Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pitarresi: Tiger in Trouble; Rautins is terrific

I would love to have won 14 major championships, and more than 80 golf tournaments all told, and be a multi-milliionaire with a beautiful wife.

All those things.

But I wouldn't want to be Tiger Woods this week.

Tiger's misadventure Friday night has made him a laughingstock. His explanation of his car crash just doesn't hold a drop of water - his wife's heroic rescue of him, smashing a back window and pulling him out of his SUV after he hit a fire hydrant and tree, is hilariously preposterous - but there might be no good way to handle this. A fairy tale might serve as well as anything else.

I always have loved Tiger Woods - his great talent, work ethic, and the way he has handled his fame. However, that very fame has made it so he can't just be a regular guy, and because of that he has insulated himself in many ways. Such insulation can lead to arrogance, a terribly unattractive quality, and Tiger is in danger of being perceived as an arrogant man. He has been guilty a few times in the past, especially when things haven't gone his way, blowing off the media or giving terse, less than candid answers after a poor performance. It has to be very difficult to be personable and amiable 24 hours a day, but ... Arnold Palmer managed it, most of the time. Jack Nicklaus, a much cooler personality, didn't for most of his career, which is why, though on the record Nicklaus was the more accomplished golfer, Arnold was the one most fans loved.

Does Tiger owe the public an explanation of what happened that night? He might owe some kind of explanation to the authorities, but, no, he doesn't owe anything to us. However, his image is going to change to some degree among a huge number of fans, and not for the better.

You can say Tiger can laugh it off, or that the world is his oyster no matter what the fallout from this incident, but I'm not trading places with him.

On Rautins:

Syracuse University seems headed for a big season on the basketball court.

This is a very, very talented team, and Jim Boeheim's statement last spring that his team would be well off despite the defections of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris has been prophetic. I thought he was nuts at the time. I'm waiting till the Big East season starts to see how good the Orange really are, but ... they're good!

A couple of reasons: a zone defense that is so extensive and intensive that most opponents are getting very few good looks, the addition of the supremely talented, smooth-as-glass Wes Johnson - even better than the SU people said he was going to be - and the leadership of Andy Rautins.

Rautins was an all-state player at Jamesville-DeWitt, but wasn't highly recruited. It was assumed Boeheim offered him a scholarship at least partly because his father had been a big star at SU. Boeheim doesn't do such things. He wasn't sure that Rautins would develop into the player he is now, but he bet that he'd be pretty good.

He was right. Rautins is a white guard, which equals "standstill shooter" in the minds of many fans and a lot of coaches. He is much more than that. His natural talent and size, his work ethic, and his experience playing for the Canadian national team against some of the best players in the world have made him into a difference maker. He can shoot, of course, but he also can pass and play defense and run the court.

More than anything, Rautins has developed into a very mature, very smart, exemplary player. There is no question who the leader of that team is. Sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously, Rautins encourages his teammates, calms them down, assesses situations, takes responsibility. That's the biggest thing. Taking responsibility.

SU is rolling right now, but the Big East will be a savage dog fight. The Orange will be ready for it, at least in part because of the leadership of Andy Rautins.

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