Play It Forward March 16-22 on your sports calendar — A priest, a rabbi and an NCAA bracketologist go into a bar room to discuss UCLA’s basketball merits … you heard this one?

UCLA coach Steve Alford tries to motivate his team during the Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinals loss to Arizona in Las Vegas on Friday. Despite the six-point loss, the Bruins made the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/John Locher)

UCLA coach Steve Alford tries to motivate his team during the Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinals loss to Arizona in Las Vegas on Friday. Despite the six-point loss, the Bruins made the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/John Locher)

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT OPENING ROUND
UCLA vs. SOUTHERN METHODIST
Details/TV: South Region first-round game at Louisville, Ky., Thursday at approx. noon, truTV:
2015FinalFourLogoApparently, the joke’s on us. We’re going to give CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb enough rope to provide the shot-heard-‘round-the-basketball world sound bite of motivation for 20-13 UCLA, which somehow squirmed into the field of 64 – let along skipping past spots 65-68 – when it was announced Sunday that they’ll be locking arms with Larry Brown’s 27-6 SMU squad in the first round of the Big Dance. If our memory is correct, back in December when UCLA went up against No. 1-ranked Kentucky in Chicago, Gottlieb predicted on the air that the Bruins had a great shot at an upset. Seth Davis almost laughed him off the set. UCLA then fell behind 24-0, scored seven points in the first half and lost by 39. So at the very least, if UCLA doesn’t deserve to be in this event, with a 2-8 record against teams in this field, with only one road win against a Top 100 team, then who’ll get the last laugh when Steve Alford uses all the talk as fuel to ignite this team that’s still growing into its own.

SMU head coach Larry Brown, right, talks with  Nic Moore during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut.  (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

SMU head coach Larry Brown, right, talks with Nic Moore during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Then there’s Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who spent just two seasons at UCLA, but one them – the 1979-80 team that finished 22-10, has a No. 8 seed in the West, and went all the way to the championship before losing by five points to Louisville. At the very least, UCLA provides some local rooting interest – aside from the Big West’s UC Irvine making the field and having to face Louisville right away. Pac-12 winner Arizona, along with Utah and Oregon, are the other conference representatives.
A UCLA win over SMU would put the Bruins into the round of 32 on Saturday against the winner of the Iowa State-UAB contest.
First-round games (all in Dayton, Ohio on truTV):
Tuesday: Manhattan vs. Hampton, 3:40 p.m.; Ole Miss vs. BYU, 6:10 p.m.
Wednesday: North Florida vs. Robert Morris, 3:40 p.m.; Boise State vs. Dayton, 6:10 p.m.

ALSO:
COLLEGE BASKETBALL:
NCAA WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT BRACKET ANNOUNCEMENT:
Details/TV: Monday at 4 p.m. on ESPN/5 p.m. on ESPNU:
In back-to-back seasons, Big West conference tournament champion Cal State Northridge (23-9) has earned a spot in this field, and ESPN bracketologists project the Matadors as a 14th seed in the Spokane region, forced to travel to Corvalis, Ore., and take on No. 3 seed Oregon State (26-4, 16-2 in the Pac-12) in the first round. Ahlee Guay, CSUN’s career leader in points, assists, steals and blocks, heads a team that’s always been closing – they are 23-0 when they have a lead with five minutes left in the game, yet they’ve played only one game this season that has been decided by fewer than six points. The projected top seeds this year are UConn (32-1), Notre Dame (31-2), Maryland (30-2) and South Carolina (30-2). Note that Gamecocks, a No. 1 seed last year, ousted the 16th seeded Matadors in the first round last season, 73-58. There’s also one unbeaten coming into this year’s bracket – 30-0 Princeton – as first-round games begin Saturday.

ALSO:
NASCAR SPRINT CUP: AUTO CLUB 400
Details/TV: At Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Sunday at noon, Channel 11:

Kurt Busch races on the 64th lap during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race on Sunday in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Kurt Busch races on the 64th lap during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race on Sunday in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Busch Factor creates an interesting storyline here. Defending champion and three-time Fontana winner Kyle Busch, who outlasted rookie Kyle Larson by .214 seconds to win this race last year, continues to recover from a compound break of his right leg and a fracture of his left foot during a wreck at Daytona last month. So he’s not coming out. David Ragan has been replacing Kyle in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and he finished 21st in last week’s Sprint Cup event in Avondale, Ariz. And then there’s older brother Kurt Busch, who came back from a three-race suspension and made it to the No. 5 spot last week. Maybe it’s just more relief for him that he’s not facing any criminal charges over the alleged assault of an ex-girlfriend last September. Kevin Harvick, winners in two of the first four races this season, already has a sizable lead over Joey Logano in the Sprint Cup standings, while Danice Patrick (we knew you were wondering) is back in 23rd place without a top 10 finish yet.
Also: NASCAR Xfinity series Drive4Clots.com 300
At Auto Club Speedway, Saturday at 1 ;p.m., Fox Sports 1.

THE REST OF THE WEEK INCLUDES:

The men’s and women’s final of the BNP Parabis Open in Indian Wells (Sunday at 11 a.m., ESPN) could led to a every emotional ending for Serena Williams … The Kings have already dropped three of the previous four meetings against the Ducks in this Foaming Frozen Freeway Furious Frenzy, but there’s the last one of the regular season (at Honda Center in Anaheim, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., NBCSN) … The Clippers’ most important game of the week is against Washington (Staples Center, Friday at 7:30 p.m., Prime TIcket) … The Dodgers and Angels are on Fox Sports West — take advantage of it (Thursday at 1 p.m.) … More events at this link.

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The Joe McDonnell Experience: How his sports-talk angst came from the giant-sized heart to make things happen

In the mid '90s, ESPN LA radio issued a Joe McDonnell bobblehead. Photo by Jeff Lasky.

In the mid ’90s, ESPN LA radio issued a Joe McDonnell bobblehead (with partner Doug Krikorian on the other side). Photo by Jeff Lasky.

It was many years ago, as we were talking while scraping together a pre-game dinner in the media room at Staples Center. Or maybe we were jammed into a lunch booth at Trani’s restaurant in Long Beach. It could have been while we waited for the valet to find his car at one of his favorite Chinese restaurants in the Valley right around closing time.

“When I die,” Joe McDonnell once told me, “I want to be cremated and then have a plane spread half of my ashes over Dodger Stadium and the other half over the Forum.”

I actually thanked him for that important information. Knowing how many boxes of ashes McDonnell would have created at that moment in time, based on my rough estimation of his bigger-than-life size, I figured that result would be in a huge, dark cloud blocking out the sun and lingering over the entire city on whenever that awful day happened.

And now, it’s here.

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Joe McDonnell: 1956-2015

Joe-McDonnellJoe McDonnell, unapologetic in the way he created his  larger-than-life persona in the Los Angeles sports media for the greater part of the last four decades, died Friday afternoon at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 58.

McDonnell may have worked at more than a dozen local radio stations in Southern California during his career –  most importantly as one of the first hosts in 1991 at the inaugural all-sports station in L.A. when KMPC-AM (710) began the format — but loyal followers always knew where to find him during his career that included a return to 710 in 2000 when KSPN launched, also working as an assistant program director.

The longtime San Fernando Valley resident who started at the local KGIL-AM (1260) doing sports updates for the Dick Whittington show, McDonnell hustled to become a correspondent for Mutual Radio Sports as well as AP Radio and UPI Radio. He got involved in sports talk when Chris Roberts, the longtime UCLA broadcaster who is retiring this year, hired him to produce and report for his show on KFI-AM (640), eventually becoming a replacement host in the late ‘80s.

His career also took him to hirings, suspensions and dismissals from XTRA-AM (690), KMAX-FM (107.1), KWNK-AM (670), KTLK-AM (1150), KABC-AM (790) and KXTA-AM (1150). He also recently wrote for and did podcasts for FoxSportsWest.com. During his career, he was most proud of breaking the story of Magic Johnson’s return in 1994 to coach the Lakers, as well as Wayne Gretzky’s trade to the Kings in 1988.

“When I was at KFI, shortly after I arrived in L.A. to stay in 1988, Joe had the scoop that Wayne Gretzky was coming two days before it was announced and as a result, I got two killer seats on the ice at the Forum before the onslaught of new season ticketholders — Joe made that possible,” said Tom Leykis, the legendary syndicated radio show host. “He literally knew everyone in L.A. sports. People trusted him. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”

Joe20and20DougAffectionately known as “Big Joe” but dubbed “The Big Nasty” by longtime broadcast partner and former Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian, McDonnell was asked in a 2004 Daily News story if he considered himself to be irascible, irrepressible or irrational, or whether he was simply bullheaded and played the part of a radio bully.

“I’m all of it,” he said “At one time or another, I’m all those things.”

McDonnell told AllAccess.com that he wanted to be a newspaper reporter and columnist and never thought of getting into radio because “I had one of the world’s truly bad voices – nasal and scratchy.”

But after his first day as an intern at KGIL – the day Los Angeles police tracked down and arrested heiress Patrica Hearst – McDonnell arrived at 5 a.m. stayed long after 10 p.m. answering phones, cutting wire copy and falling in love with the radio world process.

Lon Rosen, the Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer, worked as McDonnell’s agent at points in his career.

“Joe was all about sports and loved the Dodgers,” he said in a statement. “He was a fixture at Dodger Stadium and will be terribly missed by players, management and fans.”

gallery_1_4_28203851_zps0ffac01fIn a move that is somewhat extraordinary for someone who was not a staff employee, the Lakers sent out a statement that included reaction from team president Jeanie Buss: “For more than 35 years, Joe has been a regular at Lakers games and press events. Known for his quick wit and strong opinions, Joe’s love of and support of the Lakers has always been appreciated. Over all these years, our players, coaches and staff have enjoyed working with and knowing Joe. He will be sorely missed.”

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak added: “Although Joe was opinionated and brutally honest with his coverage, I always felt he was knowledgeable and fair. He … had a presence at every major sporting event. As both a player and executive I enjoyed working with Joe since I arrived in town in 1981. I will miss seeing him at our games, practices and press conferences.”

Mike Thompson, the current program director at 710-AM, once had to dismiss McDonnell from a job, but Friday he called him “an icon here in Southern California radio. This is very sad. Joe and Doug’s show was the show of record in the first sports incarnation on this frequency.  Although I at one time contributed to his troubles — we made amends — I could relate to Joe on many levels.  Forgotten was that Joe was not just confined to the sports pages – I thought some of his best moments were when he was doing talk on KFI.”

i-69576887b492b3dd2843a8ef246c8f48-0724klacThe cause of death was not officially given, although McDonnell’s wife, Elizabeth, said he had been hospitalized in the intensive care unit for the last two weeks.

mcdonnelljoeelizabethMcDonnell’s health had been an issue for years, some of it a direct result of his battle with obesity that began as a teenager at Alemany High in Mission Hills. McDonnell was born Aug. 30, 1956, in Upper Darby, Pa and also attended L.A. Valley College.

In 2004, McDonnell underwent gastric bypass surgery that eventually led to him losing about 400 pounds from his frame that at one time carried in excess of 700 pounds. He also had been in an out of hospitals in recent years to treat flesh-eating bacteria.

Funeral services are pending.

Our extended media column on McDonnell’s passing will be in Sunday’s editions of the LA News Group

ALSO:
== Please view or sign a memorial guest book
== Listen to Joe McDonnell during a 2013 podcast
== More Twitter reaction at LAObserved.com
== A remembrance from former Daily News columnist Steve Dilbeck

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Media column notes 03.13.15: Hate is a pretty strong word … but maybe more accurate than ‘I Rather Loathe Christian Laettner’

I kinda hate getting sucked into the publicity generated toward the latest ESPN documentary, “I Hate Christian Laettner.”
laettnerThere’s no question that the former Duke star may, 20-plus years after he’s left the building, still elicit a hate-hate relationship in the college basketball world for those who need something to get worked up about. And he was all over ESPN’s talking-head shows this week promoting it — the fact that ESPN is airing it on Sunday at 6 p.m. after all the initial NCAA Tournament bracket shows are over.
Then I watched the piece.  Then I read this NPR take on the doc. Then I saw a New York Times piece that wondered why he isn’t in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
laettnerstickerThen I understood. Semantics, be damned. Better “hate” than never?
That’s a great launching point into a discussion of why fans are so passionate about sports.
Hate to tell you, but I’m writing about more of the aspects of the piece for Sunday’s weekly media column. A link to it is here.
Maybe I’ll hate myself for doing it later, but I’d hate to miss an opportunity to examine why haters hate, and others don’t.
And, come to think of it, I hate it when people don’t remember this one shining moment from the 1992 NCAA Tournament:

 

What else is worth noting in the meantime:

org-slides-foxannouncement-1-27-15-v11-790x500== The Torrance-based American Youth Soccer Organization has more than 50,000 teams and 500,000 players participating, according to its website.
The same website this week put up an announcement on its home page — a link to a video where Alexi Lalas is help selling the fact that Fox Sports 1 will affix its logo onto kids’ jerseys for the next five years, starting this spring, making them a walking, running and sometimes lollygagging advertisements for its upcoming coverage of a variety of world-wide events, including this summer’s Women’s World Cup and the next three men’s World Cups.
The kids don’t have a say in whether they approve the TV logo on their right chest or not. Their parents have done this for them.
“Jersey sponsors are part of the global soccer sphere from the UEFA Champions League to Major League Soccer,” said Lynn Berling-Manuel, AYSO Chief Marketing Officer, in a statement. “Now the same way viewers can see sponsored jerseys when they watch the biggest teams in the world play on Fox Sports 1, we are excited about this sponsorship with Fox Sports 1 bringing an unparalleled level of sports and soccer credibility to AYSO and its nearly 900 community soccer programs.”
No, it’s not the same way. Not by a long cornerkick shot.
It reminds me of a time years ago when my daughter was playing AYSO, in Torrance, and I was in charge of bringing the game balls. The league told me we’d be using a new ball this year, just in the games — a bright orange one, not the traditional black-and-white. And it had a giant “76″ oil company logo on it.
This isn’t going to happen, I told them.
So some teams did as they were instructed, and their kids were knocking around what looked like a large 76 antenna ball logo around the field.
I don’t care how much the company may have sponsored the AYSO, I’d pay to not have that rolling advertisement used in a kids’ game.
Someone had to interject some ethics to this process.
To see kids now about to wear a Fox Sports 1 logo on their shirts … maybe the next thing is also have every kid wear “DirecTV” on the back across their shoulders, right above the number 219, so they also remember this is the new home of “Garbage Time with Katie Nolan,” debuting Sunday at 6:30 p.m., right after the Galaxy game in Portland.
How cute.

== The L.A. Marathon announcement this week that it has pushed the start of the men’s elite and general group launch from 7:25 a.m. to 6:55 should not affect KTLA-Channel 5′s coverage, since its “Countdown” show is already scheduled from 6-to-7 a.m. The women’s elite will go off at 6:45 a.m. The wheelchair division starts at 6:30 a.m.
Universal Sports Network has same-day delayed coverage on Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.

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Play It Forward March 9-15 on your sports calendar — Can Kentucky define perfection? Maybe the NCAA Tournament bracket announcement will determine that

Kentuck's Willie Cauley-Stein, third from left, address the crowd during a ceremony marking the teams undefeated season after a win over Florida on Saturday.  (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentuck’s Willie Cauley-Stein, third from left, address the crowd during a ceremony marking the teams undefeated season after a win over Florida on Saturday. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

COLLEGE BASKETBALL:
NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT SELECTION SHOW:
Details/TV: Sunday at 3 p.m., Channel 2:

Ashley Judd cheers for Kentucky during Saturday's win over Florida in the SEC regular-season finale. The SEC Tournament begins this week. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Ashley Judd cheers for Kentucky during Saturday’s win over Florida in the SEC regular-season finale. The SEC Tournament begins this week. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

This could be the start of something perfect, even if perfection is a matter of interpretation. If the current 31-0 Kentucky squad goes wire-to-wire in this year’s 68 team win-or-done event, it would be the first to do it in nearly 40 years – since the ’76 Indiana squad. Look at the odds: In the 75-year history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, 18 teams finished the regular season undefeated heading into this thing, and just seven went on to win it all – including four UCLA teams (1964, ’67, ’72 and ’73). A year ago, Wichita State had the shock factor, coming in 34-0. But then the Shockers lost in the Round of 32 – the quickest exit of all those previous 18 unbeatens. And the team that the Shockers lost to … don’t even wait for it. It was Kentucky, a No. 8 seed in the Midwest, at-large from the SEC, and not even in the Top 25. From there, the Wildcats parlayed that 78-76 victory into a five-point win in the Sweet 16 against Louisville, a three-point win in the Elite Eight over Michigan, and, in the national semifinals, a one-point win over West Regional winner Wisconsin. Kentucky was a three-point favorite in the national title game against UConn, but it didn’t materialize in a 60-54 loss. How is this John Calipari team different from last year’s? Like the 2014 version, it was a pre-season No. 1 ranked program, but it kept that designation all season this time. Sophomore twins guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison have another year of experience. Junior 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein was a bench player last year but a key starter now. The deepest bench in the country fills out a roster with nine McDonald’s All-Americans. Even though this group dismantled UCLA in Chicago just days before Christmas, it has had some near misses — back-to-back OT wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M in early January. Even if it they get tripped in the SEC Tournament, a No. 1 seed is pretty much locked up. But no matter how the Wildcats enter the fray, we know Calipari has a 2012 title and three Final Four appearances in his six seasons at Kentucky. They’ll be there at the pay window. Whether or not UCLA or Big West post-season contender Long Beach State joins in remains to be determined.

Key games to watch going into the announcement:
= Pac-12 Tournament final: At MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Saturday at 8 p.m., ESPN.
No. 12 seed USC begins play Wednesday (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network) against Arizona State, with the winner taking on fourth-seed UCLA in the quarterfinals (Thursday, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)

= Big West Tournament final: At Honda Center: Saturday at 8:30 p.m., ESPN.
Eighth-seed Cal State Northridge starts Thursday (noon, Prime Ticket) against top-seed UC Davis, followed by fourth-seed Long Beach State (2:30 p.m., Prime Ticket) against fifth seed Hawaii.

= West Coast Conference Tournament final: At Orleans Hotel Arena in Las Vegas: Tuesday at 6 p.m., ESPN.
Pepperdine faces top-seed Gonzaga in the semifinals (Monday, 6 p.m., ESPN), with the winner taking on either BYU or Portland for the title.

= Big Ten Tournament final: Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Channel 2
= SEC Tournament final: Sunday at 10 a.m., ESPN
= ACC Tournament final: Saturday at 5:30 p.m., ESPN

Also, the ESPN “Bracketology” show is Sunday at 4 p.m. after the brackets are determined.

ALSO THIS WEEK:

The 30th L.A. Marathon (Sunday, 7 a.m., Channel 5), from Dodger Stadium-to-Santa Monica pier, includes this noble effort from an LAPD officer running in full uniform … The start of the BNP Paribas Tournament at Indian Wells finds Serena Williams back in as a wildcard entry. She explains ... The Clippers meeting against Houston (Staples Center, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Channel 7) ends a rugged week that includes stops in Oklahoma City and Dallas … The Kings may be getting Nashville at the best time (Staples Center, Saturday at 7 p.m., FSW), considering the Predators start the week on a six-game losing streak … Look who’s in town to face the Lakers: Derek Fisher and the New York Knicks (Staples Center, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet). … More of the week ahead at this link.

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