Some thoughts on sports subjects to start the New Year …
• Damian Lillard is certainly deserving of his recent "NBA Cares Community Assist Award" in recognition of his efforts to support education in our schools through his "RESPECT" program. Through his seven seasons as a Trail Blazer, Lillard has accomplished a number of commendable pursuits in the community, including his anti-bullying campaign with youths.
Then there are the things the public doesn't hear about, and that Lillard — and the Blazers' public-relations staff — don't publicize.
I know of two such instances.
Before a home game a year ago, Lillard met with an 8-year-old girl from a small coastal town who had posters of him on her bedroom wall. The family was awestruck as he made small talk with the girl, signed an autograph, posed for a photo and was given a bracelet the girl had made for him.
Prior to the Philadelphia game on Dec. 30, Lillard was introduced to Jonathan Casey, the oldest of five children of former Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey. Jon, who is autistic, has idolized Lillard for years. His face lit up when Lillard approached with a smile for a courtside handshake, a few words and a photo.
Those are just two examples of I'm sure hundreds of interactions that Lillard seems to relish and handles with admirable aplomb. They are little moments in the overall scheme of things, but unforgettable occasions for the recipients of Lillard's acts of kindness. The Blazers' captain got nothing out of the exchanges, except, I hope, a feeling of satisfaction that he did something nice for no other reason than to make the day of two of his growing legions of fans.
• Pat Casey, incidentally, is a major proponent of Portland Diamond Project's drive to bring major-league baseball to Oregon.
"I am 100 percent behind the MLB-to-Portland campaign," says Casey, now working as a senior assistant athletic director at Oregon State. "I'm not working for them, but I'm a huge advocate. I'll help them any way that I can."
Casey, a Newberg native, finished an eight-year minor-league playing career with the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers in 1987.
"It's a city that would embrace major-league ball," Casey says. "It's a community that would love it. We're a state that needs it. The people who are behind it are great people, and they have other great people involved.
"It's a great city for baseball. The (proposed site) location is unbelievable, down on the Willamette River. It's a win-win for everybody."
• Here is a statistic that might surprise you:
Seth Curry is the Blazers' most accurate 3-point shooter at .500 (38 for 76) heading into Tuesday's matchup with Sacramento. But the younger brother of Stephen Curry is shooting only .308 (20 for 65) on 2-point attempts. That leaves his overall field-goal percentage at .411.
Eric Griffith from Blazers Edge points out that Seth shot .645 on attempts from within five feet of the basket during his last NBA season in 2016-17 (he sat out all of last season with a leg injury). That is better than any Blazer last season — Evan Turner was best at .630.
So it seems odd that Curry is having so much difficulty finishing so far this season.
• I liked what Terry Stotts said after passing Rick Adelman and moving into second place behind Jack Ramsay on the Blazers' coaching win list.
"Both of those guys are Hall of Fame coaches," Stotts said. "Rick should be in the Hall of Fame at some point. To be in that company — I'm very honored."
Ramsay, of course, is in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Adelman, who makes Portland his home, is not. I've written before that he should be there with Ramsay.
Adelman, 72, ranks ninth on the NBA career coaching win list with 1,042 in 23 seasons with Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota, winning more than 58 percent of his games. In 22 full seasons, his teams had losing records only five times — both of his years with Golden State and all three with Minnesota. His teams won at least 50 games 11 times. He never won an NBA championship, but his Blazer teams reached the NBA finals in 1990 and '92.
Everyone ahead of Adelman on the career coaching win list is in the Hall of Fame except George Karl, who is sixth with 1,175.
"Rick and George should both be in the Hall of Fame," said Stotts, who served as an assistant under Karl for 10 seasons, six in Seattle and four in Milwaukee.
No argument on that here.
• I'm trying to understand why Justin Herbert decided to return for his senior season at Oregon.
The 6-6, 235-pound Sheldon High grad clearly loves being a part of the UO program, just as Marcus Mariota did when he chose to return after his redshirt sophomore season. That worked splendidly for Mariota, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy as a junior and become the No. 2 choice in the 2015 draft. He would earn a four-year, $24.2-million deal, including a $15.8-million signing bonus.
Even so, Herbert is taking a gamble, and he is giving up a lot of money, at least for now.
Many NFL scouts judged him as the No. 1 quarterback prospect for the April draft. Most of them figured he would go among the first 15 selections.
By comparison with QBs in last year's draft, No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield will earn nearly $33 million off his rookie contract, including a $22 million signing bonus. Figure No. 3 Sam Darnold with a $30.7 million rookie package, No. 7 Josh Allen at $21.5 million and No. 10
Josh Rosen at $17.8 million. Even Lamar Jackson, the 32nd and final pick of the first round, weighs in at $9.6 million.
The 2019 draft boasts a weak quarterback class, while the 2020 draft is supposed to be a strong one at the position.
Herbert, who turns 21 on March 8, could get injured next season. The guess here is that he and his people are taking out a Lloyds of London insurance policy as a hedge against that. Even so, they are taking a risk that, with a disappointing season, his stock could fall in next year's draft.
There are those who think that Herbert, by nature somewhat introverted, is not eager to hit the bright lights of the NFL. Another season of development — especially in a program that figures to contend for the Pac-12 championship — appeals to him more than a quick jump to the pro ranks.
Then there's the matter of if Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo is well-suited for Herbert's development as a quarterback in his run-oriented system. There is some thought that Arroyo may not be back next season, at least not in a play-calling capacity.
At the least, Herbert is cutting a year off of a potential NFL career. He may play 15 years, and in that case, it won't matter much. If it's a short career, it will matter a lot.
Herbert's return is big break for UO coach Mario Cristobal, who was surely looking at the addition of a graduate senior QB had Herbert chosen to go into the NFL draft.
• There's little question that the best college basketball in the state is being play by women these days.
Oregon (11-1) is ranked fifth and Oregon State (10-2) 11th in the latest AP Division I women's poll. Portland State's women, meanwhile, are 8-2, while the University of Portland women are 8-5.
It's a different story on the men's side. Oregon's men are 9-4, and OSU's men are 8-4 heading into Saturday's Civil War matchup in Eugene, the Pac-12 opener for both schools.
But the Ducks may be without their best player, Bol Bol, for the rest of the season with a foot injury, and center Kenny Wooten is out for at least another month with a broken jaw. Oregon, the preseason pick to win the Pac-12, is going to be hard-pressed to have a winning conference record.
Oregon State, meanwhile, has had its four losses come by a total of 16 points. The Beavers have been disappointing down the stretch of close games.
The Portland State men's team is 5-7, and the UP men are 7-8.
• Mike Johnston has made several midseason trades through the years that have benefited the Portland Winterhawks big time, landing such talent as Luca Sbisa (2010), Craig Cunningham (2011), Marcel Noebels (2012), Matt Dumba (2014) and Dennis Cholowski (2018).
It appeared Portland's coach/general manager had pulled off another such deal when the Hawks recently acquired the rights of 17-year-old forward Bobby Brink from Prince George in exchange for a seventh-round pick in next year's Western Hockey League bantam draft.
Johnston said that's not the case.
"We've acquired his rights, but we haven't signed him, and we won't this season — maybe next summer," Johnston said.
Brink, who is playing for Sioux City, Iowa, in the U.S. Hockey League and ranks second in the league in scoring, helped Team USA win the gold medal in the recent World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta, and won the tournament's Most Valuable Player Award after scoring eight points in six games.
"That tournament is the next one down from the World Junior Championships," Johnston said. "But Bobby is a good player and a good scorer who is moving up the rankings and is close to being a first-round pick (in the 2019 NHL draft)."
So Brink would be a welcome addition to the Hawks' roster for next season.
The WHL trade deadline is Jan. 10. Johnston said it is "a bit of a long shot" the Hawks will make a move this season.
"We're looking at options, but it's not that easy," he said. "It's all about what you're willing to give up. We have a lot of good young players in our system because we've had a couple of years of really good drafts. You hate to give some of that up. On the other hand, we have two of the top five scorers in the league (in Cody Glass and Joachim Blichfeld), so we want to do what we can to make a good run this season, too."
• Coach Nick Saban, disgusted with the third of three penalties on an Alabama possession in the first half of the Orange Bowl, slammed his headset to the ground in disgust and broke it — on the field and in full view of a nearby official. "You do that with a football, it costs you 15 yards," broadcaster Chris Fowler observed.
Why do you need to do it with a football? Why wasn't Saban penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct?
The Crimson Tide, by the way, were ahead 28-10 en route to a 45-34 victory over Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
We ask players to keep their composure — why not coaches, too?