News Columns & Blogs

Jealous of Qatar

Yes, my disappoinment with the decision made Thursday by FIFA, which stands for something to do with soccer, is enormous.

The Unites States, doggone it, will not be hosting the 2022 World Cup. Qatar will.QatarYes, Qatar, which is pronounced – I have no idea how it’s pronounced and judging from all the commentators who have botched the name I don’t think anyone else does, either.

This much I know about Qatar: It’s population is 1.7 million. It is smaller, in size, than Connecticut. It has never even qualified for a World Cup. And everybody in the country owns a Baskin-Robbins store.

Listen, any sport with a governing body whose initials are FIFA is in trouble. I mean, that’s one letter from FIFI, the most popular feline name in the world. Soccer needs an acronym with stronger letters, something like DTXG. No, nobody would ever know what those letters stood for, but does anyone know what FIFA stands for?

Apparently, some people in the USA are wailing in the streets over today’s news. In a country with numerous other issues to deal with, the FIFA snub might be the lowest blow of them all.

But the folks in Qatar are happy. That country’s bid chairman, Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al-Thani (which in English means Joe Smith), had trouble containing his enthusiasm. But before sharing it, he had to get to the bank to cash his $1 billion oil check.

According to the website, Qatar has the sixth-highest per capita income level in the world at $66,100 per year. The United States, meanwhile, is ranked No. 17 at $47,240 per year. The top five: Monaco, Liechtenstein, Norway, Luxembourg and the Channel Islands. Monaca’s per capital yearly income is $203,900.

So Qatar, which produces more than 1 million barrels of oil daily, has some financial clout. Some U.S. soccer officials think its the money and not the location that won out. Well, duh.

One of the major concerns with holding the World Cup in Qatar is heat. Summer temperatures can soar and if Al Gore is right, imagine what it might be like over there in 12 years. Already, temperatures can approach 120 or 130 degrees.

To battle that, Joe Smith promises air conditioned outdoor stadiums. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Anyway, congratulations to Qatar. Wherever you are.

* I’m eager to get my first in-person look at the Kansas Jayhawks tonight. I really like this KU team, which has an interesting month of December.

After playing UCLA tonight at Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks will head for New York for a game against a very good Memphis team on Tuesday, then play Colorado State (D 11), Southern California (D 18), California (D 22) and Texas-Arlington (D 29) to round out the month. The game against Cal will be played in Berkeley and should be interesting.

I don’t expect UCLA to stay in tonight’s game for long. The Bruins started 3-0 but have lost consecutive games to No. 7-ranked Villanova (82-70) and a very good Virginia Commonwealth (89-85).

UCLA is its second season of rebuilding under Coach Ben Howland after playing in three straight Final Fours from 2006-08. I am looking forward to seeing a pair of 6-foot-8 UCLA sophomores, Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt. Nelson averages 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds; Honeycutt 14.6 points and 8.0 rebounds. They’ll be a solid test for the Kansas frontline, which is led by the Morris twins – Marcus and Markieff, who combine for 31.3 points and 15.8 rebounds per game.

Markieff, who I thought before the season would be one of the most improved players in the country, is averaging 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds while playing only 20 minutes per game.

You think that’s good?

How about sophomore Thomas Robinson, whose 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds have been accumulated in only 16.3 minutes per game?

Junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor is finally playing the way every KU fan hoped he eventually would. He has 43 assists and only 17 turnovers and, most importantly, isn’t doing the out-of-control things that used to get him into trouble.

A sports writer’s memories

Covering the 1976-77 Heights basketball team will forever be one of the highlights of my career. I probably covered 10-12 of the Falcons’ games that season and went to several of those with my late father, Ray, who became a big fan of that team. He, like everyone who saw them, couldn’t believe the speed, quickness and athleticism that team possessed.

It was an amazing collection of high school players, led by guard Darnell Valentine, one of the most imposing high school players I’ve ever seen. Valentine was truly a man among boys. His calves needed their own zip code. He was joined in the starting lineup by Antoine Carr, James Carr, Calvin Alexander and Adolphus “Doc” Holden.

A little-used player on that team, Wichitan Mark Nale, has released a book at that Heights championship season and he’ll be signing copies Saturday at the Wichita Boathouse from 2-5 p.m.

Nale organized a reunion of the team a few years ago and has periodically produced interesting material on what I think is the greatest high school team in Kansas history, in any sport. Heights rolled through the season with a 23-0 record and handled Kansas City Wyandotte in Class 5A state championship game, 92-52, after jumping out to a 25-0 lead.

Think about that for a moment – a 25-0 lead in a state championship game against probably the most-storied basketball school in the state’s history.

All five Heights starters averaged in double figures, led by Valentine’s 26.1 points per game. He also had an incredible 135 steals. The Falcons averaged 90.1 points per game in an era before the three-point shot.

Thanks to Nale, who’s a really good guy, for keeping this Heights team alive in his writings. I’ve thumbed through his book and would recommend it to everyone who wants to know more about a great era of City League sports and this special team.

Nale tells me he expects Valentine, Alexander and Lafayette Norwood, who coached the Falcons, to be at Saturday’s book signing.

His book, by the way, is named “Acrophobia.” That’s a fear of heights. And trust me, during that season everybody feared Heights.