Athletic heirs, wolverine slayer, coaching moment and more
Just before sports disappeared indefinitely, Columbus was treated to one glorious day of big wins. Just past noon on March 1, the Crew kicked off the season with a 1-0 victory on a bending shot by new acquisition Lucas Zelarayán. Later that day, the Ohio State men’s basketball team triumphed 77-63 over archrival Michigan. In the nightcap, the Blue Jackets rallied for a 5-3 win to move into a tie for the first wild card playoff spot.
If the names Nyah Funderburke and Sakima Walker sound familiar, it’s likely because both have fathers who turned local basketball stardom into NBA careers. Now, the daughters of Lawrence Funderburke and Samaki Walker are making names for themselves. Sakima, a highly recruited senior standout on Africentric’s girls basketball team, will play college ball at Rutgers, and Nyah has taken her talents to the pool, where the junior won state titles in the 100-yard butterfly and backstroke for the Columbus School for Girls.
When freshman phenom D.J. Carton cited his mental health in stepping away from the OSU men’s basketball team, head coach Chris Holtmann was his loudest advocate. At a press conference, Holtmann thanked supportive fans and kissed off the few knuckle-draggers. “You can take your antiquated thinking somewhere else,” he told them. In the time since, Holtmann has continued speaking publicly about the increase he’s seen in players struggling with mental health in recent years.
In November, two Michigan defenders were so desperate to stop OSU running back J.K. Dobbins that they untied and removed his shoe after a tackle. Their efforts proved futile, as Dobbins became the latest Buckeye to trample the Wolverines, totaling 260 yards and four touchdowns. It was the pinnacle of the greatest rushing season in school history, as Dobbins finished 2019 with 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns. Hot take: He’s OSU’s best back ever. Debate amongst yourselves.
The top three picks in this year’s NFL Draft—Joe Burrow, Chase Young and Jeff Okudah—were all former Buckeyes, a first for any school in the modern era. Ohio State’s feat comes with an asterisk as Burrow transferred to LSU in 2018, but he’s an honorary Buckeye for life.
Elvis has entered the building, and Blue Jackets fans couldn’t be happier. The team’s rookie goaltender, a 26-year-old Latvian named Elvis Merzlikins, has impressed with his freewheeling style, on-ice success and enthusiasm—and his rock ’n’ roll moniker doesn’t hurt. Merzlikins’ late father was a big fan of The King, and though his son doesn’t sing, he’s already got an arena chanting his name.
Biggest inspiration: Martin Brodeur, the NHL Hall of Famer and New Jersey Devil from 1991 to 2014, who has more regular season wins than any goaltender in history
Favorite Elvis songs: “A Little Less Conversation” and “Viva Las Vegas”
Hobbies: Playing Playstation, hiking up mountains or driving through nature in Switzerland, where he played pro hockey before coming to Columbus
Favorite dance move: The Moonwalk
Connection to Richard Nixon: Merzlikins was born April 13, 1994, nine days before the disgraced president’s death.
Big-screen avatar: If there’s ever a movie made about his life, he’d like to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Highlight of 2019–20: His first NHL shutout, a 1-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in January
Biggest inspiration: The blues of Beale Street in Memphis, the country of the Grand Ole Opry, the gospel of his youth
Favorite Elvis songs: Internet research suggests he particularly liked “Don’t Be Cruel” and “It’s Now or Never,” but Presley never heard Junkie XL’s remix of “A Little Less Conversation.”
Hobbies: Rollercoasters, karate, football, racquetball and watching movies, according to graceland.com
Favorite dance move: The one Ed Sullivan wouldn’t show, which the defunct Columbus Citizen newspaper once referred to as “bump and grind”
Connection to Richard Nixon: On Dec. 21, 1970, Presley went to the White House to meet Nixon, who granted The King’s request for a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Big-screen avatar: The Baz Luhrmann biopic “Elvis,” currently slated for November 2021, stars Austin Butler, whose most notable role was playing Tex Watson in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Highlight of 2019–20: Claiming the No. 2 spot on Forbes’ list of moneymaking dead celebrities