Monday, March 17, 2014

March Madness: Why We Love It!

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins tomorrow.  It is arguably the most exciting sporting event.  Over the span of three weeks 68 teams will vie to be crowned champion.  Matchups will feature traditional powers versus unheralded programs.  Upsets and personal interest stories of players and coaches participating will captivate the country.  Some may ask what is the big deal about the NCAA Tournament?  Why are daytimes and evening shows being preempted on four networks?  Why are your family, friends, and coworkers filling out bracket sheets?  Why did CBS and Turner pay $11 billion over 14 years to broadcast the tournament?

NCAA tournament brackets pools alone see Americans risk around $3 billion annually, and that doesn’t even count the numerous contests put on by businesses that do not require an entry fee, but will payout prizes to winners in hopes of getting people to their stores.  Las Vegas earns approximately $100 million each year for the tournament.

March Madness with Championship Week that precedes the NCAA Tournament and the Selection Show that announces the tournament is what St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli called,  "The best reality TV show ever.”  March Madness is unscripted drama by young men and coaches chasing a dream and the narratives of compelling storylines that will be told.

The tears from NC Central Head Coach LaVelle Moton, Mercer’s Bob Hoffman, and St. Joseph’s Martelli after winning their conference championships to secure their inclusion in the tournament illustrates the emotion involved.  

Hoffman has over 500 victories as a college head coach and is making his first trip to the tournament.  Moton is leading the NCCU Eagles and alma mater to their first appearance in only their third season as a Division I school.   Martelli and St. Joseph’s have not been to the tournament since 2008 with questions regarding his job security being rumored.  In 2004 Martelli’s Hawks entered the Elite Eight with a 30-1 record loaded with three NBA players including Jameer Nelson, 2003-04 National Player of the Year and current Orlando Magic point guard.  They lost a two-point heart breaker to Oklahoma State.

Andy Katz of ESPN recently stated on ESPN Radio that after the game a dejected Martelli expressed how he knew that might have been his only chance to get to a Final Four.  

The teams scratching and clawing during conference tournaments are fighting for that chance just to get in.  For many coaches and programs participating is a sense of accomplishment and advancing is even more.

Regardless whether it is a traditional powerhouse program such as Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, or Syracuse or University of Delaware making their first appearance this year since 1999 the passion is the same.  Whether a favorite or an underdog as long as there is a game to be played and the teams’ participating dream is still alive.  With every victory it is a step closer, with a loss the sudden realization that the season, dream, and for some careers are over. 

Andre Miller and Rick Majerus
I was in attendance in San Antonio, TX at the 1998 Final Four.  Kentucky defeated Utah in the National Title Game.  Utah was lead by the late Rick Majerus and current Washington Wizards point guard Andre Miller.  It was the third year in a row and the fourth time in six years Kentucky eliminated Majerus and Utah from the tournament.  This time it was for all the marbles. 

After the game Majerus expressed how difficult it is at a school such as Utah to recruit players talented enough to compete for a championship.  He felt that game was for all the former players at Utah including former player Keith Van Horn (Utah ’97) who had a nine-year NBA career and he knew the chances of him getting back to that point would be difficult.   Since 1998 Utah has made seven trips to the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2005. 

The Wichita State Shockers are in a similar situation in this year’s tournament.  After surprisingly getting to the Final Four in 2013, the Shockers finished the 2013-14 regular season undefeated (34-0).  The first time a school as entered the tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991.  Wichita State’s players, coaches, fans, alumni, and basketball community realize that another Shockers team may not repeat what this team has accomplished.

The schools that are favored to compete for a championship have to deal with the pressure that comes with it.  The name on the front of the jersey represents the history of the program and what others before them have accomplished.  Even when they should not be favored and the talent gap between them and their opponent is not as wide as perceived, knocking off one of those programs by a school not as heralded are the moments we remember.  On a neutral court in a single elimination tournament it doesn’t matter who we think is better it is about who is the best that day.

The passion, pageantry, close games, and stories are what make the NCAA Tournament so special.  For a college student-athlete whose main responsibilities are to go to class and play basketball, their sport is what they are emotionally invested in.  They are not adults with the responsibilities that come with being one.  The extremes of emotions win or lose in many instances cannot be contained.

As fans we can feel the intensity through the television and it is what makes it different from any other sporting event.   Over the last 30 plus years television coverage of college basketball has increased.  From the sound of the trumpet that cues the intro music to coverage of the games, musical montages and highlights capturing the moments, seeing the raw emotion of players, coaches, and fans is all part of what makes the tournament great.  This is why we love it.   We see dreams fulfilled and Cinderella stories end.

Marquee players don’t stay in school as long and college basketball has a different landscape then it did many years ago.  But it doesn’t take away interest.  For fellow basketball fans lets sit back and enjoy.  For those that don’t get it, hopefully this will explain what all the fuss is about.  So be patient over the next three weeks as the rest of us indulge in March Madness.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dealing With Carbohydrates

Diets high in carbohydrates lead to obesity and many other health issues.    Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of both healthy and unhealthy foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, pasta, beverages, corn, and desserts. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common forms are sugars, fibers, and starches. 

According to the Harvard School of Public Health carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. But carbohydrate quality is important; some types of carbohydrate-rich foods are better than others:
  •  The healthiest sources of carbohydrates—unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans—promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.  
  • Unhealthier sources of carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, sodas, and other highly processed or refined foods.  These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes, heart disease and other diseases.

For example, Brown rice and sweet potatoes are high in carbohydrates and have approximately equal protein content. Unlike simple carbs, which are digested quickly, complex carbs are digested slowly and do not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. This slow digestion gives you steady energy levels. Brown and rice and sweet potatoes are also low in sodium.

Carbohydrate addiction, especially white carbohydrates has to do with chemicals that travel from the stomach to the part of the brain where you produce dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that affects the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. Once these areas of the brain are stimulated, you’ll want more of the addictive substance, whether it’s alcohol, drugs or carbs.

Some vegans deal with issues in regards to carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates replace the substance that meat provides with bread, pasta, and rice.  Numerous studies have shown that poor meal planning is the cause of nutritional deficiencies in vegetarian diets, not the absence of animal foods.  So even though animal foods are not included in the diet, poor choices and planning can still cause health and weight issues.

Refined carbs such as baked goods, French fries or processed snack foods like chips and pretzels are harmful to your body. They’re often responsible for visceral or omentum fat, the dangerous fat you can carry around your midsection that inhibits your body’s ability to make insulin, which makes you more prone to diabetes. White carbs also increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

A diet that has increased in popularity is the Paleo (aka Caveman) Diet and has been featured on Dr. Oz. The Paleo Diet is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago. These foods include fresh meats (preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat), fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed). Dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods are not part of the Paleo menu.

Loren Cordain, PhD, who literally wrote the book on The Paleo Diet, claims that by eating like our prehistoric ancestors, we’ll be leaner and less likely to get  diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems.  There’s no calorie counting, and the fiber-rich fruits and vegetables will fill you up, as will the lean meat.

Echelle Harris is a Lifestyle Management Consultant in the Washington, DC and Baltimore areas.  Harris designs fitness and nutrition programs to address personal health and fitness needs.  When dealing with health issues and attempting to attain certain goals it is imperative to be cognizant of your current health and have nutrition and fitness programs personally designed.  Consulting with a professional like Ms. Harris in the health and wellness field will give you insight towards better health.

A common philosophy that is consistent to fight off obesity and disease is consuming foods that are as close to their natural source as possible.  Know the difference between good and bad carbs.  Minimize the health risk of bad carbs by eating fewer refined and processed carbohydrates that strip away beneficial fiber such as white bread and white rice.

Individuals make food choices for health, moral, emotional, psychological and other reasons.  The key is to be educated on nutrition and not adopt any “fad” diets.  Consult with a professional if needed to get guidance.  Know your personal health status and how your body responds to certain foods and make the necessary adjustments.

Jamaal Piper
Health and Wellness Consultant and Certified Personal Trainer

For information about Echelle Harris visit