Defending men's champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic practices on Margaret Court Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Far from a Joking matter

So Novak Djokovic has been in and out and now back in the Australian Open because of his less-than-honest handling of the vaccine requirements.

First, just some basic human life rules here folks. If Place A says you can't come in here without shoes or shirts or a tie or a COVID-19 vaccine, then you can't. Period.

You are not super special, Novak. You're great at tennis, sure.

And if you believe so strongly, then put your tennis and your chase for a 21st Grand Slam title behind your convictions. How crazy has this whole politicization/posturing/personal selfishness of COVID-19 and vaccines become?

Kyrie Irving is the beacon of honest dealings among sports stars and being anti-vaccinations. Go figure.

So the Joker now is starting to reveal the falsehoods and misinformation he put on his visa to get into Australia, which has among the strictest COVID-19 requirements to enter the country in the world.

And that's completely their right and their decision, not Djokovic's.

What a clown. The country should walk him to the airport and pack his rackets for him in my opinion. Otherwise, open the borders for everyone with or without a shot or a booster or even the slightest idea about what an honest travel visa looks like.

Visa question: Have you killed anyone in the last 48 hours? Answer: No. Clarification, "Well, not killed. Tried to kill, and they may end up dead, but that's not really known and I'm not sure how that's your business. It's my personal decision, you know."


Mocs fall flat

Well, any debate about the Mocs having a shot at being mentioned in any type of NCAA whispers without winning the SoCon tournament are now somewhere slotted around Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster and all the pretty girls Spy dated in the Niagara Falls area on the credibility scale. ("Weird Science" is supremely undervalued in the John Hughes catalog, friends.)

A subpar performance — 17-of-54 (31.5%) from the floor and 4-of-25 (16%) from 3 — led to a loss to a subpar Western Carolina bunch. It will assuredly push the Mocs and the rest of the SoCon into the all-too-familiar scenario that the only way to dance is to be great for three days in Asheville.

It was Western's second win since Dec. 9, the other coming over The Citadel, which means WCU 2-2 in the league with wins over the best and the worst teams in the conference.

The setback certainly was not Malachi Smith's fault, as the future pro player scored 33 in the 70-59 loss, and the rest of the UTC roster combined to make 10 baskets. Ten, from nine players who combined for 161 total minutes.

Noticeably yet somewhat secretly absent from the box score was David Jean-Baptist, Smith's backcourt mate and the Mocs' second-best offensive option. UTC's official statement after the game was that Jean-Baptist did not play and the reasoning could not be revealed because of "student privacy laws."

OK, but with such cloaked language, it makes what would normally be a sentence feel almost intriguing? Why did DJB make the trip but not dress? Is this a one-time thing or are we awaiting clarification from an outside party? Could the outside party be in the UTC offices or somewhere else? Hmmmmmmmm.

Since he boarded the bus, we can almost assuredly assume it's not COVID-related — thank goodness.

Having followed sports as long as most of us have, we all also certainly notice — not know, not believe, not even deduce, but just notice — that the official canned statement did not include a HIPPA reference, which is almost always the case in official canned statements when an injury or ailment is the cause. Again, hmmmmmmm.

With or without DJB, you'd expect a whole lot more from the Mocs offensively. WCU had allowed 87, 85, 90, 98 and 85 points in its previous five games; UTC had averaged better than 80 a game in its four-game win streak before Wednesday's trip to Cullowhee.

So, regardless who did and did not play for which or which ever reason, UTC putting 59 total on the board and for everyone not named Malachi to score 26 in 161 combined minutes is, well, it's a lot of things and none of them are good.    

Columnist courtesy laws prevent me from disclosing any more.


Different kind of power poll

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday had results that showed continued dips in President Biden's approval ratings. The decline is noticeable, and is across both parties and independents surveyed.

Disclaimer: Polls are supremely narrow slices of a populace that can be directed and/or redirected by the diction of the question, the pool of those polled or a slew of other factors.

For instance, if we asked the folks who comment in this space "Who is the best online weekday morning opinion writer in the world?" Well, I'd look like a cross between Grantland Rice, Jim Murray and George Will. You get the idea.

But the Quinnipiac numbers — especially Biden's close to a double-digit dip in the opinions of Democrats since November — are interesting.

Are they telling or representative? I don't know that they are, and there will be people who agree with them that quote them as gospel and people who don't who will belittle the sample size and/or the logistics of the questioning. Again, the slice is very thin — 1,313 American adults surveyed over a four-day span from Jan. 7-10.

But these are the numbers before us, including 2/3s of respondents saying that America's biggest threat to our democracy is Americans. That these questions happened in the aftermath of the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol could factor in that, but still, 2/3s is a sizable swath of a less than sizable sample size.

Also, and this to me was kind of telling, but the things the Democrats and Republicans had in common was that a majority of Americans say each side  — 62% said the Ds; 56% said the Rs — is more committed to individual politicians than the principles of the U.S. Constitution and that each party has less than a 33% approval ratings in Congress. So there's that.

And of course, Trump is part of this poll, as 59% of the 1,313 surveyed say they do not want to see Trump run for president in 2024, but seven in 10 who identify as Republicans do want to see Trump run in '24. Oy.

Let's hope it's a very thin slice of Republicans in that regard, friends.

(Side question: Is there a Beetlejuice aspect to Trump, in that if we did not mention his name would he go away? If we did not give him the attention he so desperately craves, that he would slink back into a 19th hole somewhere with his foul mouth and more foul manners? Asking for a few hundred million Americans. Not that it will happen, because a) the media folks, of which I am a part, are desperate for the eyeballs and attention a mention of his name generates, and b) the media consumers, of which you are a part, continues this never-ending cycle by looking for any mention of Trump — good and bad — to point out to his supporters/detractors with whom you agree/disagree.)


This and that

— Speaking of the political, ol' Liz Warren says that if President Biden eliminates student loans the move would "persuade a lot of young people" that the president "is in the fight for them." Translation: Buy young people's votes? Or translation: Biden is pro-young voter but not willing to fight for the needs and views for us 50-plus-somethings who do not want the government to cover up to a $50K nut for up to 40 million Americans — yeah that math is scary — for a whole lot of Greco-Roman Art History PhDs.

— Did you see that the Screen Actors Guild nominated "Yellowstone" for the Best Ensemble Cast — Drama award? Apparently, that's one of the SAG biggies. Cool. But in typical award-show fashion, the honor came a season too late and was more about the commercial success of this season of "Yellowstone" than the quality of this season of "Yellowstone."

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on a couple of Vols in the transfer portal. And sweet buckets of bags packed and balls bouncing, the travel portal is busier than the neighborhood H&R Block on April 14.

— NBA star power: First, the video from Memphis star Ja Morant staring down a young fan in a Steph Curry jersey during a Memphis home win over Curry's Warriors was awesome. And the Grizzlies' handling of the matter is even better. Memphis is offering a replacement Morant jersey or a Jaren Jackson jersey and two tickets to Friday's game to any 12-and-younger fan who will trade in the jersey of another NBA player on another NBA team. Savvy. Then there was the "Bless his heart" moment when Suns star Devin Booker asked the refs to make the Toronto mascot stop dancing during Booker's free-throw attempts Tuesday. The mascot? Really, Devin? In a fan-less arena, too? Dude, you are dating a member of the Kardashian clan, you have to be able to handle distractions better than that my man.

— One more NBA side note: The Bulls may have the best record in the East and the Bucks may have the best player in the league, but if the Nets' big three of KD-Harden-Kyrie is healthy, I don't think anyone in the league has an answer for them.

— So a columnist with the Gainesville Sun says Mike White and Florida are struggling because they are not willing to cheat like, say Bruce Pearl and Will Wade at Auburn and LSU respectively. OK. And his arguments are not wrong. But would anyone feel comfortable saying any college basketball team is not bending the rules? Seriously? I know some folks who swear by Rick Barnes' program's cleanliness, but still. Is there a single major college basketball program in America that if the breaking news ticker on ESPN flashed and said, "(Blank) basketball being investigated for NCAA violations" it would truly shock you? (I'll give you Duke, but not because of being shocked at Duke committing violations, but being shocked that the NCAA got Coach K's approval to come to Durham to check on NCAA violations.)  

— Oh, and one more thing: You think Florida fans care about winning or being clean? And yes, it's sad that it's an either/or proposition in major college sports these days, but isn't it? Because this was the same fan base that was understandably doing cartwheels when Urban Meyer was in Gainesville running the Mean Machine 3.0 from "The Longest Yard."  


Today's questions

Thoughts on the above. Lots to chew on today.

Does Florida — or any school — want Mike White or Coach X to cheat and win or be clean and lose?

What major college basketball program would surprise you if it was running afoul of NCAA rules?

Should Australia boot the Joker?

Go and remember the mailbag.

As for today, Jan. 13, let's review.

Wow, the Mickey Mouse comic strip first appeared on this day in 1930. Yeah, that may work out for the Disney family in the end.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is 60 today. Patrick Dempsey is 55. (Side note: Patrick Dempsey going from Ronald McDonald Miller in "Can't Buy Me Love" to People's Sexiest Man Alive is quite the career arc.)

In honor of The Joker and his missed shot, what's on the Rushmore of "Shots," and be creative.