In just a few days, college basketball fans will celebrate the sport's biggest day: Selection Sunday. As soon as the bracket unveiling ends, the speculation will begin over who will be this year's Cinderella.
Naming a "best player" in college basketball has always been a tricky proposition. If you go by the buzz, the Player of the Year will be Doug McDermott, the sharpshooting coach's son at Creighton. But arguably, you could go with the guy who's projected to be picked first in the NBA draft (that would be Joel Embiid of Kansas). Or do you take the best player on the best team? (Good luck agreeing on which team that is.)
Look at the numbers, and you'll come up with a different answer altogether: Alan Williams, the starting center for the University of California, Santa Barbara.
But Big Al — as his teammates call him — won't even admit outright that he's had a great season.
"I feel like I've done pretty well — some stretches where I feel like I could have played a little bit better, and just stuff I need to work improve on in the offseason," he says.
But according to statistician Ken Pomeroy, "Numbers-wise, nobody really compares to him across the country."
"Just about every basketball skill you can think of, he's really good at," says Pomeroy, who runs the college basketball website kenpom.com.
As of Tuesday morning, Williams was the nation's No. 12 scorer, No. 2 rebounder and No. 36 blocker. Even more impressive, he's just 6 feet 7 inches tall — undersized for a center.
"All these numbers he puts up are the numbers you would expect to come from somebody who's 6 feet 10 inches or 6 feet 11 inches," Pomeroy says. "Being a huge shot-blocker and a great rebounder and a guy who can draw a bunch of fouls in the paint — it's definitely unique for someone as short as he is."
So why's the media spotlight pointed elsewhere? Pomeroy says one problem is that UCSB isn't exactly a basketball powerhouse. There are lots of blue banners hanging up in the UCSB arena, but they celebrate NCAA tournament appearances, not championships.
UCSB plays in the Big West Conference with schools like Long Beach State and Hawaii. The competition is just not at the same level as, say, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), or the Big 10. Because of that, you might hear the argument that Williams' stats are inflated. If UCSB was playing against tougher competition, the argument goes, his numbers wouldn't be quite this good.
But his coach Bob Williams — no relation — doesn't buy it.
"What was eye-opening was our very first game at [University of Nevada, Las Vegas], against the returning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year," Williams recalls. "And Al abused him. I mean, flat out, he just dominated the kid. It wasn't even close."
Alan Williams had 21 points that night against Las Vegas. It wasn't a fluke; less than a month later, he dropped 23 and 24 points on University of California, Los Angles, and Cal Berkeley. The big-league schools with the big arenas and the big money were no more a problem for Williams than his Big West competition.
Statistician Pomeroy concedes that a Player of the Year Award might be a stretch. That will probably go to McDermott, he says.
"But [Williams] definitely deserves more consideration than he's going to get, which is zero," he says.
The Big West Conference announced their annual awards on Monday, and Big Al took home the Player of the Year award there. He and Coach Williams are happy with that for this year — maybe next year he'll finally land a spot on an All-America team.
Both Alan Williams and his coach are confident he'll be playing basketball professionally after he graduates, whether with the NBA or overseas. Scouts have come to most of UCSB's games, noticing the improvements in his game.
As for UCSB, it's difficult to see too far into the future. To make this year's NCAA Tournament, the Gauchos will need to win the Big West Tournament this weekend. They open against Cal Poly at noon PT on Thursday.
A year ago today, the world's 1.2 billion Catholics got their first Jesuit pope and the first from the global south. Taking the name Francis, he soon became one of the world's most popular newsmakers.
Following two doctrinally conservative leaders, the Argentine-born pope's pastoral approach has given the Catholic Church a new glow — less judgmental, more merciful.
Like many others in the big Sunday crowd in St Peter's square, Sally Wilson is not Catholic, but she came all the way from Beaumont, Texas to see the pope.
"I think his serving humanity and his love of people have an effect that makes him feel like he's a pope for all, not just for Catholics," Wilson says.
As soon as he was elected, Pope Francis asked the crowd to pray for him, revealing a humble streak that has won him global popularity. And he opted to live in a simple residence with other prelates, rather than isolate himself in the palatial papal apartment.
Days later, he spoke wistfully of the kind of church he'd like to see, "Oh, how I would like a poor church, a church for the poor."
Over the last year, the Argentine pope has irritated some in the global north with his denunciation of laissez-faire capitalism and the ills of globalization. The pope has sent signals he wants a more collegial governance of the church, and he has stunned Catholics with remarks that, for example, all human beings, even atheists, can be redeemed.
One comment in particular grabbed headlines across the world. "If a person is gay and is seeking God and is of good will, who am I to judge?" Pope Francis said last summer.
"The way the pope sounds, what he says, sounds different," says Jon O'Brien, president of the liberal Catholics for Choice. "Gay people are not hearing they're intrinsically disordered anymore."
O'Brien says Francis has brought a huge change in tone and in emphasis. "He seems to be talking to a more pastoral church rather than a political church."
Francis has also shown humor and informality. At Vatican meetings, he waits in line with others during coffee breaks. Leaving the Holy See for a Lenten retreat, he joined the Vatican boys on the bus.
Father John Wauck, a professor at the Opus Dei Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, is a veteran papal watcher. Francis, he says, differs greatly from both of his predecessors.
"He is not a showman in the way John Paul was, and he's not retiring in the way Benedict was. Francis is completely comfortable in his own skin. He is transparently a happy person," Wauck says. "And it sounds really simplistic, but unfeigned happiness on the part of a public figure is not that common."
Francis was elected with a mandate to clean house within the dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy. His most sweeping reform thus far is the creation of a powerful economic department to ensure transparency and accountability at the Vatican bank, long plagued by scandal.
But Francis has also disappointed many Catholics by not openly apologizing to victims of clerical sex abuse whose revelations rocked the church over the last decade.
With regards to doctrine, when questioned by journalists whether he might introduce significant changes, Francis has said simply, I'm an obedient son of the church. O'Brien acknowledges that Francis often appears to be hedging his bets.
"My hope is that he can break through this ambiguity in his comments because we want to see real change and real reform — not just talking the talk but actually walking the walk with Catholics, making some changes, changes that are long overdue," he says.
To the dismay of many traditionalists, the pope has opened up a debate inside the church on how to bring back into the fold divorced and remarried people, who under church law are banned from receiving communion. He has insisted it's a not a question of changing doctrine but of showing mercy. Wauck wonders how that would play out in practice for those Catholics who feel they'd been left on what Francis calls the periphery of the Catholic Church.
"How do you interpret what the pope says when he says 'be merciful' and 'pastoral'?"
At the end of year one of his papacy, the pope's ratings are very high, but it's not a secret he's finding some resistance within the Holy See. Perhaps keeping everyone guessing on exactly where he intends to take the church is part of Francis' strategy.
I started my journey at the famed Gdansk shipyard, home of Poland's solidarity movement in the 1980s. It was nearly midnight when I arrived and saw for the first time the Maersk McKinney Moller, the world's largest container ship.
I simply wasn't prepared for just how massive it is. The whole ship really can't be taken in even standing at a distance, so I gave my neck a good stretch by scanning this behemoth end to end, and up and down.
That sense of scale was reinforced when I walked up the ship's steep gangway with Mikkel Linnet, a communications officer with Maersk. The ship's third officer, Siddhesh Naik, joked that most visitors ask where the elevator is because you need to climb two floors just to get to the main deck.
Everything about this ship is big.
Each link, or lug, in its anchor chain weighs about 500 pounds. It can carry more than 2 million bicycles or more than 100 million pairs of shoes.
It sits more than 20 stories high and is four football fields long. It can hold more than 18,000 of the standard 20-foot containers — about double what many other megaships can carry. If you put each container end-to-end, the line would stretch for about 70 miles.
And that's why we were already delayed by 12 hours. It was taking longer than expected for Polish longshoremen to finish loading and lashing down the thousands of containers carrying anything from electronic goods to furniture. Throughout the night I could hear the gigantic cranes hoist up containers — many weighing up to 25 tons — and stack them on this massive vessel.
The size of the Maersk McKinney Moller can also present challenges getting in and out of port. As we left Gdansk, the Danish captain, Jes Meinertz, sipped coffee and watched a Polish pilot deftly maneuver the ship around three nearby piers and into the open waters of the Baltic Sea.
The Maersk McKinney Moller was just launched last summer and is the first of a new class of megaships, known as the Triple E. The vessel has that new car feel to it. Everything is clean and bright, and the crew is still familiarizing itself with all the new bells and levers and whistles.
The ship was built to shuttle between Asia and northern Europe, the world's busiest trade route. No U.S. port can yet handle a ship this size. Several European ports improved their facilities, dredging their waterways and upgrading the size of their cranes in order to unload containers from this super wide vessel. Meinertz says the Chinese are constructing new terminals at an amazing rate.
"They are just building more and more terminals, bigger and bigger terminals. You have so much more gear available when you come alongside than in some of the European ports," he says.
It was in 2010 — during the global recession — that Maersk Lines made the decision to create this new class of megaship. Michael Heimann, senior portfolio manager at Maersk Line, was part of the development team. He says the challenge was coming up with a design that was at least 30 percent more efficient than other big container ships.
"So we needed to try and think in different ways than what we had seen in ship design before," he says.
Heimann says Maersk made changes to the ship's engine size and its propellers, and it improved ways to capture energy to more efficiently power the vessel.
The ship moves two to three knots slower than others, which cuts both CO2 emissions and fuel costs — the ships biggest expense — by at least half. They also made fundamental changes to the shape of the vessel in order to get as many containers on board as possible. It's economy of scale, Heimann says.
"Obviously, the more containers that we can put on, the more containers that have to split the cost of the fuel on," he says.
Richard Meade with Lloyds List, a shipping industry news provider, says that's a great argument, but only if the ship is fully loaded.
"A ship like the Maersk McKinney Moller is a fantastic advance for the industry, as long as it is full. If it is half empty, it is probably one of the most inefficient ships ever built," Meade says. "That is the great gamble."
It's a gamble Maersk is willing to make, based on the belief that global trade will bounce back from the recession. The company ordered 20 of Triple E vessels from South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo at $185 million apiece. Half a dozen of the ships are already on the water. Other shipping companies have also placed orders for similar sized vessels.
Stephen Schueler, Chief Commercial Officer for Maersk Line, says they're starting to see the ships fill up.
"We're very encouraged by the utilization, or the vessels being full," Schueler says. "In this year so far, I would say we are almost completely full."
On my second night on board, we headed into Danish waters. My jet lag prevented sleep so I wandered around the ship. The massive containers stacked on deck were silhouetted by moonlight. I felt like a speck standing next to them.
I walked onto the bridge, where the glow of the instrument panels cut through the darkness. After a few moments, I could see a horizontal chain of lights just ahead. It was Denmark's Great Belt Bridge. I could feel myself duck as we went under it. There was only a 20 foot difference between the top of the ship and the bottom of the bridge.
Within hours, we reached the port of Aarhus, Denmark, where I got off the ship. I walked down the long gangplank then onto the pier, taking one long last look at the Maersk McKinney Moller, a ship in a class of its own.
If you want to send a bunch of oranges by truck from Florida to Baltimore, no one cares who made the truck. Or if you want to fly computer chips across the country, it's fine if the plane is made in France. But if you want send cargo by ship, there's a law that the ship has to be American made.
Here's why: a 90-year-old law, called the Jones Act. Every time you want to send something from one US port to another, the cargo must travel on a ship built in the US, staffed by mostly Americans, and flying the American flag.
Today on the show, we look at the all the unexpected places this law pops up: on cruise ships, cattle farms, and in New Jersey, where a guy really, really needs salt.
A federal judge dropped charges on Wednesday against an Indian diplomat because she enjoys diplomatic immunity.
As Krishnadev reported back in January, the case of Devyani Khobragade, who was indicted on charges of falsifying visa documents for her Indian maid, "sparked a diplomatic row between India and the U.S."
According to a grand jury indictment, Khobragade said she was going to pay her maid $9 an hour. She actually paid her $3.
The indictment noted that Khobragade allegedly made "the Victim often work up to 100 or more hours per week without a single full day off, which, based on the promised salary of $573 per month, would result in an actual hourly wage of $1.42 per hour or less."
When American authorities arrested Khobragade, she was handcuffed and strip-searched.
Indian officials demanded an apology. Ultimately, the U.S. asked Khobragade to leave the country.
"The judge's ruling said Devyani Khobragade had diplomatic immunity when she was indicted on charges of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her housekeeper and lying about the maid's pay. But the ruling leaves open the possibility prosecutors could bring a new indictment against her.
"The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan didn't immediately comment on its plans.
"Khobragade's attorney, Daniel Arshack, praised the ruling.
"'The judge did what the law required, and that is: that a criminal proceeding against an individual with immunity must be dismissed,' Arshack said. 'She's (Khobragade's) hugely frustrated by what has occurred. She is heartened that the rule of law prevailed.'"