What’s hot, what’s not in winter wonderland

By Mike Rodriguez

In honor of the blizzard-like conditions that have been terrorizing the Champaign-Urbana area and the fact that pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training in Florida and Arizona, I’ve decided to pose two questions to the general sports world for this week’s column: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

In an attempt to put your mind at ease about the winter wonderland we’re currently living in, let me answer my first question: Who’s hot?

The Hot List

RON ZOOK

Ron Zook could take all the ice and snow that’s covering our sidewalks and sell it to the Eskimos. He could convince a non-Greek student to go to Station. He could’ve probably convinced Eric Gordon to not only come to Illinois, but also to play wide receiver for the Illini, if only Bruce had asked him.

After a dismal 2-10 season, Zook and his coaching staff hit the recruiting trail hard, producing the No. 17-ranked incoming class in the country, according to Rivals.com. Thanks in large part to offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, the Illini signed five players with an average star rating of 3.6. The highlight of the class is five-star wide receiver Arrelious Benn, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound athletic prodigy who runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Other key signings include defensive end Martez Wilson, defensive tackle D’Angelo McCray, and defensive back Anthony Morris.

The only thing left for Zook to do now is coach his young kids, something he hasn’t shown that he is extremely capable of yet. Give him a chance to develop the stud recruits he’s bringing into the Illini program before running him out of town for his coaching woes.

DAVID BECKHAM

As much as it pains me to endorse any soccer player, whether he’s a professional, amateur or even accidental, David Beckham is so hot right now. And I’m not just talking about his looks. Beckham is an instant celebrity in the U.S. and could earn up to $250 million through salary and endorsements in his five-year deal with the L.A. Galaxy.

Beckham will join the Galaxy after his contract with Real Madrid expires on June 30. He and his wife, Victoria Beckham, will pack up their tea and crumpets and move to Los Angeles, where they’ll be greeted as if they were royalty.

Not only are the Beckhams benefiting from his recently signed deal, the MLS is looking to enhance their reputation as a major rival to the European soccer leagues. Sales of Galaxy jerseys and ticket sales nationwide for visiting L.A. Galaxy games will undoubtedly bring forth a period of prosperity for a league that struggles to compete in America against the NFL, MLB and NBA.

Let’s just hope that Beckham remembers that “football” in America is played with a helmet and pads, not shin guards and oversized goals.

As usual, I have more criticisms than compliments to give this week, which explains the fact that this list is a little bottom-heavy. Here’s my tribute to the latest blunderers, numbskulls, and disappointments.

The Not Hot List

DUKE BASKETBALL

Duke’s 184-week reign among the ESPN/ USA Today Coaches poll ended Monday, after Duke’s 4th straight loss sent them reeling out of the Top 25. Duke also fell out of the Associated Press poll for the first time since the 1995-96 season, a span of 200 straight weeks.

So it appears that Jon Scheyer’s choice between playing at Duke over Illinois was actually a lose-lose situation.

THE CHICAGO CUBS

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry spent nearly $300 million in the off-season acquiring big name players such as Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly, as well as re-signing third basemen Aramis Ramirez. While this is all well and good, it appears that Hendry has angered his ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano to the point where he has issued the team an ultimatum.

Zambrano wants to be signed to a deal before the season or he is saying that he will leave after the 2007 season.

How committed to winning are you, Hendry?

Do the math. Last year your team won an NL-worst 66 games. Carlos Zambrano won 16 games last year, which was lower than he actually should have won, considering what a dismal offense and bullpen the team offers. So according to my calculations, Zambrano’s victories represented 24 percent of the team’s victories for the season, making him the most valuable Cub and a vital asset.

He deserves every dollar he asks for.

ALL-STAR GAMES

Steve Nash and Allen Iverson are expected to miss the NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas this weekend due to injuries, Nate Robinson is once again in the Slam Dunk contest, and Saturday’s Pro Bowl was about as exciting as Last Call with Carson Daly.

All-Star Games only provide controversy over who gets left out and who shouldn’t be let in. Nobody actually pays attention to the games themselves.

The biggest mistake made concerning an All-Star game was when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig declared that the winner of the game would be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series. Good call, Bud. Put the fate of the World Series on a game that features two-inning pitching changes and fan-elected starters.

THE REID FAMILY

Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid is taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with family issues after one son tested positive for heroin and the other was found with drugs and accused of terrorist-like activity after pulling a gun on a fellow motorist.

The elder son, Garret Reid, 23, tested positive for heroin after he was in a traffic accident January 30. Not to be outdone by his older brother, Britt Reid, 21, is accused of pointing a handgun at another driver following a dispute and is facing felony charges.

I don’t know if these two have been hanging out with the Hilton sisters lately or not, but they make Rich McBride look like an altar boy compared to their crimes.

Mike Rodriquez is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]