There are great television characters, and then there’s Tony Soprano.
James Gandolfini made the conflicted New Jersey mob boss a television icon, and in turn, made “The Sopranos” one of the best shows in TV history. On the surface, Tony was terrible; he cheated on his wife, killed people, and generally did things that should never be discussed in the light of day, but somehow, through Gandolfini’s masterful balance of violence and vulnerability, you found yourself rooting for him. “The Sopranos” showed us how the American family has changed in the backdrop of how the mafia has changed, and as a result, Tony became the most memorable mobster since Michael Corleone, earning Gandolfini three Emmys for his portrayal of the flawed antihero.
Gandolfini died suddenly on Wednesday night in Italy of a heart attack while on his way to the Taormina Film Festival. He was 51.
Viewed by peers as genuinely kind, thoughtful, and loving, Gandolfini’s talent on screen was matched by his character off of it. Few actors are so intrinsically linked to the roles they’ve played as James was to Tony. A New Jersey native who supported himself in his early career as a bartender and nightclub manager, Gandolfini got his first big break in 1992 when he landed a role in a Broadway version of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” From there, he had several small roles in major films, and then came “The Sopranos,” which changed everything and raised the bar for TV dramas.
Join me in raising a glass of red wine to James.
[Cut to black, “Don’t Stop Believin'” plays]
News and views time.
— With one week to go until the NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin’s futures still remain uncertain. ESPN’s Chad Ford says that he’s never seen such an utter lack of consensus among teams so close to draft, but still predicts Nerlens will go first to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, Ford says that’s only because he hasn’t heard anything to indicate otherwise, which is probably because the Cavaliers still haven’t made up their minds what to do with their pick. If Nerlens does slip out of the top three, Ford says he doesn’t expect him to go past the fourth pick, which belongs to the Charlotte Bobcats. The good news for Noel? He’s got an excellent opportunity to make a closing pitch for himself when he meets with the Cavs this weekend.
On Tuesday night, Nerlens told KSR that he’s surprised by the rumors that his handlers were causing problems for his draft stock. More people came out to support Nerlens on Wednesday, including Cleveland Plain-Dealer writer Mary Schmitt Boyer, who praised him for his professionalism and politeness when she interviewed him for a recent story. As for that other red flag about Nerlens’ growth plate problems in high school? A Cleveland doctor says that growth plate problems are very common in adolescents and they mostly heal without consequence. In fact, the doctor says that shouldn’t be of concern to the Cavaliers when considering Noel.
— Archie Goodwin’s situation is a little more complicated. Right now, if a team were to draft Archie, it would be based solely on his potential. Archie is one of the youngest players in the draft, and while drafting him may be a gamble, it might be a risk worth taking in a weak draft. Experts have been blunt in their criticism of Archie, his jump shot in particular, and while he’s not ready for the league, you can’t fault him for trying to take advantage of what may be the weakest draft for the next few years.
— Where do the latest mock drafts have our Cats going? Here’s a roundup:
Draft Express (updated 6/19): Nerlens 1st to Cleveland; Archie 39th to Portland
ESPN (updated 6/18): Nerlens 1st to Cleveland; mock draft doesn’t list 2nd round
NBADraft.net (updated 6/19): Nerlens 5th to Phoenix (!); Archie 52nd to Minnesota
NBADraft.net is clearly run by Bobby Knight.
— We didn’t play Yahtzee on Wednesday, but UK football sure did get a lot of national attention. Several national sites wrote pieces about Kentucky’s stellar 2014 recruiting class, which is still number one in Rivals’ team rankings. While the underlying theme of each article is the same–Stoops is doing well because he’s expanded the SEC brand into Ohio–reading it never gets old. Here’s Yahoo’s Christopher “Dr. Saturday” Wilson’s take:
How is Stoops doing it? One tactic is an ongoing raid on his old stomping grounds of Ohio. Mark, like his brothers Bob (Oklahoma head coach) and Mike (current Oklahoma defensive coordinator, former Arizona head coach), is from Youngstown, and he’s using the familiarity with his home state to clean up. Of the five four-star commitments currently pledged to Big Blue, three are from Ohio (with one from Kentucky and another from Georgia), with four more three-star recruits coming from the Buckeye State. If you want a reason the Big Ten should be nervous, look no further than the SEC’s worst program stealing four-star recruits from its backyard.
As Coach Cal would say, “LOL.” Stoops.
— ESPN also had a great profile about UK’s recruiting superstar, Vince Marrow. Marrow has been one of the primary reasons the Cats have been able to open the Ohio pipeline, and when you read his comments in Jared Shanker’s piece, it’s not hard to see why:
“I’m going to go after the No. 1 guy in Ohio. I’m going after the top 30 guys in Ohio, and let’s roll up our sleeves and see what happens,” Marrow said. “We might shock the world. I made it very clear that we’re not taking a backseat to nobody.”
Let it be known, “Bone.” Let it be known.
— A quick personnel note: rising sophomore TJ Jones was dismissed from the football team on Wednesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. In January, Jones was arrested on a weapons charge in his hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
— In case you missed the post on it, Rick Pitino said on Friday that leaving Kentucky was the “greatest move” he’s ever made. Less than two years ago, it was the “biggest mistake” he’s ever made. Going by “Pitino Logic,” that means hiring BTI is the best move KSR’s ever made. (h/t to dave in the comments section for that one. Love you, BTI.) See you in December, Rick.
— In happier news, Cal and the crew extended UK’s fourth 2015 offer on Wednesday to Malik Newman, a top-ranked combo guard. Newman is considered the 3rd best player in the 2015 class by Rivals, and the 2nd best by ESPN. It’s been a big recruiting week for Cal; since Monday, he’s offered Stephen Zimmerman, Charles Matthew, and now Newman. Skal Labissiere was the first 2015 prospect to get an offer, way back in November.
— Finally, another “rest in peace” to Slim Whitman, a country music and KSR legend…or rather, a KSR legend from “Legends.” Whitman, a country music star famous for yodeling, passed away at the age of 90. You die-hard country music fans may remember Whitman for hits like “Love Song of the Waterfall,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds, and “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” but we here at KSR will always remember Whitman for his unique style and unshakeable confidence, as showcased in his album cover on the wall at the Nashville honky tonk “Legends.”
If you’re still asking who the hell I’m talking about, Whitman wrote the song in Mars Attacks! that made the aliens’ heads explode. Don’t remember that classic? Relive it in this video clip:
(As a side note, to this day, Mars Attacks! still scares the crap out of me. I can’t explain why.)
That’s all for now. See you in the morning.