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The Man Who Probably Made It All Happen? Oliver Purnell

While Hokies fans are sitting back and celebrating their good fortune in the hiring of DeMatha Coach Mike Jones as associate head coach at Virginia Tech, perhaps we should all pause and raise a glass to the person who probably made all this happen.

To your good health, Oliver Purnell.

If the connection isn’t clear, let’s take a look at the career of one Oliver Purnell. He started as a player at Old Dominion so long ago, I cheered for him while in high school. When he finished as a player in Norfolk in 1975, he was a graduate assistant at ODU for two years. He moved up to being an assistant at ODU from 1977 to 1985, then became an assistant under Lefty Driesell at Maryland for 3 years before getting his first head coaching job.

The position was at Radford, and when he assembled his staff in 1988, one of his assistants was a local guy named Mike Young. The two would work together during the 1988-89 season before Young would leave for Wofford.

Purnell would leave Radford too, heading back to be the head coach at Old Dominion from 1991 to 1994. One of his best players on those ODU teams was….Mike Jones.

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Hokies Make Home Run Hire Of DeMatha's Mike Jones

In what has been a poorly guarded secret this weekend, Mike Young and Virginia Tech made a home run hire today as the Hokie basketball program named DeMatha head coach Mike Jones as associate head coach to fill the vacancy left by departing coach Chester Frazier.

Word had spilled out over the weekend that he would soon be a Hokie assistant, but Dematha pushed back on those reports. Today, Jones and the school officially announced he was leaving and heading to Blacksburg.

What makes this such an impressive hire for Young and the Hokies is Jones’ recruiting connections. Frazier had been a major factor in his ability to scout and persuade prospects to come to Blacksburg, something that helped the program make a quick turnaround from when Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M. They needed to find someone of equal ability to replace him.

"Virginia Tech is first and foremost getting a great person who not only fits our program, but embodies what our University is about," Young said in a statement released by Virginia Tech. "Mike Jones is a tremendous basketball coach, who brings a wealth of success from DeMatha and USA Basketball. I have had the privilege of watching Mike over the years and have continually been impressed with his ability to teach the game of basketball and mentor players. We are excited to add him to our family and look forward to continuing on what we have built over the past two seasons."

Jones has been the head coach at DeMatha since the 2002-2003 season, where a number of major college prospects have passed through. He currently has five former players in the NBA, including 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, and also has extensive ties to USA basketball. He was set to serve as the 2021 USA Men’s U16 National Team head coach, but withdrew Monday from that position after accepting the Virginia Tech job. 

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Series With Yankees Exposes Weaknesses In Orioles Bullpen

Given how many no-names were in the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen, I would have pegged the group to regularly give up runs when they were needed to shut the door.

That hasn’t been the case this season, though the Orioles’ weekend series vs. the Yankees exposed some of the O’s relievers.

The bullpen’s struggles came into clear view on Friday and Saturday, as the ‘pen combined to allow six runs. Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins were tagged for three runs on Friday, spoiling a solid outing from Dean Kremer than spanned five innings. And on Saturday, prospect Keegan Akin failed to stop the bleeding after Jorge Lopez was sent to the showers early, allowing three runs over 3.1 innings.

On Sunday, two other bullpen regulars struggled. Manager Brandon Hyde turned to former starter Adam Plutko as the team’s opener against the Yankees, only for him to make it through just the first inning with four earned runs to his name.

And while Bruce Zimmermann returned from Triple-A Norfolk to gift the Orioles 5.2 innings of one-run ball in relief, closer Cesar Valdez allowed three hits and one run in the ninth inning to properly scare Orioles fans into the heart wing of their local hospital.

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It Wasn't Just A Good Weekend. It Was A Great Weekend.

As sports weekends go in the Nation's Capital, local teams may have just finished a rare great one.

Think about it. The Capitals won an opening-round Stanley Cup playoff game. The Wizards rallied to win and clinch an 8th-seed in the NBA playoffs. The Nationals won a series on the road. Plus the Mystics opened their season, DC United took to the pitch, and even the Washington Football Team and Hokies down in Blacksburg had an eventful last few days.

Not  bad. Not bad at all. Here are the details:

Capitals Win A Postseason Thriller

Caps fans had their hearts in their throats early when starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek left in the first quarter due to injury, leaving the game in Craig Anderson’s hands. Anderson only had two starts this season, his last win was in May of 2017, and while they said he was 39, it was just barely. He'll be 40 this week. So on top of concerns for injuries to TJ Oshie and the return of Alexander Ovechkin from injury, Caps fans had plenty to worry about.

But soon after realizing Anderson was even on the team, Caps fans realized they were seeing a calm, experienced goaltender who kept the Boston Bruins in check. Tom Wilson scored the game’s opening goal, showing he can score AND fight, then Jake DeBrusk responded – which was also the play on which Vanecek left with an injury. The call-and-respond action continued in the second period, when Brendan Dillon and Nick Ritchie traded goals, and the teams held each other scoreless throughout the rest of regulation.

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Top 5: These Are The Next Things On My List

For whatever your thoughts are on masks, the pandemic, or what the “science” is vs. the dozens of conspiracy theories out there, something changed Friday. At midnight, the mask mandate in Virginia ended, and in less than two weeks, the mandates involving capacity restrictions and social distancing will be gone too.

In other words, the 14-month house arrest is over.

Surely, there will be those who disagree with this interpretation, but that’s how I see it. You will soon be able to walk into a store without wearing a mask (unless you want to), turn on a sporting event and see a full crowd in the stands, and go to a restaurant where you can clearly hear your servers because there’s nothing over their mouths.

My plan is to always have a mask in my pocket, and if someone were to say they felt uncomfortable in my presence because of that, I’d gladly put one on here in my Ashburn neighborhood. Whether I think it does any good or not doesn’t matter to me; if a person legitimately feels uncomfortable (vs. just looking for a fight) I think life’s too short. I would walk a person to their car after dark if they said they were uncomfortable, so why wouldn’t I put on a mask for a few minutes if someone said they had a similar feeling?

But I doubt that’s going to happen. In the 14 months this has been going on, I have always put one on inside a store, and immediately taken it off in the parking lot. I never wear one outside when walking, and the number of people to make a comment on my mask status has been zero. I doubt that’s going to change, as I try to treat people respectfully, so I doubt anyone’s going to be looking for conflict with a 6-4, 240-pound man minding his own business.

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Michael Weaver

Playlist Recommendation

Two comments. First, add a David Baldacci book to your playlist. He can really spin a story and an audiobook helps get me “out the... Read More
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Baldacci is one of my favorite...

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I,too, am especially ready to take my wife out for a nice meal.
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Nats Questions Have Been Answered, But Not Favorably

It’s time to face reality.

The season is a long way from being complete, but at this point in time, the Nationals don’t look as good this year as we hoped they would. Entering the season, their roster seemed to have an NL East championship ceiling with plenty of talent spread across the team, including players who had succeeded in high-intensity moments in the past.

But the pieces have not fit together so far this year. Sluggers have not hit well, the batting order continues to not make sense on a day-to-day basis, and the team has repeatedly struggled at the beginning of games and faltered in key situations.

One great way to assess how this year has gone thus far, relative to expectations, is by looking back at many of the questions people – myself included – had about the Nationals entering the regular season. 

Why Sign Both Bell and Schwarber?

This lineup needed to add some power. Anthony Rendon had left a glaring void that wasn’t filled following the World Series, players like Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera were also gone, and Victor Robles regressed in 2020. None of that was arguable, but the way the team addressed it was strange.

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Summer Is Coming; O's Need To Make A Decision On Ruiz

Much like general manager Mike Elias took a flier on third baseman Maikel Franco before the 2021 season, Elias took a flier on Rio Ruiz back in 2019.

That’s standard for a team in rebuild — add former top prospect from a respected organization (Atlanta Braves) and see if a change in scenery will do him well. Ruiz was among the group of prospects that included Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, the group that would return the Braves to contender status.

Instead, Ruiz flamed out after two bad major league stints in 2017 and 2018. In 72 games as a Brave, Ruiz slashed just .189/.282/.302.

Elias had every reason to claim Ruiz off waivers. Defense had never been an issue for Ruiz at a premium position. There was reason to believe the talent was still there at the plate, even if Ruiz hadn’t shown it for a lengthy period of time.

But through 212 games as an Oriole, I think it’s fair to say that the reclamation project is over. Ruiz isn’t going to be who people thought he could be.

Serious Struggles At The Plate

Since arriving in Baltimore, Ruiz’s offensive numbers are simply not adequate. His OPS over these last three years is .672, an improvement from his days in Atlanta but well below league average. His start to the 2021 season has been particularly poor, as Ruiz has slashed .161/.247/.299 for an OPS of .546 through 31 games.

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All-Big East PG Reunited With Former UVa Coach at Miami

Charlie Moore, an All-Big East point guard at DePaul, is no stranger to one of the coaches he will be joining at Miami.

One of the Hurricanes' assistants, Bill Courtney, previously was on the coaching staff at DePaul, where he worked for Dave Leitao. Courtney earlier had been an assistant to Leitao at Virginia.

Moore, named Mr. Basketball in Illinois as a senior in high school, had stints at California and Kansas early in his college career.

A spot opened for Moore when the Hurricanes' Chris Lykes transferred to Arkansas. An ankle injury limited Lykes to two games last season. He scored 1,256 points in just over three years for the Hurricanes.


In an projection of candidates for the NBA Draft on July 29, Virginia shooting guard Trey Murphy is rated 42nd. Murphy has not said for sure that he has eliminated an additional year at UVa.

The only ACC underclassmen ranked ahead of him are Duke's Jalen Johnson at No. 7, Florida State's Scottie Barnes at No. 10 and North Carolina's DayRon Sharpe at No. 33.

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Since Being Recalled April 18, Sulser Has Dominated For O's

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde gravitated to an unfamiliar reliever in 2020, and I never really understood why.

Watching Cole Sulser take the mound in high leverage situations gave me many a night with heartburn and indigestion. Then a 30-year-old rookie, Sulser was a nobody. There was no hype, no scout backing his potential. He was just a guy.

So when I watched Sulser get rocked outing after outing in 2020, I wondered exactly what kind of blackmail this veteran minor leaguer had over Hyde. I mean, Sulser registered a 5.56 ERA in 19 appearances, walking almost as many batters as he struck out. Sulser saved five games in 2020 but blew three other opportunities.

I even authored a column earlier this spring about Orioles reliever Tanner Scott, saying, “The days of Cole Sulser pitching the ninth need to come to a close.” I was just about done with the guy.

Good thing Sulser doesn’t listen to 26-year-old sportswriters.

Since being recalled to Baltimore on April 18, Sulser has dominated opposing hitters. He’s not just getting outs — he’s mowing down lineups with ease.

Through 12.2 innings, Sulser has allowed just two earned runs while striking out 20. His strikeout rate is up 23 percentage points from last season (42.6 from 19) and is among the league’s best.

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After Fast Start, Franco Needs to Kick it Back Into Gear

As Orioles general manager Mike Elias sought to add talent to the organization whilst in the middle of a deep and lengthy renovation job, one of the avenues he’s taken frequently is picking up flamed out prospects from other organizations.

Take Rio Ruiz, for example. The former top prospect from the Atlanta Braves never panned out in Atlanta but got a chance to revive his career in Baltimore in 2019. So far, Ruiz has been nothing more than a stopgap infielder who will likely be jettisoned once some of the Orioles’ infield prospects arrive at the major league level.

The Orioles took a flier on another talented infielder this offseason in Maikel Franco. At one point, Franco was a top-100 prospect in the Phillies organization. Since then, Franco was demoted and non-tendered in 2019 and non-tendered again in 2020 by the Royals.

So late this spring, the Orioles took a chance on Franco as an option at third base. For a bit, it seemed like Franco was going to solidify his spot in the lineup for the rest of the season. But lately, Franco is becoming more and more of a liability.

Through April, Franco’s OPS stood at .708, a mediocre but respectable number. Since the turn of the calendar, however, Franco has just three hits. And only one of those was for extra bases. Franco’s May slump has tanked his overall OPS to .599.

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Late-Inning Doozies Against Yanks Raise Concerns For Nats

When they write the book on this past week for the Nationals, it will probably be titled "long fly balls and bullpen calls."

Weaknesses in those areas proved to be the undoing of the Nationals, as a stellar outing by Max Scherzer and improvements from the likes of Victor Robles and Patrick Corbin were wasted. Both teams – particularly the Yankees – are built upon those two topics, and the Nats were unable to match them.

The bullpen wasn’t all bad, except for two pitchers. However, that duo, along with the offense, was largely responsible for Washington’s 1-5 week.

The Bats Have Been Flat

The offense remained quiet for most of the week, which has been consistent all season. The Nationals have only scored more than three runs in one of their last seven games – and even in their 11-run outburst on Friday, they only had three runs through the first seven innings.

This really stems from a larger issue. While Washington is No. 6 in baseball – and first in the NL – in batting average, the Nationals are also No. 19 in slugging percentage, No. 23 in at bats per home run, and subsequently fourth from the bottom in runs scored per game. 

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Doug Doughty

Doug Doughty

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Ricky LaBlue

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Stephen Newman

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