SPORTS DIGEST: Looney finally steps up for Warriors in playoffs

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Seeing Kevon Looney making a name for himself in the Western Conference finals of the NBA playoffs reminds be why I don’t like the one-and-done rule for college basketball.

For every player who moves into the NBA and immediately becomes a star after one season in college, there are 10 guys like Looney.

For those of you who don’t remember, Looney played his one season of college ball at UCLA. Recruited out of Milwaukee, where he was the Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball in 2014, Looney arrived at UCLA with the size of a power forward and the ball-handling skills of a point guard, which was what he played in high school.

Under coach Steve Alford, Looney saw most of his action his freshman year as a power forward, where he averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.

Nationally, his 15 double-doubles (10 points and rebounds a game) were tops in the country for freshmen and his 9.2 rebounds a game were the second best among all freshmen nationally. He was voted second-team all Pac-12 and also was named to the conference’s all-freshman team.

Overall, he had a good freshman season, but I was surprised when he turned pro at the end of the year because his game wasn’t ready for the NBA, especially because he was bothered all year by a hip injury that eventually required surgery.

In the 2015 draft, the Golden State Warriors took Looney at the end of first round, the 30th player chosen overall. He had arthroscopic hip surgery that August and started his rookie season on the injured list.

That following January, he was assigned to the Warriors’ team in the then-D-League, where he averaged 8 points and 10 rebounds in five games before being promoted to the Warriors, but he played in only five games for the varsity his rookie season, averaging 1.8 points and 2 rebounds in 4 minutes a game.

In April, he underwent surgery on his other hip and spent the off-season rehabilitating. He reported to camp out of shape, but still managed to play in 53 games that second season, doubling his minutes per game to 8 while averaging 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds a game.

He became a regular in the Warriors’ rotation his third year in the league, playing 66 games and averaging 4 points and 3.3 rebounds in almost 14 minutes a game.

By the 2020-21 season, his sixth season in the league, Looney had become the Warriors starting center, a role he continued in this year. He played in all 82 games for the Warriors this season — one of only five players in the NBA to play in every game — averaging 6 points and a career-best 7.3 rebounds a game.

But Looney has stepped up in the playoffs this season for the Warriors. In his seven seasons, his career high in points came in a January 2019 game against the Indiana Pacers when he scored 15.

He set a new career high in game 2 of the series with the Mavericks May 20, scoring 21 points and pulling down 12 rebounds as the Warriors went up 2-0 on the Mavericks with a 126-117 win.

He had 9 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in game 3, which the Warriors also won to go up 3-0.

He and the rest of the team fell off in game 5 as the Mavericks avoided the sweep with a 119-109 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.

Ironically, Looney has become a valuable cog in the Warriors rotation in the Mavericks series after losing his starting role in the first-round series against the Nuggets.

Head coach Steve Kerr didn’t start Looney in game 5 of that series and didn’t return him to the starting lineup until game 6 of the series with the Memphis Grizzlies. He grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds in that game as the Warriors advanced to the conference finals.

Would Looney have made the Warriors’ starting lineup before six seasons into his NBA career had he spent another season — or two— at UCLA? We’ll never know.

But every time I see a good college basketball player — Johnny Juzang, Isaiah Mobley? — turn pro a year before he is ready, I wonder.

Granted, every high school basketball star dreams of playing in the NBA. But too many one-and-done college players turn pro before they are ready — physically, mentally or emotionally.

The great ones eventually rise to the top. But the list of those that never do gets longer every year.

RELAX, DODGERS FANS: The Dodgers lost a game the other day. Kicked it away in fact.

Max Muncy let a ground ball go through his legs with two outs in the 10th inning and two Phillies scored in a 4-3 loss May 22.

It snapped a seven-game winning streak and Dodgers fan on social media were outraged, demanding that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts bench Muncy, who is hitting only .154 with only 14 runs batted in nearly two months into the season.

These fans forget that over the past four seasons, Muncy has been the Dodgers leading power hitter, hitting 118 home runs in that period including seasons of 35, 35 and 36. He hasn’t forgotten how to hit and he will hit again.

Muncy’s slow start could be blamed on a lot of things. He injured his elbow in the last game of the regular season last year, missed the playoffs and spent the winter rehabilitating the injury. Due to the lockout, he had a shortened spring training and he is still getting his hitting stroke back.

He can still play first, second and third base (he isn’t a Gold Glover at any position, but when you hit 35 home runs a year you don’t have to be) and still gets on base via walks better than any other Dodger.

Muncy will come around, just like Justin Turner has. Turner has brought his average up to .201 after being where Muncy is now for the first part of the season. More importantly, Turner is driving in runs again. He has 29, third best on the roster behind Trea Turner and Mookie Betts.

Cody Bellinger also is starting to hit, bringing his average up to .216 from the .160 range he started in.

The Dodgers will hit all season. Their pitching is the biggest concern, but if Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin keep pitching the way they have, the Dodgers won’t have many problems this season except overcoming complacency.

Anderson pitched five perfect innings and eight shutout innings overall May 23 in improving his record to 5-0 with a 3.30 earned run average.

Gonsolin has been even better. He’s 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA.

Julio Urias has been the Dodgers’ least consistent starting pitcher this season. He is 3-3 on the season (Dodgers’ starters have lost only four games this season) with a 2.63 ERA. Of the 18 runs he has allowed in eight starts, only 12 are earned runs.

Walker Buehler is 6-1 on the season, but he hasn’t had good command of his fastball most of the season.

Only the Yankees (30-13) have a better record this season than the 29-13 Dodgers. The scary part for the rest of the league is that the Dodgers aren’t clicking on all cylinders yet. If and when that happens, look out. Until then, Dodgers’ fans need to relax and enjoy the season.

COACHING SOCIETY: The people involved in professional sports don’t always speak out on the issues of the day outside of sports and when they do they are often criticized for straying from their lanes.

But Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr didn’t pull any punches in his pre-game session with reporters before game 4 of the Warriors-Mavericks series May 24. Kerr spoke several hours after the latest school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that took the lives of 19 students and two teachers.

Speaking with emotion, Kerr asked: “When are we going to do something?”

Citing the Texas shooting and other recent shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Orange County, Kerr called out the U.S. Senate, which has refused to vote on a bill that cleared the House of Representatives that would require background checks on gun purchases. He didn’t mention political parties and the only office holder he called out by name was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Kerr said: “I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings. I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like.”

Later, he added: “We can’t just sit here and just read about it and go ‘well, let’s have a moment of silence.’ … It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough.”

If you haven’t seen his entire remarks, go look online. It’s the kind of statement that is needed from our leaders — no matter their political persuasion — at this time and place.

Of course, Kerr has personally felt the sting of gun violence. His father, Malcolm Kerr, was killed in January 1984 while serving as the president of American University of Beirut by members of the Islamic Jihad. Kerr was a freshman at the University of Arizona at the time.

Kerr has been outspoken in the past on social issues. He was highly critical of Donald Trump and has voiced support in the past for Black Lives Matter while speaking out against racial injustice.

But his comments about the Texas shooting were obviously heartfelt and should be heard by everyone.

 

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