4 to 5 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 packages Active Dry Yeast
¼ cup softened margarine
2 cups very hot tap water
2 tablespoons Amaretto
1 egg (at room temperature)
Peanut Oil
Cinnamon-Sugar mix

In a large bowl thoroughly mix 1 ¼ cups flour, sugar, salt and undissolved dry yeast. Add softened margarine. Gradually add very hot tap water to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add egg and enough flour to make a thick batter. Beat at high speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Cover, let rise in a warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down and let rise again. After the two risings, grab meatball amounts of dough out of the bowl, cut off with a knife or scissors and drop into hot oil (375˚) and fry until golden brown. Put cinnamon-sugar mix into paper bag and shake the warm doughnuts in the bag. Do not store in airtight container or ziplock bag! Store in paper bag and eat them quickly.

(Adapted from Great-Gram Santillo's recipe)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Holiday pictures

2008 holidays">
I just emptied my camera. A few pictures are priceless. Some are very funny. They cover Thanksgiving, Dominick's holiday concert and Christmas Eve at Chris and Dave's.