5 at 10: Erik Ainge, Braves pitching and a trio of young Vols playmakers

5 at 10: Erik Ainge, Braves pitching and a trio of young Vols playmakers

March 30th, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sports

Here we go.

Staff Photo by D. Patrick Harding Tennessee's Erik Ainge motions to the crowd after defeating Wisconsin 21-17 during the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.

Where did that come from

Former University of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge was very forthcoming in his first-person account of his battles with drug addiction in this story on ESPN. Ainge apparently was downing painkillers by the handful - up to 25 at a time - during his senior season at UT.

Here's the first paragraph to Ainge's first-person account: I'm a drug addict. I was in denial for a long time, but that's who I am. My addiction is with the hardest of hard drugs -- heroin, cocaine and alcohol. During my days of using, I was a really bad drug addict. I would've made Charlie Sheen look like Miss Daisy.

Sweet Mother of Bonnaroo - Charlie Sheen look like Miss Daisy. Wow. OK, let's also mention that Ainge has "Crazy White Boy" tattooed on his back - and he doesn't remember getting that tattoo.

Ainge also wrote that he ran afoul with the law in Knoxville after a two-week bender last summer but "it never got reported because the cops were Tennessee fans, and they saw how bad a shape I was in. It was so bad that I don't even want to talk about it. I was cuffed, but instead of busting me, the cops called somebody in town that knew me."

Ainge, who claims to be clean since July 17, apparently started dabbling with drugs at the age of 12 and it exploded from painkillers to deal with injuries at UT to big-time benders after being drafted by the Jets and getting a little coin in his pocket.

It's a sad story, and one that reminds everyone the power and destruction that drugs have and can cause.

UT declined comment, and Ainge tweeted "I just want to say thanks for all the nice comments I have gotten about my article and that tennessee doctors didnt drive me to drugs I did!" but it's hard to fathom how this was not noticed by someone in Knoxville.

Sad story all the way around.

Connecticut forward Maya Moore shoots over Duke guard Karima Christmas in the first half of an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional final, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Barbara Johnston)

NCAA hoops double dip

Well, who knew that the epicenter for all of NCAA hoops is in Storrs, Conn., a town that measures roughly 5.67 square miles and is the college home to Kemba Walker and Maya Moore. The two stars have their Huskies teams two wins from national titles, and if they each pull it off it would be only the second time men's and women's teams from the same school won Division I national titles in the same season. (And of course UConn did it the first time in 2004.)

Over the last six weeks, Walker has simply been the best college player breathing. He has guided a collection of freshmen and journeymen to a five-wins-in-five-days miracle title in the Big East tournament. And he's been unstoppable in the tournament. Kentucky may be a better team from top to bottom, but are you willing to bet against Kemba? The 5-at-10 isn't.

And truthfully, Walker isn't even the most dominant player on campus. Moore is. And after the Lady Vols melted down Monday and Baylor and Brittney Griner (who is like 12 feet tall) imploded Tuesday, Moore and her teammates are the frontrunners. Moore was awesome in Tuesday's destruction of Duke, and there is a strong case to be made that she is the best NCAA women's basketball player ever. Seriously.

That said, if Moore and Walker ever go on a date, there will be dozens of college coaches keeping an eye on possible sparks - and a possible 12-star recruit around the 2030 signing class.

Of course, if that did happen, those Moore-Walker Parade All-Americans would be headed to the "06268" and would be dunks for UConn - it's the center of college basketball universe after all.

Atlanta Braves' Tim Hudson pitches against the Florida Marlins in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Tuesday, Sept. 1 2009. The Braves won 4-3. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Arms wrestling in the NL East

The Atlanta Braves are not first in the arms race in the National League, but they're not that far behind, either.

The Philadelphia Phillies have baseball's best rotation - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Colt Hamels, Roy Oswalt and anyone this side of "Joe the Policeman from the What's Going Down Episode of 'That's My Mama'" - and it has been compared favorably with some of the best all time. The Phillies are bringing back thoughts of guys like the 1950s Indians, the '60s Dodgers and even the great rotations that had their own nicknames, like the top-heavy Braves group in the '50s led by Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain that inspired the saying, "Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain."

The Braves' collection, though, is far from a group of bus boys. Tim Hudson and Co. may not be the Braves of the 1990s, but they're a far cry from, "Mahler, McMurtry and who else can hurt me?" that echoed in Fulton-County Stadium in the mid-1980s.

But the Braves starters are far from the concern this morning, roughly 24 hours before the first pitch of the season Thursday. No, the pitching answers to whether these Braves will be playing in mid-October are in the bullpen.

And, gang, the outlook is not bad. In fact, if young co-closers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel can co-exist and co-mature and co-habitate in the eighth and ninth innings, this group will be pretty strong.

(Quick side note: Kimbrel has flat nasty stuff. Like John Wetteland with the Yankees in the late-1990s nasty. If the kid can take his beatings - and they're coming, they do for every closer - like a man, he's going to be great.)

Plus, Phillies closer Brad Lidge has been shelved with arm troubles, meaning Jose Contreras - yeah, great news that he's still alive, huh, who knew - will close for Philly until at least May.

Yes, Johnny Braves Fan, you would trade your starting rotation for the Phillies' straight up, but if Lidge misses months rather than weeks, here's saying the Braves' entire staff is better than Philadelphia's 1 through 12.

Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Wide receivers Justin Hunter, No. 87, Da'Rick Rogers, No. 21, and Matt Milton, No. 85, joke around while posing for photographers during the University of Tennessee Vols' Media Day at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

UT spring break(down), Part III

A big part of the Vols' somewhat surprising bowl trip last fall was a receiving corps that was as good as advertised on the field and light years better than expected off it.

Consider that Gerald Jones, who had run-ins with the previous two staffs, was among the team's steadiest forces as was tight end Luke Stocker. Denarius Moore was arguably the team's most reliable playmaker. And each is gone.

Asking the trio of talented youngsters - Da'Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and Matt Milton - to become leaders is too big a leap, especially since replacing the production on the field will be tough enough for this group.

Hunter showed flashes of being a home-run type of talent last year, and Milton is super-big (like 6-foot-6, 220-plus big), but Rogers will be the difference between this group being an unknown or a pleasant surprise.

Rogers, the former Calhoun (Ga.) High all-state player, was a five-star guy this time last year and has the tools to be special. Getting there will be the question - and a huge key for this UT offense.

Cleveland Cavaliers fans taunt Miami Heat's LeBron James in the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers' 102-90 win in an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

This and that

- The Cleveland Cavs beat LeBron James and the Heat 102-90. Read that again. Has there ever been a more meaningful regular-season win that didn't have playoff implications than the Cavs' victory over James, who left Cleveland during the offseason (you may have heard something about it; it was in the papers and stuff)? Heck, take out the playoff-implications and has there ever been a bigger regular-season win for a fan base than this one? (Side note: That was Cleveland's first - yes, FIRST - double-digit win of the season. In an NBA that is filled with teams taking nights off and stinkers for whatever reasons, that's hard to fathom.) The excitement for the Cavs players apparently led to a championship-type celebration afterward. Somebody get David Aldridge and the Elias Sports folks on the phone and see if this is the first time there have been tears in both locker rooms after an NBA regular-season game. Thank you, thank you.

- Tough offseason to be a college football fan. It's almost to the point that you don't want to see your team in the news, right? From the Oregon recruiting service stuff to the Ohio State mess with Jim Tressel to the BCS investigating the Fiesta Bowl, it's crazy. This morning there are reports that four former Auburn players have told HBO that they were paid by boosters at Auburn and other schools. This will be part of a two-part HBO special looking at college athletics, and the four Auburn players - Chaz Ramsey, Troy Reddick, Stanley McClover and Raven Gray - said they were part of pay-for-play scheme. (Hey, didn't Cecil Newton copyright that "pay-for-play" phrase? The 5-at-10 may need to contact its lawyers.) The special is supposed to air tonight, and according to the early reports, the interviews with these former players are far less than glowing news for Auburn. The university declined comment for the program.

- Hey, Johnny Vols Fan, want reason No. 23,476 to be happy Lane Kiffin's out West? Check this video. Dude's a goofball.

- Jalen Rose was picked up for a DUI in Michigan on March 11. No word whether he blames Duke, Grant Hill or any of the other folks in the Durham area for this.

- The 5-at-10 watched almost all of the Braves-Twins exhibition game last night, and noticed two things. One, it was good to have the Braves on in the background. As a lifelong Southerner, there's just something comforting about having the Braves on, you know? Two, the game put the 10-month-old 5-at-10 Princess soundly to sleep. Alas.

- Dez Bryant now appears to be on the hook for more than $800,000 for jewelry and such according to the handful of lawsuits that are out there. BIspy4, other than (Vince) Cartiers and that Carpel Tunnel syndrome brand, how would someone spend that much coin on jewelry and not be engaged to the duchess of York?

- The AJC reported that Falcons owner Arthur Blank has vowed there will be professional football in 2011. It was not clear if he was talking about the NFL or the Auburn Tigers.

Until tomorrow.