August 29, 2013
BY HOWARD FENDRICH
From the earnest explanation of why Gary the Snail is her favorite “SpongeBob SquarePants” character to the name-check of rapper Lil Wayne, Victoria Duval made quite clear she is very much a 17-year-old kid.
One who just so happened to stun 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round of the U.S. Open.
Overcoming the sort of nerves that derive from never before having played this highly ranked an opponent — let alone beaten one — and never before having won a match at a Grand Slam tournament, Duval hopped up and down with arms overhead after pulling off her big surprise at Flushing Meadows, a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over the 11th-seeded Stosur.
“I don’t even remember match point,” the 296th-ranked American said Tuesday night, less than two hours after closing out Stosur with a forehand winner. “I guess I was really happy. I mean, you could tell by all the jumping I did.”
She wore a white towel around her neck, giggled at her own squeaky-voiced answers, and genuinely seemed to be enjoying the whole experience during a news conference that was a meandering affair, befitting Duval’s bubbly personality — and the long, unique journey that brought her to this point.
Duval, currently based in Bradenton, Fla., was born in Florida, but grew up in her parents’ home country of Haiti. She said that when she was 7, she and some cousins were taken hostage there by robbers.
“It’s not a good memory, so I’ve tried to forget as much as I could about it,” Duval said when the subject was raised. “I don’t remember too much of it anymore, which is great.”
Then, in 2010, when Haiti was rocked by an earthquake, her father was buried in rubble and badly injured, Duval said.
“There’s a lot to be thankful for. I don’t take anything for granted. ... My Dad is really fortunate to be here,” she told the Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd during an on-court interview.
Duval, who needed to go through qualifying to get into the U.S. Open because her ranking is so low, joined eight other American women in the second round of the main draw. Tuesday also was a good day for American men, who went 5-2, led by No. 13 John Isner and No. 26 Sam Querrey.
“We’re obviously trying to make American tennis become what it used to be,” Duval said. “We”re all working toward the same goal. We’re all a tight-knit group. Helping each other is important. I think we’re on an amazing path.”
The first American to play Wednesday was CoCo Vandeweghe, who dropped her second-round match 6-3, 6-4, to 18th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro. Others on the schedule included past champions Serena and Venus Williams, 15th-seeded Sloane Stephens, 23rd-seeded Jamie Hampton, and 33-year-old James Blake, who announced the U.S. Open will be the last tournament of his career. Also on the schedule: Andy Murray, the defending men’s champion who added a Wimbledon championship last month.
In other early matches Wednesday, No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 5 Li Na advanced to the third round with straight-set victories.
Until Tuesday, Duval did not own a victory over anyone ranked higher than 69th. She had not faced a woman in the top 20. She only had played one match at a major tournament, a first-round loss to Kim Clijsters at last year’s U.S. Open (which turned out to be the final singles victory of the Belgian's career).
Stosur was unhappy with the way she played Tuesday, including 10 double-faults and a total of 56 unforced errors, 21 more than Duval.
“I’m not going to be a sore loser and say she didn’t do anything,” said Stosur, an Australian. “But, you know, I think I certainly helped her out there today, that’s for sure.”
Perhaps. But Duval’s game also has benefited from time spent in heady company recently, including mentoring from Billie Jean King and tips from famed tennis coach Nick Bolletieri.
“We have a great relationship,” Duval said. “I call him Uncle Nick.”
Seconding Stosur’s assessment, Duval summed up their match this way: “Although she didn’t play nearly her best today, I played amazing, so I’ll take it.”
And why shouldn’t she? We’ve seen this sort of thing before, and rather recently: In 2009, another 17-year-old American, Melanie Oudin, made it all the way to the quarterfinals in New York by upsetting a series of seeded players, including past champion Maria Sharapova. This year, Oudin lost in U.S. Open qualifying.
Next for Duval, who wears white-framed eyeglasses and a visor on court, is a matchup against Daniela Hantuchova, who has been ranked as high as No. 5 and been a Grand Slam quarterfinalist.
But for an evening, anyway, Duval wanted to relish the biggest win of her nascent career.
And the kid sure seemed to be having a grand ol’ time speaking to reporters, describing herself as “very goofy off the court” and “a child at heart.”
So it made sense that when the subject of the “SpongeBob” cartoon series came up during her media session, she pointed out that “Gary’s cute; Gary doesn’t get enough credit.”
And she brought this up, too: “I heard that Lil Wayne tweeted me. I need to go check that out. I don’t have Twitter. I’m going to go hit that up.”
August 29, 2013
By Nick Valencia
CNN Wire Service
WWE superstar wrestler Darren Young publicly came out as gay during an unplanned interview with the news entertainment website TMZ late Wednesday.
He is the first openly gay wrestler in the organization — which is the premier professional wrestling company — according to a tweet by WWE Executive Vice President Stephanie McMahon.
Young made the statement while at an airport baggage carrousel in Los Angeles after being asked if “a gay wrestler could be successful within the WWE.”
“Absolutely. Look at me. Ya know. I’m a WWE superstar and to be honest with you, I’ll tell you right now, I’m gay. And I'm happy. I’m very happy,” Young said in response to the question.
The revelation, which is not thought to be part of the wrestler's onscreen character, apparently caught the cameraman off guard. He stumbled over his response.
“Man, that’s in ... that's ... sorry. I’m kinda’ of flabbergasted man. I think ... I didn’t know and obviously I think that’s just ... I commend your bravery,” the cameraman said.
“I don’t think it matters. Does it matter? Does it matter to you?...Does it change what you think about me?” Young rhetorically asked after making the statement.
“Not an iota,” TMZ’s cameraman said. “In fact I commend you even more that you would share something so beautiful and personal with me.”
“We're all adults. All sports are physical. When I come to work, I come to work,” Young said. “Business is business.”
He added, “Some people might not like it, and some people will like it.”
When contacted by CNN for comment, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., said, “[The] WWE is proud of Darren Young for being open about his sexuality, and we will continue to support him as a WWE Superstar.”
On Thursday, Young was expected to participate in an anti-bullying event in Los Angeles “to teach children how to create positive environments for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation,” WWE added in its statement.
While Young’s public disclosure made headlines, he is not the first wrestler to come out. In a posthumously released 2011 book, WWE and WCW star Chris Kanyon wrote about being both a gay man and pro wrestler. He committed suicide in April 2010 after battling with mental illness.
August 22, 2013
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
Marqise Lee can't believe Southern California wrapped up training camp Wednesday without choosing a starting quarterback.
''This is crazy,'' the Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver said.
Yet when asked to make the call between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek himself, even Lee acknowledges the difficulty of the decision facing coach Lane Kiffin.
''It's 50-50,'' Lee said, grinning. ''I know y'all don't want to hear 50-50, but that's all I've got.''
Kiffin still hasn't decided between Kessler and Wittek after the 24th-ranked Trojans' final scrimmage at the Coliseum. Not much has separated the two passers hoping to succeed Matt Barkley over the past three weeks, and Kiffin hasn't ruled out using both quarterbacks in games.
''We would like to have had it done a long time ago, but it's not,'' Kiffin said. ''Off of just watching today, prior to going to the film, I don't know that today cleared it up much more. Both guys did some good things.''
Yet neither quarterback did enough to secure the starting spot, leaving Lee unsure who will be throwing passes to him when the Trojans open their season at Hawaii next Thursday. Lee chuckled with disbelief at the idea USC doesn't have a clear-cut starter.
''I'm still waiting,'' Lee said. ''I don't know when Coach Kiffin is going to actually decide. Hope it's by Friday, because that's when we start our (preparation), but at the end of the day, I guess I'm going to be rolling with both until he decides.''
While Wittek started the Trojans' final two games last season, losing to Notre Dame and to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, Kessler has seemed to be a bit sharper than Wittek in spring ball and summer workouts. They're got roughly the same number of snaps in camp, particularly after freshman Max Browne was eliminated from first-team competition earlier in camp.
''I'm sitting here just like you guys - lost,'' Lee said. ''I'm going to continue to get work with both. If it's not (decided) Friday, I'm going to continue to work with both until Kiffin decides. Even if he does decide, I'm going to work with both.''
Kessler started both halves of the no-tackling scrimmage with the first team offense. He threw two interceptions on deflected balls, but also made the game's best throw on a picture-perfect, 55-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor, the new starter in Robert Woods' spot opposite Lee.
''I have no idea,'' Kessler said of the decision. ''I would like to say me, obviously, or I'd even like to say him, but that's up to Coach Kiffin. ... I've been waiting for this moment for a long time, and this is what I've been working toward. Being the starter is part of the goal, but it's not the main goal. My main goal is for this team to win as many games as possible.''
Kessler has countered Wittek's powerful arm and experience with superior mobility and decision-making, but Wittek's big-play capability and improving accuracy always has the coaches' attention.
''It's only human nature to want to be as high on the depth chart as possible,'' Wittek said. ''No matter what happens, I'm going to continue to work, continue to compete. We've both taken the approach to every practice to look at it as our team.''
Kiffin's reluctance to make a strong commitment to either quarterback suggests the competition's winner could get a quick hook if he struggles, a possibility Kiffin hasn't denied.
Kiffin doesn't appear to be gaming future opponents by delaying his choice. He embraces USC's tradition of big-name quarterbacks after coaching Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and John David Booty during his previous tenure at the school as Pete Carroll's assistant.
''Ideally, we do want to have one quarterback for the starter for the opening game,'' Kiffin said. ''We're not really a two-system-quarterback program, but at the same time we've got to make sure we find the right guy. So I would not rule out anything, but that's the same thing I've said for three weeks.''
The scrimmage underlined the Trojans' need for more work, but Kiffin cautioned against drawing any conclusions from a 121-play workout featuring the first team against the scout team. Agholor had nine catches for 250 yards and three TDs.
Lee was pulled from the scrimmage early after falling hard on his right shoulder, which kept him out of four days of practice earlier this month. The star junior said he was fine, and would have stayed in a real game.
Before heading off to watch film with both quarterbacks, Lee acknowledged he hopes Kiffin decided on a starter before Friday's practice - but won't be surprised if he's waiting a bit longer.
''I've just got to get used to their styles,'' Lee said. ''They don't have that much different styles, but as far as catching the ball, I've just got to make sure I'm on the same page.''
August 22, 2013
By W.G. RAMIREZ
Chris Paul has already seemingly done the impossible by turning the long-languishing Los Angeles Clippers into a force in the Western Conference. Now he’s taken on another big task — rebuilding the reeling NBA players’ association.
Paul was elected president of the players’ union Wednesday, replacing Derek Fisher and giving an organization cloaked in turmoil some much-needed star power at the top.
The vote by NBA player representatives came six months after the union fired Billy Hunter as executive director, a position that remains vacant and follows about 18 months of in-fighting and drama that occurred during the negotiations for the latest collective bargaining agreement. Hunter countered with a wrongful-termination lawsuit in May, accusing Fisher of conspiring with NBA officials during the 2011 lockout.
“It’s not about me as president or the first vice president, it’s about the players as a whole,” Paul said in a conference call Wednesday night.
One of Paul’s greatest gifts on the court is an ability to get everyone involved and make his teammates better. Now he'll try to do the same thing with the union. After the lockout ended and the lawsuits started to take hold, there was a feeling among many players and observers that putting a big name in the big chair would help galvanize the group and get star players interested in participating again.
That once was commonplace, with marquee players Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Alex English and Isiah Thomas all serving as union presidents. But Paul, a six-time All-Star who is widely regarded as the best point guard in the league, is the first big star to hold the top spot since Patrick Ewing’s run ended in 2001. Role players Michael Curry, Antonio Davis and Fisher, who had been in charge since 2006, followed Ewing.
“That wasn’t a requirement, but I think it gives us a little more oomph, I guess, having somebody like him wanting to step up and take on that role,” Charlotte Bobcats forward Anthony Tolliver said in a phone interview. “It means a lot.”
Paul served as a vice president for the last four years, so he has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the union, and the trouble that engulfed it recently.
“It was something I saw as a challenge, something I knew I’d be able to handle,” Paul said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity, a lot of responsibility comes with this position but I'm very fortunate to have an outstanding of committee guys. The past couple of days have been outstanding, the dialogue we’ve had as an executive committee also with the players that have come in town, it was amazing.”
The decision to appoint a new executive director to replace Hunter will come at a later date.
“We definitely discussed (hiring an executive director), but there’s no rush,” Paul said. “For us, it’s all about getting our house in order and making sure that everything moves right in that direction.”
In meetings at the Venetian Hotel, Roger Mason Jr. was elected first vice president. He replaced Jerry Stackhouse, who resigned from the office and is expected to take a position within the union.
There are several issues that the league has been waiting to discuss with the union while they searched for new leadership, most notably the possible implementation of testing for HGH. Commissioner David Stern, who is retiring in February and handing the reins over to deputy commissioner Adam Silver, has said multiple times this summer that testing for HGH was a priority.
“Chris is an All-Star player and person and we look forward to working with him,” Silver said in a statement.
Tolliver, who has long been one of the most devoted player representatives in the league, and Steve Blake were elected vice presidents, filling the executive committee positions vacated by Paul and Mason.
“This is not a position that’s about me or one person,” Paul said. “It’s about the collective group and the players and I think from my experience ... it’s about growing the game and expanding our brand and continue to get our players involved as we can and make sure our voice is heard. The guys here just understand it's our union, there’s no one person that is bigger than the group.”
Paul said the union needed a “rebuild,” and he was looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. Tolliver agreed, saying it was time for a “fresh start” after a messy time in the union’s history.
“We want to make sure that nothing remotely close that has gone on in the union in the past 12 months or so will ever happen again,” Tolliver said. “It’s a huge job. It’s a huge responsibility. I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Paul’s ascension could pave the way for more involvement from the biggest names in the game. LeBron James considered running for the job before deciding against it, and Paul is an All-NBA first team player who has been tight with James for years.
“Since I’ve been in the NBA the superstars have come to a few meetings here and there, every once in a while, but not very often,” Tolliver said. “The fact that (James) even considered doing that lets me know that he’s going to be more involved in the future. ... Especially him being the face of our game, we want to have him involved as much as possible. Not only him, we want all the guys that carry our brand to be a part of this.”
August 15, 2013
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference are following the NCAA’s lead and will no longer allow EA Sports to use league logos in its college football video games.
The NCAA announced last month it will no longer allow Electronic Arts Inc. to use its logo starting next year. The move comes as the NCAA fights a high-profile lawsuit that says the governing body owes millions of dollars to former players for allowing their likenesses to be used for free.
ESPN first reported the SEC would end its licensing agreement with EA, and a spokesman confirmed that to the AP Wednesday.
Spokesmen for the Big Ten and Pac-12 say their conferences also will not renew agreements with EA.
The conference contracts do not cover individual schools, which can sign their own licensing deals. That would allow EA to have games depicting top-level football programs, such as Alabama from the SEC, Ohio State from the Big Ten and Oregon from the Pac-12. The games would not be able to make any mention of their conferences.
Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda said in an email to the AP that “there is no change in status for the Big 12 Conference at this time.”
Spokespeople for Conference USA, the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt gave similar statements, saying their leagues will be evaluating the situation.
The commissioners of the other FBS conferences — Atlantic Coast Conference and Mid-American Conference — were not immediately available and it was unclear whether their leagues would follow the growing trend.
Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon is the lead plaintiff among 16 former college athletes in the long-running legal battle that could fundamentally alter how the NCAA operates.
Basketball Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson previously joined the lawsuit that also names EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company. Five current college football players were added to the lawsuit last month, including Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham, Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson and Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer.
Also, EA is being sued by former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller over the use of his likeness in video games.