April 18, 2013

By DOUG FEINBERG

AP Basketball Writer

 

BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) – Brittney Griner is ready for a new challenge.

After dominating women’s college basketball for the past four years, Griner will head to Phoenix. The Mercury took the two-time AP Player of the Year with the top pick in the WNBA draft Monday night.

The city welcomed her with a giant billboard and renamed a street near the arena.

Griner admitted she was nervous before the draft despite knowing she was going to be taken first.

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack at the table,” she said.

Griner is excited about getting the chance to play with Diana Taurasi and the other talented players on the Mercury.

“I’m bringing the dunking element of my game to Phoenix,” Griner said. “Everyone would love to see Dee throw that alley-oop, I catch it and slam it. The high energy I bring to the table.”

Mercury coach Corey Gaines said it took about a second for the team to decide on their choice.

“I think with the talent we have already, and it’s not going to be all forced on her to do everything, it makes her even more of a game changer because there’s no pressure on her, she can just do the things that she does naturally – rebound, block shots, putbacks and then as it goes on, she’ll learn more,” Gaines said.

The 6-foot-8 star finished as the second all-time scorer in women’s NCAA history, with 3,283 points. She owns the shot block record, shattering both the men’s and women’s college marks with 748. She also had a record 18 dunks - including 11 this season.

WNBA President Laurel Richie opened the draft by offering the league’s thoughts and prayers to those affected by the bombings in Boston. She said earlier in the evening that the WNBA had discussions whether to hold the draft before deciding to go ahead with it.

Soon after the draft started, she announced Griner as the first choice.

Griner joins a very talented Mercury squad that was plagued by injuries most of last season. Taurasi played in only eight games and Penny Taylor missed the entire year while recovering from an ACL injury. Candice Dupree also missed 21 games because of a knee injury.

“I’m ready to get there and ready to learn from (Taurasi),” Griner said. “I got to play with her a little bit at USA Basketball. I’m ready to feed off her and give all I can to the Phoenix Mercury.”

Phoenix had the second-worst record and a 28 percent chance of getting the first pick. Washington, which had the worst record in the league, picked fourth.

“We have a team of All-Stars already,” Phoenix Mercury President Amber Cox said. “To add her to the mix solidifies us for a long time. When Phoenix comes to town it will be must-see basketball.”

The Mercury have had the first pick in the draft two other times, including when they took Taurasi in 2004.

It was an eventful day for Griner. Not only was she the top pick, but she bumped into her skateboarding idol, Tony Hawk, who was also at ESPN.

“Getting drafted being the No. 1 overall pick that was above it, but Tony’s right there at No. 2,” Griner said.

Like Phoenix, Chicago added a budding star to an already stacked roster that just missed making the playoffs last season, taking Elena Delle Donne with the No. 2 pick. The 6-foot-5 forward, who can play multiple positions, was second in the nation in scoring (26.0) and averaged 8.5 rebounds. She finished her career at Delaware with 3,039 career points – fifth all-time in NCAA history.

“This is a phenomenal team I’m joining, mentors who will help me out along the way,” Delle Donne said. “I’ll learn a ton from these players. We definitely have a great team. I felt I was a good puzzle piece for this team. You don’t say where you want to go before it was happening, but Chicago was my pick and I wanted to go there really badly.”

Tulsa took Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins with the third pick. Diggins averaged 17.1 points, 6.1 assists and 3.1 steals while helping the Irish reach the Final Four the past three seasons.

“When I entered Notre Dame we had lost in the first round of the tournament the year before,” Diggins said. “At the end of my career we had brought the program back to an elite level. I’m looking forward to get to Tulsa and show my leadership skills.”

While the first three picks were almost a lock, the rest of the draft was a bit more of a mystery with no clear-cut choices going in.

Washington took Ohio State guard Tayler Hill fourth.

“I didn’t know for sure,” Hill said. “I talked to a few WNBA coaches. I talked to coach (Mike) Thibault a few times and he was excited about me. I’m excited, really a feeling you can't explain.”

The New York Liberty and new coach Bill Laimbeer took Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone fifth and then two picks later drafted Oklahoma State’s Toni Young. Seattle, which will be without Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird this season because of injuries, took Maryland’s Tianna Hawkins in between the Liberty picks.

San Antonio took Syracuse center Kayla Alexander eighth, Cal’s Layshia Clarendon went ninth to Indiana. Los Angeles took Kentucky’s A’dia Mathies 10th. Connecticut drafted UConn forward Kelly Faris 11th and Minnesota closed out the first round by picking Nebraska’s Lindsey Moore.

“There’s no question that this draft class has potential to be a moment in time and we’ll look back 10, 20 years and remember that class that came in with Brittney, Skylar and Elena,” Richie said. “Having spent the last two days with a couple of the other prospects there are a couple surprises in there too.”

This was the first season that the draft was televised in prime time.

Training camps open May 5, with the league’s 17th season set to being on May 24.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

April 11, 2013

By TIM TALLEY

Associated Press

 

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal indictment unsealed Wednes­day accuses 34 people and 23 companies, many of them registered in Central America, of operating an illegal sports bookmaking business that solicited more than $1 billion in bets.

The 95-page indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Oklahoma City on March 20, accuses the defendants of operating from San Jose, Costa Rica, and Panama City to take bets almost exclusively from gamblers in the U.S.

The indictment says that since 2003 the operation known as Legendz Sports used the companies to operate as payment processors, launder gambling funds and make payouts to customers. It alleges a conspiracy and accuses the defendants of violating federal racketeering and money laundering statutes as well as operating an illegal gambling business.

The indictment also accuses the defendants of violating illegal gambling statutes in several states, including Oklahoma, California, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New York and Texas.

“Legendz Sports solicited millions of illegal bets totaling over $1 billion on sports and sporting events from gamblers in the United States,” the indictment alleges. As part of the conspiracy, Legendz Sports operated Internet websites and telephone gambling services from facilities located in Panama, the indictment says.

U.S. Attorney Sanford Coats of Oklahoma City said the charges culminated a multiyear investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.

“The defendants cannot hide the allegedly illegal sports gambling operation behind corporate veils or state and international boundaries,” Coats said.

The acting chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Mythili Raman, said the government is determined to crack down on illegal online gambling by U.S. citizens, regardless of where the business operates or where the defendants live.

“These defendants allegedly participated in an illegal sports gambling business, lining their pockets with profits from over a billion dollars in illegal gambling proceeds,” Raman said.

Among the individual defendants listed in the indictment is Bartice Alan King, 42, of Spring, Texas, who's accused of conspiring with others to operate gambling services that took wagers almost exclusively from U.S. gamblers.

The enterprise allegedly used bookies in the U.S. to illegally solicit and accept sports wagers as well as settle gambling debts. The 34 individual defendants were allegedly employees, members and associates of the Legendz Sports enterprise, the indictment says.

Bob Troester, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oklahoma City, said King remained at large Wednesday but that 22 other defendants including King's former wife, Serena Monique King, had been taken into custody.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison for racketeering, up to 20 years for conspiring to commit money laundering, up to 10 years for money laundering and up to five years for operating an illegal gambling business.

In addition, the indictment seeks forfeiture of at least $1 billion in numerous assets including real estate, bank accounts, brokerage and investment accounts, certificates of deposit, IRAs, domain names, an aircraft, a gas lease and several vehicles.

Troester said the investigation is not related to illegal gambling charges against Teddy Mitchell, 58, who is awaiting trial on a federal indictment that accuses him of making millions of dollars by hosting illegal high-stakes poker games at his Oklahoma City home and by illegally taking bets on sporting events.

“This is a completely separate case,” Troester said.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

April 11, 2013

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has been named to the NFL's competition committee.

Commissioner Roger Goodell named Tomlin to the committee on Tuesday. Tomlin will replace former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. Tomlin had worked on the coaches subcommittee of the Competition Committee since 2009.

The 41-year-old Tomlin is 68-36 in six seasons with the Steelers and led them to victory in the 2009 Super Bowl.

“Coach Tomlin will bring additional strength to the committee from the coaching perspective,” Goodell said. “Mike has strong, perceptive views about the game and is effective in expressing them. We look forward to his contributions to the committee’s ongoing mission to improve the game.”

Tomlin says he is “excited” about the appointment and is looking forward to contributing. The nine-man committee — which is co-chaired by Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher — recommends rules and policy changes to the NFL.

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Category: Sports

April 11, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) —Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has announced a new investor to help fill the role vacated by billionaire Ron Burkle in the city’s bid to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle.

Johnson said at his weekly news conference Tuesday that Sacramento developer Mark Friedman has joined the group. The announcement comes a day after Burkle backed out because of a conflict of interest stemming from his ownership stake in Relativity Sports, which manages some NBA players’ careers.

Friedman said he will help build the planned arena in downtown Sacramento. He also said he had been in contact with the mayor since January and the timing of Burkle's decision had nothing to with his emergence.

Sacramento is trying to block a bid from a group that has a deal with the Maloof family to buy the Kings and move the franchise to Seattle next season. NBA owners are vetting both offers.

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Category: Sports

April 11, 2013

By MARYCLAIRE DALE Associated Press

 

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody has a billion-dollar problem on her hands.

Brody, of Philadelphia, heard arguments Tuesday on whether lawsuits that accuse the NFL of glorifying violence and hiding known concussion risks belong in court or in arbitration.

Brody could side with the 4,200 players and let them pursue lawsuits, or she could rule for the league and find that head injuries are covered under health provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

Or she could issue a split decision, letting some of the fraud and negligence claims against the NFL move forward in court. Her decision could be worth more than a billion dollars - and is expected to be appealed by either side, spawning years of litigation.

“There are people who aren’t going to be able to be around long enough to find out the end of this case, and my husband is one of them,” said Eleanor Perfetto, the widow of guard Ralph Wenzel, who played for Pittsburgh and San Diego from 1966 to 1973. “He died last June, and I’m here for him. He was sick for almost two decades and, in the end, had very, very severe, debilitating dementia.”

In the closely-watched court arguments Tuesday, NFL lawyer Paul Clement insisted that teams bear the chief responsibility for health and safety under the contract, along with the players’ union and the players themselves.

“The clubs are the ones who had doctors on the sidelines who had primary responsibility for sending players back into the game,” Clement said at a news conference after the hearing.

The players argue that the league “glorified” and “monetized” violence through NFL Films, thereby profiting from vicious hits to the head.

Players’ lawyer David Frederick also accused the league of concealing studies linking concussions to neurological problems for decades, even after the NFL created a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in 1994. The panel was led by a rheumatologist.

“It set up a sham committee designed to get information about neurological risks, but in fact spread misinformation,” Frederick argued.

In recent years, scores of former NFL players and other concussed athletes have been diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, including popular Pro Bowler Junior Seau and lead plaintiff Ray Easterling. Both committed suicide last year.

About one-third of the league’s 12,000 former players have joined the litigation since Easterling filed suit in 2011. Some are battling dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s disease, and fault the league for rushing them back on the field after concussions. Others are worried about future problems and want their health monitored.

Brody honed in on whether the collective bargaining agreement specifies that head injuries are workplace safety issues and belong in arbitration.

“It has to be really specific. That’s what I have to wrestle with,” she said.

Frederick called the contract “silent” on latent head injuries, and said players therefore have the right to seek damages in court. Brody is not expected to rule for several months.

Players and family members on hand for the hearing included Kevin Turner, a former Philadelphia Eagles running back now battling Lou Gehrig’s disease; Dorsey Levens, a veteran running back who made a 2012 documentary on concussions called “Bell Rung,” and Easterling’s widow, Mary Ann.

One wrinkle in the NFL’s argument is what it calls the “gap year” players, who played from 1987 to 1993, when there was no collective bargaining agreement in place. The league, eager to avoid opening up its files in a court case, argues that those players were bound by previous contracts or contracts later in effect when they collected pensions.

“I certainly admit that the gap year players ... are the most difficult cases,” said Clement.

However, he said very few people played only those years, and not before or after. For most, “there’s no way to say the only hits that hurt you are the hits from those years,” he said.

Tom McHale played in the NFL from 1987 to 1995, before the All-Ivy League athlete died of an accidental overdose in 2008. He was 45 and had battled depression and addiction toward the end of his life.

Lisa McHale, of Tampa, Fla., hardly recognized her once-gregarious husband. After his death, he was also diagnosed with CTE. She believes the player lawsuits, and the willingness of retired players to go public with their problems, will help her three teenage sons understand their father’s illness.

“To know it wasn’t his fault, that there was something neurological going on, it helps,” she said.

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