National | Sports

Issue: "Ugly truth of partial-birth," April 17, 2004

Double dribble in Titletown

Preseason polls are something college basketball fans are supposed to ignore. Roster turnover makes predicting the nation's top team as hard as predicting bracket seedings-there are always surprises. Even Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun knows better than to buy into November rankings. &quotThe No. 1 ranking matters because it does put some highlights on your program and helps some of the kids get recognized," he said. In other words, it's good for publicity and little else.

For the amount of grief preseason college basketball polls receive, this year's predictions were uncanny. Both the coaches and the sportwriters polls slotted Connecticut as the preseason No. 1. With victories over Georgia Tech and Duke in the Final Four, the Huskies proved the pollsters right. But it was what the UConn women did the night after the men's championship game that changed tiny Storrs, Conn., into Titletown. The Lady Huskies knocked off bitter rival Tennessee for their third straight national championship and first-ever dual national championships between men's and women's basketball teams at the same major university. Like the men, the women entered the season ranked first in both polls. Sometimes the pollsters know what they're talking about.

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Work it out

Maurice Clarett's workout for NFL scouts resembled the decathlon more than a football game. Mr. Clarett ran sprints and agility drills, jumped, and lifted weights. The former Ohio State running back's 4.6-second 40-yard dash time was considered good for him, but still a bit slow for a running back.

A good workout like Mr. Clarett's can mean millions of dollars to a college athlete. But it could also translate into a hit or miss on draft day for an NFL franchise, depending on how a club deciphers the data. Most NFL general managers say they don't let good workouts sway them. After all, a team might have invested thousands of dollars scouting one player during the football season. But sometimes, teams throw that evaluation away based on a player's timed run around a set of cones. In 1995, the Philadelphia Eagles traded a first-rounder and two second-round picks to take defensive end Mike Mamula in the top 10 after he had a good workout. But just five years later, Philadelphia cut him and Mr. Mamula retired.

This year's workouts have helped receiver Roy Williams and hurt backs Steven Jackson and Kevin Jones. The 40-time should help Mr. Clarett, but it may not be enough to get him into the first round or even the draft. Mr. Clarett sued the league for early entrance after only two college seasons. He won, but the NFL's appeal will be heard about a week before the draft.

Around the horn

When soccer prodigy Freddy Adu joined Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon in a studio for ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, Mr. Kornheiser repeatedly asked to see Mr. Adu's birth certificate. Truth is, he's really 14. But he's not the only 14-year-old professional athlete. Golfer Michelle Wie has jumped in and out of ninth grade for LPGA and PGA events. Ms. Wie has a nice touch around the green, but it's her 300-yard drive that prompts sponsors to give exemptions.

Barry Bonds launched home run No. 659 on opening day, leaving him just one behind his idol, Willie Mays. Two more round-trippers and he'll trail only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron for most career home runs. Mr. Bonds could catch Ruth this season if he hits 56 home runs. That would still leave him 41 behind Hank Aaron.

It seems American sports fans were so convinced of the outcome of the men's college basketball final between Connecticut and Georgia Tech that few actually tuned in. The game drew an 18 share of the audience, the lowest mark since the finals were placed in prime time. In Hartford, Conn., more viewers watched the women's semifinal game featuring UConn vs. Minnesota than the men's semifinal with UConn vs. Duke.


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