Ten reasons for the Jazz's 12-1 start

Felt like doing a column-type thing about the Jazz. My apologies to anyone who reads my blog and doesn't care about sports. Tough cookies.

So why are the Jazz doing so well? Reasons 1-10 are as follows:

1) They're healthy. Despite the recent troubles with AK47's ankle and Giricek's Achilles, everybody else is in perfect shape. Apparently, a healthy Carlos Boozer = twenty points, ten rebounds and three assists per night guaranteed.

2) Deron Williams lost twenty pounds in the off-season and has a much better idea of what it takes to run an NBA team. The added time getting comfortable with Boozer and Okur has helped him set them up for good shots. The three of them have a real chemistry going that wasn't there last year.

3) In all honesty, they've had a pretty easy schedule thus far. We'll learn a lot more about the team when we play the Spurs, Mavs and Cavs. Not saying the Jazz aren't better than those teams, because I think they are. But they need to be tested.

4) Jerry Sloan has realized that in order for rookies to really progress, he has to play them. His old strategy was to let rookies "develop" (i.e. sit on the bench) while learning from Stockton and Malone. He doesn't have that luxury any more -- this is a young team no matter who plays. He learned from the experience with Williams last year (who had flashes of brilliance mixed with periods of suckitude) that, even though there will be inconsistent play, the best way for a rookie to develop (or to show that he's a bust) is to give him minutes.

5) Paul Millsap is a beast, the steal of the draft. Why do people put so much emphasis on draft combines and athletic ability and "potential upside?" If anybody had so much as glanced at Millsap's game tape, they would have seen an extremely hard-nosed player who has an inexplicable knack for being in perfect position for rebounds despite his lack of size. This dude LED THE NATION in rebounding for three straight years. Yes, it was at Louisiana Tech, but I don't care. You can't lead the country in anything for three straight years if you're not doing something right. (The moral of the story: look at performance, not potential, when scouting players.)

6) Sweet powder blue jerseys. (Instantly went on my Christmas list as soon as I saw them.)

7) Derek Fisher. His numbers might not suggest that he's such a huge part of the team's success (certainly he scored more with Golden State). But his veteran presence in that locker room seriously cannot be denied. I interviewed the Jazz players at media day before the season began, and while everyone else was just talking about making the playoffs, Fish had the confidence to say that the ultimate goal was a championship. And it wasn't in an arrogant or wishful way. The guy is a consummate professional. And his attitude has spread throughout the team.

8 ) "The Nuke." (I refuse to call it Ener-whatever-place.)

9) The Jazz have seven players that could legitimately go off for twenty points on any given night (Boozer, Okur, Williams, Fisher, Harpring, Kirilenko, Millsap). Opposing teams will focus on Boozer, yes, but when you have that kind of balanced scoring, it's very difficult to play lockdown defense, because anyone on the floor is a threat. That's why the Jazz have been able to stage these ridiculously awesome comebacks -- late in the game, defenses get tired and have trouble rotating to cover everybody. The player you leave open is the player who's going to kill you. That wasn't true of the Jazz in years past. Because of team depth, it's true now.

10) Karma. We had all those marvelous years where Stockton and Malone never got hurt, ever. We paid the price for all that success in the past four years. Our injuries, crappy draft picks and struggles have appeased the Basketball Gods. As my friend Supermatt said, "WE'RE DUE."

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose

Been wanting to blog for a while; never found the time. Thanksgiving weekend, nothing much to do, just spent ten hours at grandparents' house, so thought I'd give it a shot before the turkey kicks in.

The title of this blog entry comes from the new NBC show "Friday Night Lights." Anyone who knows me knows that the movie by the same name is one of my all-time favorites. The show uses many of the same plot devices (star player gets injured, backup has to step up, coach faces pressure from administration, tries to juggle family and football, etc) but also adds a considerable amount of teen drama, which I'm not a huge fan of. I liked the movie because a lot of that drama was understated -- it sat in the background, definitely acknowledged but never in the spotlight. In the TV show, entire episodes focus on such things, like the head cheerleader cheating on her quarterback boyfriend (now paralyzed) with his best friend (who is also on the team). I don't need whole episodes about that. I need whole episodes about football, with that sort of thing mixed in here and there, but tastefully. So that's a quibble, and honestly, it's getting to be a bigger one as the season progresses. But when the focus IS on football, it's extremely entertaining. The second episode featured the coach motivating the backup quarterback by taking him to the stadium at midnight and giving him a subtle but powerful speech, then having him practice snap counts while blasting crowd noise over the stadium speakers. Cool stuff.

To get back on point, the title of this entry is the war cry of the fictional FNL team (they yell it as they leave the locker room before every game). And no, the team hasn't won all their games (this isn't Remember The Titans, it's a little more real, and I like that), but that isn't the point. Focus on your goal, remember why you do what you do, and everything will work out, despite challenges along the way. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

I've been feeling the same way this semester. I've been really busy trying to juggle my class load and work responsibilities with everything else. My main concern has been money. I don't have any of it. I have to move home as a result, and I'm not happy about it, although I'm a little more comfortable with the idea now than I was two months ago. At the start of the semester I blogged about how I felt like I was making real progress in my life, like I was starting to understand what was expected of me and how to proceed, and what to focus on. Moving home feels like a huge step backwards in that regard. My parents and even my older brother have assured me that it doesn't have to be that way. But I can't help feeling like it anyway. And it's frustrating.

Even more frustrating is the fact that I haven't been on a date in I don't know how long. Because of my work load, which hasn't been terribly heavy but has been time-consuming, I seem to have missed out on some social opportunities. Meanwhile, I live with two of the most popular guys at BYU, apparently, who go on three dates each every weekend (usually with a different girl every time). Never a second date for them, though -- they're having too much fun. Nothing frustrates me more than knowing how well I would treat a girl, given a freakin chance, but not getting that chance, while my roommates seem to want to single-handedly get every girl interested with no intention of ever moving forward with them. Again, going back to my viewpoint at the start of the semester, I told myself I would focus on myself, concentrate on what I needed to improve, and just take what came. Well, I really thought SOMETHING would come. This has been the loneliest semester of my life. I've lost thirty pounds, I have an excellent job in my field of study, I'm fulfilling a lifelong dream by covering sports for a newspaper, I'm closer to my family than I have been at times past, I enjoy my church calling... I have a lot going for me. So why in all nine circles of hell hasn't a girl noticed all this? It baffles me.

(One more thought before I leave the subject of girls -- GROW UP. Honestly, I don't know what girls are looking for, but it isn't what they SAY they're looking for. If it was, they wouldn't be dating jerks and looking for superficial physical qualities. And not every guy just wants action. I can't express how many times I've tried to just talk to a girl to be friendly and she has looked at me like I'm the slime of the earth, assumed I was hitting on her, and stiffed me. Get over yourselves, girls. Looks -- yours and mine -- are not everything. It's time to figure out what you really want. Okay, I'm done.)

So, yes, I'm frustrated. But I still feel like, if I continue to do what I know is right, and what I enjoy, then things will get better. Moving home will give me more money to try and go on a few dates (assuming a female EVER shows interest in me EVER again EVER). An easy semester next year will give me a bit more free time. Being at home with my little brothers and wanting to be an example for them will motivate me to stay vigilant with my spiritual progress. A treadmill in the house will make running a lot more convenient. And surely, with all that to look forward to, things will improve. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

It helps if I keep telling myself that.

Now, on to happier matters. The Utah Jazz. They have won eleven games. They have lost one. On a scale of one to stoked, I'm pretty damn stoked. Not in my most optimistic wishful dreams did I think we would be this good. Deron Williams is playing better than Chris Paul. Carlos Boozer thinks he's Karl Malone. Mehmet Okur isn't doing fantastic but playing solid. Derek Fisher is the consummate professional. Paul Millsap is the steal of the draft. We haven't even MISSED Andrei Kirilenko (5-0 while he's been out with a sore ankle). And more than all that, we're winning close games. We're coming back from huge deficits. We're leading the league in scoring average. Ye gods. Honestly, every time I look out my window during a Jazz game, I fully expect to see pigs floating serenely by.

Do I expect this success to last? We'll see. We haven't played some of the tougher teams in the league yet (San Antonio, Cleveland, the Lakers, Dallas) so we need to see how we stack up against them. But I have a lot of hope, a lot of faith.

BYU's march to the conference championship has been thoroughly enjoyable as well. But honestly, it will mean a whole lot less (I stop short of saying "nothing") if we don't beat Utah on Saturday. Our newspaper and the U's put out a joint section about the rivalry this week. We stuck to football. They attacked our university's players, staff, faculty, standards, academics, and philosophy. Very classy. Guess I can't expect more from the Utes.

My busy schedule has prevented me from logging more time on my PS2 lately, which is a shame because I have a beautiful copy of Final Fantasy XII just sitting there, begging for usage. The jury's still out on the game as a whole -- I'm only twelve hours in, and the story hasn't picked up much yet -- but there's some interesting things. The whole game smacks of FF XI, really -- the battle system is far more MMO than console RPG, and the graphics and city structure is very reminiscent. It's been enjoyable so far, though. Further updates as events warrant.

I think I'm done for now.