Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals meet again: Same series, different year

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals meet again: Same series, different year

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26523892

ARLINGTON, Va. — Like tourists flocking to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, the Pittsburgh Penguins making a trip to Washington in the playoffs has become a rite of spring.

The Penguins and Capitals will face off in the second round for the third consecutive year with the core groups changed only slightly from past battles. Back-to-back Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh still has playoff MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Washington still has stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom trying to make the Eastern Conference final for the first time.

“We faced each other for a lot of games, and we should know each other right now inside out,” Backstrom said. “That’s just how it is. It’s usually tight series and one-goal games. We’re excited about this one.”

It’s hard not to get the “Groundhog Day” feeling about these teams meeting for the fourth time in the past 10 years. The Penguins won the previous three series despite not having home-ice advantage, twice winning Game 7 in Washington on the way to capturing the Stanley Cup.

But this year is different in many ways, most notably on the Pittsburgh injury front. Malkin and winger Carl Hagelin will miss Game 1 on Thursday night in Washington. Coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin will travel, making him a possibility to play in Game 2 this weekend after missing the end of the Philadelphia series with an apparent lower-body injury.

“I think guys have to step up in different roles maybe,” Crosby said. “I don’t think anybody has to put too much pressure on themselves. Collectively we can find ways and those are guys who aren’t easy to replace, but that’s what we’re faced with.”

A year after the last series between these two division rivals, gone from the Penguins are forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, defensemen Trevor Daley, Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Gone from the Capitals are forwards Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

“They have different personnel, we have different personnel,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who’s back after missing the 2017 playoffs because of neck surgery. “The series is going to play out differently. The game is going to be won differently. You don’t know how it is going to go.”

Pittsburgh, trying for a rare championship threepeat, has won nine of 10 all-time series against Washington, many of which predate current players and coaches. But Capitals coach Barry Trotz said it’s “fitting” his team must again go through its nemesis to advance.

Asked why this year the outcome will be different, Ovechkin said: “I don’t know. One day, it have to happen. If we want to get success, we have to beat Pittsburgh and move forward.”


Crosby has won 44 of the 70 previous games against Ovechkin in the NHL regular season and playoffs, world junior championships, world championships, World Cup and Olympics. There may not be another dueling hat tricks game like the one in the 2009 playoffs, but Crosby and Ovechkin are red hot going into their latest showdown. Crosby is tied at 13 points with linemate Jake Guentzel for the scoring lead in the playoffs, and Ovechkin’s five power-play goals helped Washington beat Columbus in six.

“This year I think he’s playing his best, but it’s good to see,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin. “Hopefully everyone can raise our level here in the second round.”


The Penguins relied heavily on their top-ranked power play unit to land a 12th straight playoff berth — the longest active streak in the NHL — but their title bid will rely heavily on a penalty kill that’s been uneven at best. Pittsburgh was a middling 17th during the regular season (80 percent) but killed 90.5 percent of Philadelphia’s power plays in the opening round. Washington scored just once with the man advantage in four regular season meetings with the Penguins, who kept Ovechkin in check.

“You have to reduce his time,” Letang said. “You don’t want him to have all kinds of time to really use that puck.”


Penguins goaltender Matt Murray won the Cup twice as a “rookie” by NHL standards after backstopping the Penguins to titles in 2016 and 2017. He missed all of Pittsburgh’s playoff series against Washington, however, while recovering from a lower-body injury. The 23-year-old has been up and down against Washington in his brief career and is coming off a Philadelphia series in which he flip-flopped between great (two shutouts) and not-so great (allowing four-or-more goals twice). Still, Murray has never lost a playoff series he’s played in, and even after giving up four quick goals in the first 21 minutes of Game 6 against Philadelphia, he limited the Flyers to just one the rest of the way to give his teammates time to rally.


Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby allowed six goals on 35 shots through the first two games of the Penguins series last year before getting his game back together. He has only allowed 10 on 137 shots in four-plus games since replacing Philipp Grubauer this time around and looks like a goalie who can match Murray save for save.

AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed.
Elite teams have success in the NFL draft on Day 3 and later

Elite teams have success in the NFL draft on Day 3 and later

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26523739

PHILADELPHIA — Eighteen starters in the last Super Bowl were selected in the fourth round or lower, including six players who didn’t get a call until the NFL draft was over.

While first-round picks receive most of the attention and players chosen the first two days of the draft get more money and better job security, success on Day 3 of the draft often separates the elite teams from the good ones.

That was evident when the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots met in February. Corey Clement had 100 yards receiving and one touchdown and LeGarrette Blount ran for 90 yards and one touchdown in Philadelphia’s 41-33 victory. Danny Amendola led the Patriots with 152 yards receiving and Chris Hogan had 128.

All four players were undrafted free agents.

The Eagles enter this week with only six picks in the draft and none on Day 2 so there’s a bigger emphasis for them to hit on some of their picks in the later rounds and find quality rookies in free agency.

It won’t be easy, however.

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl and we don’t have a second- or third-round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” said Joe Douglas, the team’s executive vice president of player personnel. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make your team. It’s going to be a challenge for us, and we know it, and we’re going to attack it, and I think our guys are going to do a great job recruiting some of these guys who slip through the cracks like we did last year. But it is going to be a challenge because there’s going to be some guys who think there’s a tougher shot of making the team.”

One way to combat that is to offer more guaranteed money to undrafted rookies. It helped the Eagles snag Clement last year after he ran for 1,375 yards his senior season at Wisconsin.

Tom Brady‘s story is known, going from sixth-round pick to five-time Super Bowl champion. Three of the offensive linemen blocking for him last year were under-the-radar guys, too. Center David Andrews was undrafted, and right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Cameron Fleming were fourth-round picks. Overall, the Patriots had 18 undrafted players on the Super Bowl roster.

The Jaguars, who lost the AFC championship game, got Pro Bowl linebacker Telvin Smith (fifth round, 2014) on Day 3 of the draft. They also relied on two rookie receivers late in the season: fourth-round pick Dede Westbrook and undrafted Keelan Cole.

“You’re looking for those types of nuggets,” said Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville’s top executive. “You’re talking about value. That’s what this is all about, so when you get a player in that circumstance and you’ve done the research on the guy, you know the guy solid and it happens to be that he’s there for you, then obviously you feel very good about that.”

Titans general manager Jon Robinson said his scouting department has focused the past couple of weeks on finding value in the late rounds and after the draft.

“Anytime you can get return on those guys in those later rounds with play on the field whether it be offensively, defensively, in the kicking game, I think that’s good,” Robinson said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job the last couple years of finding some guys to carve out a niche, carve out a role on this football team and contribute. So we’re hoping we can kind of sift through those guys over the weekend and come away with a couple that can help us.”

Accumulating more picks, especially in the later rounds, certainly helps a team’s chances of adding a solid contributor. Minnesota, which lost the NFC title game, has eight draft picks, including five on Day 3.

“Sure, you’re going to have your misses. But, the more swings that you get at the plate, the better odds you have of hitting the ball,” said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. “If you only get to bat twice, you’ve got maybe a 50-50 chance. If you get to bat 10 times, hopefully your 50-50 chance, your odds have increased pretty good. I think it’s taking as many swings as you can down in those later rounds.”

San Francisco GM John Lynch had success with third-day picks and rookie free agents last year, adding Trent Taylor, George Kittle, D.J. Jones, Adrian Colbert, Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne.

“When you can hit at that part of the draft, and/or free agency, it’s a really good thing,” Lynch said. “Shoot, we picked guys off of tryout camp last year. … Everyone focuses on the work up top with No. 9 but we really try to take a holistic look at this thing and pride ourselves on being real strong on the back end of the draft.”

AP Pro Football Writers Josh Dubow, Teresa M. Walker and Dave Campbell, and AP Sports Writer Mark Long contributed to this report.
Paul Richardson, former Colorado Buffaloes star receiver, claims Virginia trooper asked if he was ga

Paul Richardson, former Colorado Buffaloes star receiver, claims Virginia trooper asked if he was ga

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26523740

Tuesday by a Virginia state trooper who asked him whether he was a gang member and expressed the belief that he dealt drugs.

The player, Paul Richardson Jr., made the claim in a tweet that was later deleted. However, television stations showed images of it. The tweet was brought to the attention of state police, which said the matter was under review.

In a statement, police said that no formal complaint had been filed, but that they were looking into the matter. The review would extend to the trooper’s “in-car camera footage of the traffic stop” to determine whether it conformed to state police policy, the police said.

According to state police, Richardson was ticketed after a trooper made a stop of a Mercedes SUV about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at an exit ramp from the Dulles Toll Road.

In their statement, police said the trooper initiated the stop because the SUV lacked the license plates required by state law.

Police said Richardson, whom they described as 26 and a resident of Ashburn, Virginia, was given a traffic summons alleging that the vehicle was not properly registered.

In a second tweet about the incident, sent about a minute after the first, and also deleted, Richardson said he had been ticketed for having only temporary registration. But he said that he had had the vehicle only two weeks and that two months was allotted for re-registering it in Virginia.

Richardson recently signed a five-year contract with the Redskins valued at $40 million. Last season he played for the Seattle Seahawks. He had 44 catches for more than 700 yards and six touchdowns during the 2017 season.

Although depicted on the websites of at least two Washington television stations, Richardson’s tweets could not be found on his feed late Tuesday. He appeared, however, to address the matter in a tweet that was posted on his feed not long after the two that gave his account of the incident.

“It’s true, but tweeting about it wasn’t the right way to deal,” the tweet said.

In the first of his two deleted tweets, Richardson had this to say of the highway incident: “What a welcome to the east coast.”
It feels like the end of an era for the San Antonio Spurs

It feels like the end of an era for the San Antonio Spurs

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26523168

OAKLAND, Calif. — For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been the NBA’s constant. One great team after another has come and gone, and all the while the Spurs have been ever-present at the top of the NBA standings for more than two decades.

The names and faces have remained constant as well: Gregg Popovich. Tim Duncan. Manu Ginóbili. Tony Parker. R.C. Buford.

It is that metronomic quality that has come to define this franchise that has made the past week — and this entire season — so strange. By the time San Antonio was eliminated by the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, there was almost a sense of relief around this franchise.

It also felt like the end of an era.

Duncan retired two years ago. Parker and Ginobili are both free agents and could find themselves playing elsewhere next season or retiring, respectively. Popovich hasn’t been with the team for the past week as he copes with the death of his wife, Erin. And Kawhi Leonard remains in New York, rehabbing his injured quad and preparing for his murky future.

All of it leaves the Spurs — for so long the picture of stability — adjusting to the reality the rest of the NBA has always known as they stare at an offseason full of uncertainty.

The biggest domino, of course, is Leonard. San Antonio must decide whether to offer him more than $200 million in a designated veteran player extension, which would make him the cornerstone of the franchise.

If the Spurs decide not to — which, given the relationship between his camp and the organization this season, is a real possibility — then he’ll almost certainly be traded.

Then there is Ginobili, the ageless Argentine. Ginobili will be 41 in July but still remains a highly effective bench player — as he was Tuesday night, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and seven assists in just less than 25 minutes. He said he’ll take a month or two to think about his decision, as he has in past years. And he said whether the Spurs can be a contender will have nothing to do with it.

“A lot of things have got to change for that to factor with my decision,” Ginobili said, when asked whether other personnel decisions would affect his decision. “It’s just a matter of if I see myself as an ex-player or not.

“If I see there is enough or not, and if I see myself as an ex-player or not. I don’t think it depends on other factors.”

The same thoughts don’t apply to his friend and longtime teammate, Tony Parker. The Frenchman was adamant Tuesday — as he has been for weeks — that he will play next season, and that his preference will be to play in San Antonio. But Parker, who will be 36 next month, isn’t likely to get a huge offer from the Spurs. Unlike Ginobili, he wasn’t all that effective in a bench role. He isn’t worth much more than a minimum deal. If he’s looking for more minutes, or more money, he might have to go elsewhere.

Three other Spurs — Danny Green, Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne — have player options, and Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans will be restricted free agents.

Turnover also is possible on the coaching staff. Three of Popovich’s assistants — Ettore Messina, James Borrego and Ime Udoka — will be interviewing for head coaching jobs. Of them, Messina is the most likely to latch on somewhere this summer, but it wouldn’t be surprising if at least two of them were running their own teams next season.

That’s an unthinkable amount of potential change for a team with so many familiar faces. Popovich has been San Antonio’s coach for more than two decades. Parker and Ginobili have played there 17 and 16 years, respectively. Green has been in San Antonio for eight seasons. Leonard has played there for seven, as has Patty Mills.

The franchise projects calm and serenity in a league full of madness and player shuffling in 29 other cities. This season, though, has changed all of that. Drama such as that surrounding Leonard isn’t just uncommon in San Antonio — it’s unheard of. The thought of Parker or Ginobili not being in a Spurs uniform is unthinkable.

Yet all of it is possible. All good things must come to an end someday. That goes for NBA dynasties as well.

San Antonio has held off Father Time longer, and better, than any team before it. The Spurs have shifted seamlessly from David Robinson to Duncan to Ginobili to Parker to Leonard, winning five titles along the way and creating the model that virtually every team in the league has tried to emulate.

The Spurs held off the reality of life in the NBA for so long, it felt like they might have created their own reality in San Antonio. This season, though, proved they had only expertly delayed the inevitable.

Now, it feels as if the inevitable has finally arrived.
Mostly American World Cup announcers for Fox

Mostly American World Cup announcers for Fox

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26522548

NEW YORK — Fox’s World Cup debut will have an American accent, even though the United States failed to qualify for the tournament.

And many of the game broadcasters will be based in the U.S.

The network told The Associated Press it will announce Wednesday that eight of its 12 match commentators will be American, headed by the lead team of John Strong and Stu Holden.

Aly Wagner will be the first female game analyst for a men’s World Cup on U.S. television.

Fox’s coverage will be a marked contrast to British voices that dominated ESPN’s telecasts of the past two tournaments.

JP Dellacamera and Tony Meola will be Fox’s only other crew based in Russia and will call the host nation’s opener against Saudi Arabia on June 14. Strong and Holden start with the Spain-Portugal game the following day and will work the final on July 15.

The other four crews will broadcast from Fox’s studios in Los Angeles, where Wagner will be paired with Derek Rae, who broadcast the last two World Cups for ESPN. The other crews are Glenn Davis and Cobi Jones, Jorge Perez Navarro and Mariano Trujillo, and Mark Followill and Warren Barton.

Rae (Scotland) and Barton (England) are the only British voices. Perez Navarro, on loan from ESPN Deportes, and Trujillo form an all-Mexican pairing. While born in Scotland, Holden grew up in Texas and made 25 appearances for the U.S. national team from 2008-13 in a career shortened by knee injuries.

“It’s become a lazy comparison and people judging the voices just purely on an accent,” Holden said. “American voices should be seen as normal.”

ESPN’s used five British play-by-play announcers in 2014 — Ian Darke, Jon Champion, Adrian Healey, Daniel Mann and Rae — along with Fernando Palomo, who was born in El Salvador.

“There’s no question that we did this deliberately, and the message is that we have an abundance of outstanding American play-by-play voices and frankly it would make no sense not to avail ourselves of that,” said David Neal, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage. “It’s as solid a group of American voices as have ever been collected for a World Cup.”

Strong and Holden are both 32. Strong calls it a generational change “riding this wave of soccer in America and these cultural touchstones of MLS and Fox Soccer Channel and the FIFA video games.”

Wagner, who scored 21 goals in 131 international appearances from 1998-2008, called Cameroon-Chile, Chile-Australia and Cameroon-Australia for Fox alongside Dellacamera during last year’s Confederations Cup. Rae and Wagner have nine group-stage games, opening with Morocco-Iran on June 15.

“It wasn’t that I set out to end up calling a men’s World Cup match, but my path has led me here now and I’ll be extremely proud doing it,” Wagner said. “Hopefully I can prove it’s about my effort and my work and my passion and my commitment and my love for the game that comes through when I call the match as opposed to it having anything to do with being the first female.”

Argentine Viviana Vila was announced last month as a match analyst for Telemundo, the Comcast-owned network that has U.S. Spanish-language television rights.

ESPN broadcast six straight World Cups from 1994-2014 but in 2011 Fox won bidding for the 2018 and ’22 tournaments. After FIFA shifted Qatar 2022 from summer to a November start opposite the NFL and college football, FIFA gave Fox 2026 rights without competitive bidding.

For the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, ESPN broadcast 47 matches from its studios in Bristol, Connecticut, and had just one on-site broadcast pair. There were 23 games called from Bristol in 2006, when the network had three crews in Germany.

ESPN expanded to four crews in South Africa in 2010 and called seven matches from the International Broadcast Center in Johannesburg, then used five pairings four years ago in Brazil and had 13 games broadcast from the IBC in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s not an advantage at all. You’re limited in what you get to see,” Wagner said. “I’m hoping that we’ll have maybe an extra cam, like a tactical-view cam. That will help. But sometimes you’re just limited to what the viewers at home see. It just gives you a different perspective when you are able to be at the game.”

Telemundo will call the majority of the matches from stadiums, with the rest from the IBC in Moscow, spokeswoman Eva Mejicanos said.

Neal said “the technology allows us now to leave a lot of our operations in U.S., and there’s no reason not to do that.” He would not say whether the U.S. failure to qualify caused budget cutbacks that altered the total of on-site crews in Russia.

“You have to adjust to your circumstances, and this is what works best for us now given the circumstances,” he said.

Fox will broadcast all matches on site from the quarterfinals on. Thirty-eight matches will be on the main Fox network and 26 on FS1. The final on Fox kicks off at 11 a.m. EDT, two hours after the start of the Wimbledon men’s single final, to be televised by ESPN.

Rob Stone will be the lead host in the studio, which was constructed two weeks ago in Stuttgart, Germany, taken apart and put in trucks to be taken to Moscow, where it will be reassembled in Red Square. Other studio hosts include Kate Abdo, Fernando Fiore and Ian Joy.

Among the studio analysts are Lothar Matthaeus, Alexi Lalas, Hernan Crespo, Guus Hiddink, Ian Wright and Kelly Smith. Fox’s reporting will be supplemented by coverage from Britain’s Sky Sports, Sky Germany, Fox Sports Brazil and Fox Sports Argentina.

Former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel had been set to be part of Fox’s coverage before he was hired in November to coach Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, and Landon Donovan withdrew from coverage plans after coming out of retirement to play for the Mexican club Leon. Former American forward Eric Wynalda left Fox to run for U.S. Soccer Federation president and has not returned since losing to Carlos Cordeiro in February.
A brief history of No. 8 seeds upsetting No. 1 seeds in the NBA playoffs

A brief history of No. 8 seeds upsetting No. 1 seeds in the NBA playoffs

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26522183

With wins over the Toronto Raptors in Games 3 and 4 this past weekend, the Washington Wizards put themselves in a position to make history.

If the Wizards can win two of the last three games of this series, they’ll become just the sixth No. 8 seed in NBA history to beat a No. 1 seed and advance to the second round. Only one other No. 8 seed — the 1994 Denver Nuggets — has pulled off the feat after losing the first two games of the series. No team has done it since the first round expanded to best-of-seven. The Wizards would be the first.

Each series had mitigating circumstances — injuries, bad matchups or short series — that helped the underdog win. Here’s a look at each of them:

1994: Denver Nuggets upset Seattle SuperSonics, 3-2

The iconic image of the Nuggets upsetting the dominant Sonics — future Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo lying on the ground holding the ball above his head with both hands — is what everyone remembers, but this truly was a monumental upset. Seattle, led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, won 63 games and had the best record in the NBA’s first season without Michael Jordan in the playoffs. While Seattle would eventually make it to the Finals with this core — in 1995-96, when it pushed Jordan’s 72-win Bulls to six games — this was probably their best chance to win a title, and they didn’t even get out of the first round. Denver recovered from a 2-0 deficit to take the best-of-five series.

1999: New York Knicks upset Miami Heat, 3-2

This series also has an iconic image: Allan Houston’s finger roll layup to win Game 5, which completed one of the defining rivalries of the decade. Because of the lockout-shortened 50-game season, this wasn’t a typical 1-8 matchup, and New York made Miami pay. The Knicks would also become the only one of these five teams to win more than one round, advancing all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in five games.

2007: Golden State Warriors upset Dallas Mavericks, 4-2

The “We Believe” Warriors had one of the most eclectic rosters in NBA history, with Don Nelson as coach of a team anchored by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Matt Barnes and Al Harrington. Dallas, which had lost to the Heat in the Finals a year before, won a league-leading 67 games that season, as Dirk Nowitzki earned his lone MVP award. But this was a classic instance of the old adage that styles make fights, and Golden State’s ability to play small — combined with a rabid crowd at Oracle Arena that got behind the Warriors making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years — was enough to help the Warriors sweep the three games in Oakland and take the series in six.

2011: Memphis Grizzlies upset Antonio Spurs, 4-2

The final two entries on this list came to pass because of injuries to key players. For the Spurs, it was because of a sprained elbow for Manu Ginobili, which caused him to miss the opener, a game San Antonio then lost. And while Ginobili came back and played in the remainder of the series — and played well, too — that opening game turned out to be the only one the home team lost, as the Grizzlies not only won their first playoff game ever but their first playoff series, as well.

2012: Philadelphia 76ers upset Chicago Bulls, 4-2

Unlike Ginobili, who didn’t have his career significantly altered by that injury in 2011, the course of NBA history was altered drastically when Derrick Rose drove to the hoop in the final minute of Game 1 — which Chicago was winning comfortably at the time — and came crashing down to the floor, having torn his anterior cruciate ligament. That turned out to be one of a series of knee injuries for Rose, robbing the Bulls of the chance to truly contend with LeBron James and the Heat. The Bulls hung around for six games against Philadelphia before losing. The Sixers then pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the second round before eventually losing. Ironically, this success for Philadelphia caused the organization to make a swing to go to the next level by trading for Andrew Bynum that summer. When that turned into a disaster, the front office was cleaned out, leading the way for Sam Hinkie — and the beginnings of the team Philadelphia now has in place.
Commission on College Basketball: NCAA should ban cheats, let players go pro

Commission on College Basketball: NCAA should ban cheats, let players go pro

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26522071

INDIANAPOLIS — The Commission on College Basketball sharply directed the NCAA to take control of the sport, calling for sweeping reforms to separate pro and college tracks, permit players to return to school after going undrafted by the NBA and ban cheating coaches for life.

The independent commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, released a detailed 60-page report Wednesday, seven months after the group was formed by the NCAA in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme, and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

“The members of this commission come from a wide variety of backgrounds but the one thing that they share in common is that they believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP Tuesday night, before addressing NCAA leaders on Wednesday morning. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong.

“We had to be bold in our recommendations,” she said.

It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, and some of the panel’s key recommendations would require cooperation from the NBA, its players union and USA Basketball.

The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that includes AAU leagues and brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding college basketball “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

The group recommended the NCAA have more involvement with players before they get to college and less involvement with enforcement. It also acknowledged the NCAA will need help to make some changes and defended its amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

Rice presented the commission’s report to the NCAA’s Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors at the association’s headquarters Wednesday. She called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”

The two groups of university presidents planned to meet after Rice’s presentation to consider adopting the commission’s recommendations. If adopted, the hard work of turning the recommendations into NCAA legislation begins.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said he wants reforms in place by August. The commission does, too. And it wants to review the NCAA’s plans for implementation before it goes before the boards for approval.

“A lot of hard work to do now to take those recommendations and convert them into actionable agendas, but that’s the job of the board and my staff,” Emmert said.

The 12-member panel included college administrators and former coaches and players, and was tasked with finding ways to reform five areas: NBA draft rules, including the league’s age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done players; the relationship between players and agents; non-scholastic basketball like AAU; involvement of apparel companies and NCAA enforcement.

NCAA officials mostly stayed out of the process. Emmert and Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson were part of the commission, but not included in executive sessions, when proposals were being formed. The commission spent 70 percent of its time in executive session, Rice said, and kept its work secret until Wednesday’s reveal.

The overarching message to those in college athletics: Take responsibility for problems you have created.


The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.

The NBA and players union released a statement supportive of the commission’s recommendations on enforcement and sharing concerns about youth basketball. On draft rules, however, there was no commitment.

“Regarding the NBA’s draft eligibility rules, the NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.

The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.

“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.

The commission decided against attempting to mirror rules for baseball but said it could reconsider. Major League Baseball drafts players out of high school, but once an athlete goes to college he is not eligible to be drafted until after his third year. Baseball players can also return for their senior seasons after being drafted as long as they do not sign professional contracts.

The commission did take a piece of the baseball model and recommended basketball players be allowed to test the professional market in high school or after any college season, while still maintaining college eligibility. If undrafted, a college player would remain eligible as long as he requests an evaluation from the NBA and returns to the same school. Players could still leave college for professional careers after one year, but the rules would not compel them to do so.


The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.

In those cases, then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who was later fired after being tied to the FBI investigation, received a five-game NCAA suspension for violations related to an assistant coach hiring strippers for recruits, and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine games for academic misconduct and extra benefits violations. The commission said suspensions should be longer, up to one full season.

Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans. The commission also said coaches and administrators should be contractually obligated comply with NCAA investigations.

“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.


The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents, and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.


The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer, the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.

The NCAA should require greater transparency of the finances of what it called non-scholastic basketball events and ban its coaches from attending those that do not comply with more stringent vetting, the report said. Such a ban could wipe out AAU events that have flourished in showcasing future talent.


The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.

The commission also called out university presidents, saying administrators can’t be allowed to turn a blind eye to infractions.

To that end, the commission said university presidents should be required to “certify annually that they have conducted due diligence and that their athletic programs comply with NCAA rules.”

The commission recommended the NCAA Board of Governors, currently comprised of 16 university presidents and chancellors, include five public members with full voting privileges who are not currently employed as university leaders.

Finally, the commission admonished those within college sports who use the NCAA as a scapegoat for the problems in basketball, saying universities and individuals are accountable for keeping the game clean.

“When those institutions and those responsible for leading them short-circuit rules, ethics and norms in order to achieve on-court success, they alone are responsible,” the commission wrote. “Too often, these individuals hide behind the NCAA when they are the ones most responsible for the degraded state of intercollegiate athletics, in general, and college basketball in particular.”
Get a grip: Axe Bat is trying to revolutionize baseball bats

Get a grip: Axe Bat is trying to revolutionize baseball bats

26/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26521796

RENTON, Wash. — Players have been altering bats for decades in a bid to improve their grip — adding pine-tar or some specialized grip tape, maybe shaving the handle slightly to make it thinner.

Gradually, some players have started gravitating to a more revolutionary option offered by a company that set up shop deep in a warehouse in Renton, Washington. As the company’s name suggests, Axe Bat has developed a bat that fundamentally changes the shape of the bat’s handle so you hold it like an axe.

Some major leaguers like the feel. Others have turned to the axe handle as an option after hand or forearm injuries.

Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts and Astros outfielder George Springer are the biggest proponents and the only two paid endorsers by the company. But there are many others — Jake Lamb, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Correa, even Kris Bryant this season — who have used the bat handle at one time or another.

Each has a different reason for turning to this style of bat, whether it’s a desire to be better on inside pitches, to reduce hand and wrist pain, or simply wanting to try something different.

“I had issues with my hand with hamate surgery and I just noticed it never hurt,” Lamb said. “If you’re talking about hand health and my hand not hurting anymore, then yeah, I’m going to try out your product. That was the main thing for me.”

The history of Axe Bat dates to 2009 when a woodworker from New York named Bruce Leinart started reaching out to sporting goods companies to see if they were interested in his wood baseball bat designed with the axe-like handle. He found a willing ear in Baden Sports, the company that started Axe Bat.

The Axe Bat lab where the company has developed and refined its designs is tucked away in the Baden Sports warehouse about 15 miles from the Seattle Mariners‘ Safeco Field. The company developed its first bat in 2012 and it has gone through roughly 75 iterations before getting to where it is today.

“Lots of testing with players. Lots of prototyping. Lots of iterations,” said Brent Weidenbach, director of product management. “Basically, the iteration process stated with taking the general axe handle concept which was maybe a little more oval in your hand and really opened up your hand quite wide, and we kind of refined it to work more along with a baseball swing.”

Axe Bat licenses its handle design to four MLB-approved bat makers: Victus Sports, Tucci Lumber, Chandler Bats, and Dove Tail Bats.

Springer first tried it because his teammate Correa had one. It was Betts who left Springer his first bat to use full-time during the 2015 season. In the two full seasons that Springer has used the handle, he hit a combined .271 with 63 home runs, 167 RBIs and was a World Series MVP.

“It takes a little bit of getting used to having a non-traditional handle on a bat but I got the hang of it and I love it,” Springer said. “I think it’s helped me control my barrel more and it’s helped me control my swing more and I’m going to stick with it.”

Betts was introduced to the bat because Pedroia was trying one out. Same with Chris Owings in Arizona, who saw the success Lamb was having and decided to give it a shot in batting practice one day and ended up getting a couple of hits that night.

“You know how it is. You get something you like, why change it?” Owings said. “I like how it feels and I’m probably not going to try and get any other handles beside that standard one.”

While it seemed to be a novelty initially, the idea is gaining more respect among major leaguers. The success of Betts, Springer and Lamb is a big part of the growth at the pro level. The bat has also made inroads at the youth and collegiate levels, mostly at the Division II, Division III and NAIA level.

Trevor Stocking, the company’s director of product marketing and the MLB liaison, said one of their advantages is they’re not presenting an entirely new bat to players.

Hitters can still have the same type of barrel and same wood they’ve used in the past, it’s just a matter of whether an axe handle or a standard handle is better for their swing. In that way it’s almost like a customizable driver used by golfers.

“Some of it’s about getting one of those guys — the front-office guys, the hitting coach or one of the good players on the team — to just say, ‘Just listen to this guy, just try this, what do you have to lose?'” Stocking said. “If you don’t like it, so be it. We can always find something different. My job is to get them comfortable. We’re not a bat company. That’s kind of the cool thing. We’re not going out there selling bats. … My only job there is to only help them with their swing.”

Jay Helmick, senior vice president of Axe Bat, sees a possible future scenario where a bat is constructed specific to a player’s swing.

“Three years ago was a little more challenging. A lot more explaining had to go into the pitch,” Helmick said. “Now you can name one of our 30 players who have used it and that will be enough for most people to try it.”

AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.
The Denver Post’s 2018 NFL Mock Draft 3.0: Broncos to rethink picking a quarterback?

The Denver Post’s 2018 NFL Mock Draft 3.0: Broncos to rethink picking a quarterback?

25/04/2018, Denver, Multi Sports, Denver Post Publication, Article # 26520239

The 2018 NFL draft begins Thursday night, and it feels like everyone is an “expert.” Whether it’s ESPN, CBS Sports, the NFL Network, or any other big-name media outlet, every insider has their mock draft, and few of them actually align.

With that in mind, we decided to find our own “expert” for our third and final mock draft of the year, 13-year-old Gabe Harrison of Westminster, to share his thoughts on who every team will pick in the first round.

1. Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC. The safest quarterback in this draft to take, despite his fumble issues. Tyrod Taylor isn’t a long-term solution for Cleveland; Darnold can be.

2. Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. The best overall player available in the draft, Eli Manning and the Giants’ passing attack could use a quality back to keep defenses honest.

3. Jets: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. Has struggled with accuracy, but has a big arm and game-changing capabilities. Without him on the field last year, Wyoming struggled to move the ball.

4. Bills (via trade with Browns): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Rosen has some red flags and could easily be a bust, but Buffalo needs a top-rated quarterback. Rosen is worth the risk.

5. Broncos: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State. If the Broncos are looking for someone to come in and play immediately, Chubb is an obvious choice. The thought of a defense with Chubb, Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray is enough to making any opposing quarterback tremble.

6. Colts: Quenton Nelson, OT, Notre Dame. Andrew Luck is in need of protection given his recent string of injuries.

7. Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama. Tampa Bay needs a good corner after a 2017 season in which it ranked last in the league in total defense.

8. Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Chicago is one good player away from having a top-tier defense. Ward can be that guy.

9. 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. San Francisco’s offense is getting better, now its defense needs a boost to help stop those running backs and tight ends in the NFC West.

10. Raiders: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida. He would go higher in the draft if it weren’t for concerns off the field. Oakland could use more help stopping the pass.

11. Dolphins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington. Miami needs a run-stopper in the middle to help get its defense off the field, especially with Ndamukong Suh leaving for the Rams.

12. Browns: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The loss of Joe Thomas means Cleveland needs a new staple of its offensive line to protect an ever-rotating wheel of quarterbacks.

13. Redskins: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. He can help with Washington’s ability to create turnovers, keeping new quarterback Alex Smith and the offense on the field longer.

14. Packers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. Jackson can bring to the Packers something they’ve been missing despite their effort in last year’s draft – a shutdown corner. Green Bay needs to reload on defense.

15. Cardinals: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. After signing fellow Sooner Sam Bradford to a one-year deal, Arizona needs a long-term solution at quarterback, and Mayfield can learn from a fellow Heisman Trophy winner.

16. Ravens: Derwin James, S, Florida State. With Eric Weddle getting up there in age, Baltimore will need to add a reliable piece to its secondary.

17. Chargers: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Adding to Ridley to the mix with Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen will give Los Angeles a deadly receiving corps.

18. Seahawks: Marcus Davenport, DT, Texas San Antonio. The loss of Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson, Seattle will need to reload with pass-rushers.

19. Cowboys: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. Dallas already has a solid offense led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, now it needs to establish itself on the defensive end, where it ranked middle of the road last season.

20. Lions: James Daniels, C, Iowa. Detroit will need to create holes for its running backs and keep veteran quarterback Matt Stafford off the turf.

21. Bengals: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. Adding Payne to a defensive line that already features Gino Atkins will make running backs think twice before trying to go up the middle.

22. Bills: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland. With the loss of Sammy Watkins, the Bills need a dynamic wide receiver to fill the void.

23. Patriots: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College. New England needs a quality edge rusher to help a struggling defense return to the top of its game.

24. Panthers: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. The loss of Calvin Benjamin means the Panthers will need a go-to target to return its receiving core back toward the glory days.

25. Titans: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. Getting to the playoffs was a huge success for Tennessee, and to make it back, the Titans will need to make sure their strong rush defense doesn’t lose a step.

26. Falcons: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. With Matt Ryan’s contract extension still looming, the Falcons would be smart to add a change-of-pace quarterback they can groom for the future.

27. Saints: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State. Drew Brees is nearing retirement, and the Saints need a quarterback-in-waiting who can blossom better than Garrett Grayson did.

28. Steelers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville. Pittsburgh’s dynamic offense needs help in the secondary to avoid another early playoff exit.

29. Jaguars: Will Hernandez, OT, UTEP: After re-signing Blake Bortles, Jacksonville needs a quality tackle to help Bortles and running back Leonard Fournette continue to develop.

30. Vikings: Donte Jackson, CB, LSU. Minnesota is set on offense with the signing of Kirk Cousins. Now the Vikings needs need help on the defensive end to finally reach the Super Bowl.

31. Patriots: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State. With an elite passing game, New England needs more punch from its running backs to help Tom Brady win yet another ring, and this first-round sleeper can be just that.

32. Eagles: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. There’s not much the Super Bowl champions need to improve on, but adding a play-making wide receiver can help the birds “soar” yet again.