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Harrison Barnes is a great high school basketball talent. He's also a smart kid, genius maybe. Maybe he'll be the next great college player. Maybe he'll be the next Kobe or Lebron.

One thing he certainly is already is master showman. Witness the spectacle that was his college selection process Friday. The Ames, Iowa, prep phenom chose North Carolina as his new home for a year until he flees to the land of million-dollar contracts.

The foot-7 swingman, widely regarded as the top player in the Class of 2010, stretched out the announcement, touting a draft boardesque selection of school logos and ticking off the merits of each school - until he dialed up Roy Williams and crew at Chapel Hill - via a Skype video call, no less - to tell them he was the next great seeker of the Michael Jordan throne. Let's just hope coach Williams doesn't make the same mistake Dean Smith did with Jordan and leave him off the Sports Illustrated cover photo.

Barnes was also considering Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Iowa State, his hometown school. He made his announcement Friday before hundreds of students in the gym at Ames High School and via a live video feed watched by thousands.

Barnes led Ames to a 26-0 record and a state title last winter, but he's made a name for himself nationally with impressive performances on the summer circuit.

Chicago Blackhawks fans may be among the few Americans these days who don't immediately think of Amstel Light whenever The Fratellis' "Chelsea Dagger" plays.

The song -- which blasts over the loudspeakers after every Blackhawk goal (with the exception of those scored by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Patrick Sharp) -- is one of the many additions to the increasingly exciting atmosphere surrounding Blackhawks games at the United Center this season.
I recently acquired my first Sparty hat, courtesy of my Sports Pros(e) cohort, Kyle (a somewhat recent Michigan State grad). I will wear it with even more pride now that I've seen the following clip of the all-dancing, all-singing, all-everything NCAA basketball coach of the decade, Tom Izzo.

Izzo this week starred in a musical performance at Michigan State's Wharton Center as part of a fundraiser. His appearance is estimated to have raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society's Coaches vs. Cancer program.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo goes to Broadway

MSU's Tom Izzo pulls off 'Broadway' performance []
Coach does his part, and MSU charity production is a winner []
Izzo will dance, but only if it's to fight cancer []
a0a65b6c20644df6bd8b20f166a882f6.jpgIt became apparent late last night after the Blackhawks completed their 3-2 comeback victory over the Calgary Flames that we're living in a Golden Era of Chicago sports.

Seldom has their been this much collective optimism coursing through the veins of Chicago sports fans. If ever there were a time to have more than a bit of pride about being a Chicago homer, this is it.

It's probably not the first time it's happened, but the Bulls, Hawks, Cubs and White Sox all ended their respective days victorious on Saturday, some in quite dramatic fashion.

The city's two baseball teams are coming off division-winning seasons and are both in positions where a repeat is plausible. The Cubs sit atop their division after fending off the Cardinals the past few days while the White Sox trail only the soon-to-collapse Kansas City Royals.

Carlos Quentin is turning into the city's next superstar on the South Side while Alfonso Soriano has delivered thus far the way Cub fans had always hoped. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have only been playing hockey in this city for two seasons, and already we couldn't imagine the team without them.

The baby Bulls on Saturday looked more than respectable, avoided an epic collapse and handed the defending NBA champs an exclamation point loss. It's possible that Game 1 against the Celtics was the first time this season that many casual Bulls fans saw an entire game of Derrick Rose in action. He delivered a performance sure to convert many of those casual fans back into devotees. 

And there's even reaston to be optimistic -- nay, ecstatic -- around Halas Hall with the pickup of Jay Cutler and Orlando Pace in the off season. Finally Jerry Angelo and the Bears front office seems to be truly committed to winning.

Sure, all of these teams have a long way to go before we're planning any ticker tape parades down LaSalle Street or rallies in Grant Park. But if we don't appreciate and celebrate these times while we're in the midst of them, we have absolutely no right to bemoan the bad times.

And as any true Chicago sports fans know, the bad times are always a Grossman away. 
gary_sheffield_release.jpgIn a move that seems to be surprising Detroit Tiger beat writers everywhere, the team released designated hitter Gary Sheffield this morning. The move is perhaps most startling because the Tigers guaranteed Sheffield $14 million this season.

The Detroit Free Press reports it's the second-highest amount owed to a released player in the club's history -- behind the club's $14.3 million hit it took in 2003 with Damion Easley.

The move is even more perplexing considering his next home run will be the 500th of Sheffield's career.

Sheffield hit .178 (8-for-45) during spring training.

Earlier this week, Sun-Times sports columnist Chris DeLuca reported that Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano enjoys playing for the Cubs, but really wouldn't mind some day playing for the White Sox. Blasphemy, right?

I have to say that as a Cubs fan, I would hate to see this happen.

But as a White Sox fan, I would happily welcome him to the South Side.

Many "true" Chicago sports fans have stopped reading at this point.

That's because in order to be a true Chicago sports fan, you must at some point make the Sophie's choice of this city's sports world; the question that almost always comes up when you're out of town and someone finds out you're from here -- Cubs or Sox?

To many, my answer -- "both" -- is utterly unacceptable.
My colleague has been an outspoken fan of the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays. I agree with him in principle -- that a third-party competitor in the American League East is a good thing. But I can't help but feel a bit nostalgic for a bygone team from a bygone era that I once knew while living a life I used to live.

You see, I used to call the west coast of Florida home as a budding reporter. The Devil Puffs (as we referred to them at the time) were the only pro baseball game in town unless you wanted to trek across Alligator Alley to watch the Marlins in Miami (The Fightin' Fish!).

At least once per homestand for the three summers I lived in Sarasota, my friends and I would make the half-hour drive up to St. Petersburg to "The Trop," purchase a $5 ticket at the door and sit pretty much wherever we wanted. A few times, the Devil Puff prevailed in dramatic fashion. But mostly, they lost miserably. The stadium stayed relatively empty and we loved it -- especially on $3 beer nights.

One of our favorite rituals at the Trop was to send half of us to the third-base side and the other half to the first base side and have a conversation across the field as the game was going on. Those watching at home could make out perfectly what we were saying. Whenever an opposing pitcher came in to warm up, we would give annoyingly loud (and often high-pitched) sound effects to the ball. At one point, Francisco Cordero told us in so many words to refrain from doing that.

Though I'll always remain loyal to any team that calls the north side of Chicago home, I was, for a brief and lovely period, a proxy Devil Puff fan. They were part of the charm of living in Florida -- that, and my debilitating fear of snakes. But now I suppose that winning has removed some of the charm. The Devil Puff were always losers, but hadn't the history to be considered the lovable type. They're bona fide now. That'll change a man -- and a team for that matter. For better or worse? That's a question of character.

I did learn in the end that Florida's an interesting place -- most of it consists of sprawling towns situated in soggy places where man wasn't meant to manufacture anything. In a way, that's how I always viewed the Devil Puff -- a manufactured team in a market where a team wasn't meant to be manufactured, playing in a stadium ideal for razing. Luckily for them, winning changes everything.

Side note: Blocks from the Trop is Jack Kerouac's mother's house -- where the father of the beats lived his final, booze-soaked days. Sad and weird -- and at the same time, Very Floridian.

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