BRYAN FAUST/Herald photoAfter nearly a month of fine-tuning in early-season tournaments, the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team is ready to tip off the real season with the start of conference play.Wisconsin will travel to the Land of Lincoln this weekend for a match against Illinois Friday and Northwestern Saturday as Big Ten action gets underway.The Badgers have stressed the need for improvement ever since opening the season at home with the AVCA Volleyball Showcase. After dropping a match to top-ranked Texas and squeaking by unranked teams in later tournaments, several key areas to develop were exposed, such as passing and defense.”I think we’ve definitely picked up our serving,” senior floor captain Maria Carlini said. “We’ve been working really hard on our defense as well and it shows. We’ve been outdigging teams that we haven’t in the past.”Head coach Pete Waite, on the other hand, is still looking for his team to get better in a different facet of the game — one that doesn’t involve skill so much as energy.”We’ve definitely improved since the AVCA Showcase, but there are still things we need to work on,” Waite said. “We need to try to push hard right away to get the jump on teams. This is a very good come-from-behind team, but it’s not a situation I’d like us to be in.”This weekend will provide the Badgers with a test to see where they are in their progression since the start of the year as both Illinois and Northwestern have drastically improved since last year.In 2005, the Fighting Illini and Wildcats finished in the middle of the conference at seventh and sixth, respectively. Despite being predicted to finish at just about the same spots, the two figure to be the conference dark horses.Illinois acquired two transfers in the off-season — outside hitters Stephanie Alde from Northwestern and Amy Palash from Valparaiso — something Waite believes makes the Illini a respectable team instantly.”Illinois has two transfers coming so they automatically have two veteran players stepping into their lineup that would’ve been holes with inexperienced players,” Waite said. “That alone makes them stronger already.”Illinois also has a very balanced team with two players hitting more than four kills per game — middle blocker Vikki Brown and outside hitter Kayani Turner.Freshman Ashley Edinger, ranked as the No. 1 incoming libero in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com, has stepped in for Illinois and provided the team with some much-needed defense, averaging 5.03 digs per game.The toughest part about traveling to Champaign, Ill., will undoubtedly be adjusting to Huff Hall. Its student section is one of the largest in the nation, as 1,682 students packed in for one of last weekend’s games, more than half of the 3,129 total fans in the arena. Furthermore, Huff Hall’s court is a tad bit shorter than most others so there is much less space to serve.”Their crowd has gotten stronger every year, so it’s a tough place to play,” Waite said.As for Northwestern, the Wildcats are coming off an upset win over then-No. 24 Arizona at home, going on to win its Wildcat Classic last weekend in dramatic five-game fashion. NU is undefeated at home so far this season.”Northwestern definitely has improved from last year,” UW outside hitter Audra Jeffers said. “They’re doing a lot more out of the back row with three hitters out of the back, so that’s going to be huge with our blocking.”We’re really going to have to seal up the block across the net, get all three blockers in to stop that.”Defensively, Northwestern is somewhat similar to Illinois.”Both Illinois and Northwestern are really good defensive teams,” said Carlini. “The main thing with those teams is they’re really scrappy, they play great defense so we need to outdig them.”Either way, starting the Big Ten season out on the road will be difficult, but the Badgers are used to traveling lately. After opening the season at home with the AVCA Volleyball Showcase and the following InnTowner Invitational, Wisconsin has been away from the Field House ever since, going as far as San Diego last weekend.”You’ve got to start somewhere,” Waite said. “We’ve been on the road the last two weekends so this will be three in a row for us, and in ways I think we’re prepared for it because we’re just packing up the suitcases again and hitting the road. We’re ready to go.”
Everyone remembers what Leonard can do and, beyond that, what he made of himself. It’s difficult to believe that a player who so dramatically reshaped his own offense has suddenly lost the taste for self-improvement.The Clippers are a shiny bag of clubs in search of a driver. They got deeper, younger and more cooperative when they traded Griffin. They have Lou Williams, a volcanic scorer. They have Tobias Harris and Montrezl Harrell, both ascending.Getting Patrick Beverley back and healthy might be a high draft pick in itself. He played 11 games in 2017-18.Chris Paul, now in Houston, was the Clippers’ leader. Leonard might not be what sportswriters used to call a “holler guy,” but neither was Tim Duncan. He also would give the Clippers the kind of perimeter defense that left with Paul and wasn’t provided by Beverley.The Clippers haven’t picked higher than 25th since 2010. With any change in the buzzard’s luck that continued into Tuesday night, they’ll show up in October with two decent newcomers, or one great one. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error They need to learn, indisputably, that Leonard has retained his competitive instincts, is healthy and would have no problem coming home (he’s from Riverside), especially with a $218 million contract awaiting him at some point.If the answers are right, they can pursue Leonard, although they were hoping for more plump trade bait than they received in Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery.As Jerry West sat there gamely, the Clippers got the 12th and 13th selections. It’s supposed to be a deep draft. We’ll see how deep on June 21, but it might be too shallow to land Leonard, at least not without enhancement.The mock drafts have several players slotted for 12-13, and there’s more than a month of evaluation, and paralyzing analysis, to go.The most common name is Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s 6-foot-6, and his mother Charmaine was a sprinter for Antigua in the 1992 Olympics. He also emerged as the most reliable leader on Kentucky’s band of yearlings, which won the SEC Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals. He’s praised for his length and his knowledge.His teammate Kevin Knox also comes up in those slots, as does Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, whose motivation hasn’t matched his gifts. You can find a mock that has Alabama’s Collin Sexton drifting into the Clippers’ sights, which would thrill them to no end but isn’t likely.If the Clippers had gotten lucky they might be picking at No. 6 or No. 7 and would give the Spurs a more persuasive menu. Now they might have to consider waiting to see if DeAndre Jordan exercises his player option for 2018-19 and then offer Jordan and one of those picks.Another option would be a sign-and-trade involving Jordan, who seemed to flourish after Blake Griffin was traded but is basically a rim-bound center with offensive limits. That might not be completely Jurassic in today’s NBA, but it’s not the trend.Or the Clippers could map out any other permutation that the Spurs want.Related Articles For Lakers’ LeBron James, Jacob Blake’s shooting is bigger issue than a big Game 4 victory Kristaps Porzingis ruled out as Clippers, Mavericks set for Game 5; Follow for game updates Clippers hope they can play to their capabilities, quell Mavericks’ momentum What the Clippers are saying the day after Luka Doncic’s game-winner tied series, 2-2 There is no Camelot in the NBA, not anymore.For 20 years San Antonio was the shining city. It checkmated the argument that the NBA was a breeding ground for the selfish, the self-absorbed, the mercenaries and the slackers. The Spurs were idealized but real, sort of a Leave It To Beaver, and the closest thing to Eddie Haskell was Gregg Popovich, their coach. Their five championships seemed like virtue rewarded, the way it happens in the movies.Now the Spurs are everyone else.They spent most of the season without Kawhi Leonard, thanks to a dispute over how badly his quadricep was hurt, whether the Spurs’ doctors misdiagnosed it, who should be taking care of it, and whether Leonard, the NBA’s best two-way player in 2016-17, was willing to risk playing. Clippers vs. Mavericks Game 5 playoff updates from NBA beat reporters Popovich and some veterans were clearly unhappy with Leonard, an opaque personality even in placid times. You can imagine Leonard was clearly unhappy with them with their public allusions about his want-to, considering how buttoned-up the Spurs usually are.Then San Antonio began sinking in the standings and probably shouldn’t have made the playoffs. As someone in the league said the other day, the Spurs find themselves in the bottom of the ninth.So the teardown begins. Whether Popovich wants to be part of it, especially after the passing of his wife Erin, will be learned later, probably in a statement.Even if the bridges between Leonard and the Spurs weren’t aflame, San Antonio would have to think about trading him and getting younger.That’s where the Clippers come in.