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With the NBA All-Star Weekend getting underway Friday and March Madness right around the corner, TNT basketball analyst KENNY SMITH has a hectic schedule ahead of him. In addition to calling NBA and college basketball games for Turner, the proud Univ. of North Carolina alum is busy promoting Coke Zero's "Enjoy More Madness" campaign, which gives fans the opportunity to win free mobile and digital NCAA March Madness Live access packages and the chance to win a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. Smith recently took some time away from his busy schedule to discuss the "Linsanity" craze, his favorite part about All-Star Weekend and who his favorite teams and players are in March Madness.
Q: What are your thoughts on Linsanity? Do you think the length of the hype around Jeremy Lin is media driven?
Smith: No, I think it’s talent driven. First of all, I think Jeremy has proved that he has the talent and the skills. I’ve been saying this for a couple of weeks now, to be a good coach or GM in the NBA you don’t really have to be great at Xs and Os. You don’t really have to be a great people person, but you have to be a great evaluator of talent. That’s first and foremost. And I think Jeremy Lin has proven that his talent wasn’t evaluated correctly. … Every part of the underdog he has been. No one has been every part. We’ve all been pieces of it, but he’s the guy that’s been every part. That’s why it’s been so consuming because everyone can relate.
Q: What is it like working with SHAQUILLE O'NEAL? Has the dynamic of the show changed?
Smith: No, I don’t think the dynamic has changed at all. I told Shaq when he first got there "hey this is the first time in your life you’re not the most dominant player on the team, you don’t have to be. Just come in, have fun, we already know our roles, we know what we are good at and you can just add to it." And he’s done that, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Q: Do you think the condensed season has affected the level of play, injuries or the players' drive?
Smith: I don’t believe so, and there are people that do believe that, but I don’t. I really don’t believe that there are any excuses. I think that every year there are really good players that get hurt. I think every year, good players twist their ankles and every year, bad players get hurt and twist their ankles. And I don’t see there’s more. Unless there’s a statistic that backs that up, I don’t think that there are more injuries this year than there have been in the past. ... I think the guys are playing at the same level, there are blowout nights and there are regular nights.
Q: What is your favorite event of All-Star Weekend?
Smith: All-Star weekend is not about an event for me. It’s about everything around it. It’s about the dunk contest, the 3-point (event), the game, the things around it, the jam session, the parties, everything about All-Star Weekend is what makes it. You walk into Orlando, if you’re a basketball fan and it’s like your trading cards are walking around you. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s like past, present and future all at one time.
Q: NBA Ratings are up 24% on TNT. Did you expect that with the delayed season?
Smith: I’ve just gotta get a raise is what that means. But I think that people like competition. You look at the NCAA tournament, people don’t care that Appalachian State is playing Duke or North Carolina, they care about the competition. They don’t care that they’re Appalachian State or some obscure schools that come out of these obscure conferences that don’t get the television converage, they don’t care that they don’t have LEBRON JAMES, they just want to see an upset or competition. That’s what drives people to watch.
Q: Do you and the guys have any pre-show ritual on TNT?
Smith: First of all, CHARLES (BARKLEY) and I have sat in the same seat for the last 12 years off the set in the green room. No one is allowed to sit in our seats. I go around and I give every single person ... a fist bump, it’s like 40 people. I did it one time when I first started, my first year or two. And the producer came to me after the show and said, "Man that was a great show, that was our best show we’ve ever had." So from there I was like, "Ya know what, that’s my routine." My basketball thing is whatever works, we’re gonna stay with.
Q: Who are your top five teams in NCAA men's basketball going into March Madness?
Smith: I’m kind of ACC driven because of North Carolina. ... We have a great team this year, and Kentucky is great, and that school in Durham. I never say their name, they know how to get it done, to win six games. You have to look at it that way, you can’t look at it as a tournament. ... The big three right now are Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, then after that it’s up in the air. Too early to see the Final Four because the Final Four really goes on where you’re seeded, and we don’t know where they’re seeded.
Q: Who are your favorite players to watch right now?
Smith: I like TERRENCE JONES from Kentucky, one of my favorite players; JEREMY LAMB from UConn; and HARRISON BARNES from North Carolina. And AUSTIN RIVERS (from Duke). I like watching Austin Rivers play, I just hope they lose every time they play.
Fox Sports Media Group promoted KAREN BRODKIN to Exec VP/Business & Legal Affairs, where she will oversee the group's sports rights negotiations and production, programming and talent agreements. Brodkin, who will report to Fox Networks Group Exec VP & General Counsel RITA TUZON, will continue to oversee more than 40 local media rights agreements with the group's RSN (John Ourand, THE DAILY).....The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl named S.F.-based Baker Street Advertising President JACK BOLAND Chair (BIZJOURNALS.com, 2/23)....The Phillies promoted KEVIN GREGG to Manager of Baseball Communications (THE DAILY)....Rowan Univ. AD JOY SOLOMEN will retire at the end of March (RU)....Angelo State Univ. AD KATHLEEN BRASFIELD announced her retirement, effective May 31 (ASU).
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William Morris Endeavor said that Broncos QB TIM TEBOW "has signed" with the company. WME agents will handle Tebow's "off-the-field endeavors, such as endorsements, books, personal appearances, and any television or movie roles that come his way." Tebow continues to be represented by CAA for his football contracts (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 2/23). Meanwhile, Limp Bizkit singer FRED DURST had dinner with Tebow Wednesday night at Craig's restaurant in West Hollywood (N.Y. POST, 2/24).
ROCK THE VOTE: In Orlando, Scott Powers reports President BARACK OBAMA's campaign fundraiser at the Isleworth, Fla., home of Mavericks G VINCE CARTER Thursday "brought in $2.1 million." The group of 70 people in attendance included NBA Commissioner DAVID STERN, Mavericks Owner MARK CUBAN, Basketball HOFer MAGIC JOHNSON, former NBAers STEVE SMITH and ALONZO MOURNING, Clippers G CHRIS PAUL, Orlando Mayor BUDDY DYER, U.S. Sen. BILL NELSON (D-Fla.) and U.S. Rep. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-Fla.). The guests "paid $30,000 apiece" to attend the event (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/24).
PLAYBOOK ENTRIES: In Toronto, Bob Mitchell notes Maple Leafs RW JOFFREY LUPUL, Flyers LW SCOTT HARTNELL, Ducks LW BOBBY RYAN, Rangers G MARTIN BIRON and Islanders RW MICHAEL GRABNER "have been chronicling their lives with a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet." Instead of videographers "capturing the candid behind the scenes off-ice action, the players themselves are the photographers of their private lives away from the rink." Episodes are "downloaded daily and edited into 90 second clips, which are available for viewing at www.nhlpa.com/playbook." Episodes will also be available through the NHLPA Facebook page, YouTube and Tumblr (TORONTO STAR, 2/24).
JOLLY GOOD DEALS: In California, Marcia Smith profiled Angels Senior VP/Finance & Administration MOLLY JOLLY, and noted the team's offseason deals with 1B ALBERT PUJOLS and P C.J. WILSON became two of the "most unforgettable, extraordinary moments of her sports management career." Jolly oversees the club's "budgets, ticketing, MLB reporting and luxury tax issues, human resources for the Angels' 1,500 employees and the estimated $150 million payroll for the players" in '12. She said of the deals, "Somehow, we're going to make it work." She was hired in '01 as Dir of Finance for the then-Disney-owned Angels and Ducks. She was promoted to VP/Finance & Administration in Nov. '03, when Owner ARTE MORENO bought the team (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/23).
NAMES: Angels Assistant Equipment Manager SHANE DEMMITT won MLB Network's "BASEBALL IQ" game show, defeating Mets Statistical Analyst BEN BAUMER in the final round, which aired Thursday night on the net. Demmitt earned $45,000 for the Angels Baseball Foundation (L.A. TIMES, 2/24)....The Univ. of Texas announced Thursday that it will erect a statue in the likeness of alum RICKY WILLIAMS, who recently retired from the NFL. The statue will stand next to one of fellow UT Heisman Trophy winner EARL CAMPBELL in the southwest corner of Royal-Memorial Stadium. The school will unveil the statue at its spring game on April 1 (CHRON.com, 2/23)…. DreamWorks Animation CEO and Motion Picture & Television Fund Foundation Committee Chair JEFFREY KATZENBERG on Thursday announced the launch of the MPTF’s $350M campaign to sustain the charity’s activities for the foreseeable future. Katzenberg acknowledged gifts from author MICHAEL LEWIS, former Univision Chair & CEO JERROLD PERENCHIO, MLS Sounders Owner JOE ROTH, Dr. PATRICK SOON-SHIONG and WMG Chair & CEO CASEY WASSERMAN (THE DAILY)….Patriots QB TOM BRADY and wife GISELE BUNDCHEN were in Brady’s hometown of San Mateo, Calif., Thursday night helping to raise money for his alma mater, Junipero Serra High School. Brady delivered the keynote address at the school’s annual Fund A Dream scholarship dinner (BOSTON HERALD, 2/24). Guests paid between $1,500 to $15,000 per table to attend the function (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 2/24).
Time is running out -- if you are an employee of a team in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB or MLS, please take a short compensation survey. Respondents who complete the survey in full are eligible to be entered into a sweepstakes to win a trip to the 2012 World Congress of Sports in Dana Point, Calif., next month (including air, hotel and conference registration). See sample data that this study can yield, and its value to you. Friday is the final day the survey will be live.