March 28, 2013

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI

Associated Press

 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith was hailed as a rescuer when he came to Minnesota from Kentucky in 2007, a championship-certified coach who would restore a once-proud program to respectability after it was brought down by scandal.

Smith accomplished much of what he was brought in to do, bringing the Golden Gophers back to the NCAA tournament three times, keeping Minnesota free of NCAA violations for six years and bringing some energy back to Williams Arena.

When new athletic director Norwood Teague saw the progress stagnate, he decided it was time for a different voice to continue to take the next step. Smith was fired on Monday, one day after the Gophers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament.

"I feel it's time for a fresh approach for our basketball program, for our student athletes and the program in general," Teague said.

"We felt now following a season where there were high expectations for this coaching staff that it was time to make a change for the benefit of our student athletes and as we build for the future."

Smith was 124-81 (.610) in six seasons at Minnesota, winning 20 games five times and bringing the first NCAA tournament victory since 1997 when the 11th-seeded Gophers beat UCLA last week.

But he went just 46-62 in Big Ten play and never finished higher than sixth in the conference.

Smith was welcomed with wild enthusiasm when he arrived to replace the overmatched Dan Monson, who was unable to raise the program from the abyss created by an academic fraud scandal that ended up wiping out the team's Final Four appearance in 1997.

Smith won 20 games his first season and took the team to the NCAA tournament the following year, restoring some sense of pride to a team that at one time was the most popular draw in the Twin Cities.

But the success seemed to level off after that. The Gophers made the tournament again in 2010, missed it in 2011 and settled for an NIT bid last year as fans started to grow impatient.

"I want to thank the University of Minnesota and the people of Minnesota for giving me the opportunity to lead the Golden Gopher basketball program for six years," Smith said in a statement provided by the school. "Our staff did things the right way and will leave knowing that the program is in far better shape than when we arrived."

This year's team started off 15-1 and rose as high as No. 8, with wins over Michigan State, Illinois and Memphis during that run.

But they quickly came back down to earth, losing seven of 10 games in Big Ten play and squeaking into the tournament as a No. 11 seed thanks in large part to a late-season win over then-No. 1 Indiana at home.

The Gophers handled UCLA in the second round of the tournament only to be thumped by Florida in the next round. A common refrain from fans was that the players, and the team, didn't improve as the season went on. The Gophers never finished with a Big Ten record above .500 and finished in seventh place or worse four times in his six seasons.

Undaunted, Smith always pointed to his reputation for running a clean program and the empty cupboard he inherited when he arrived.

"I don't apologize or I don't defend anything," Smith said last week. "We do the best we can. We do a good job. That's why we're NCAA bound."

Word of Smith's firing leaked Monday morning, but the coach didn't find out about the decision personally until meeting with Teague in the afternoon. That didn't sit well with Smith's agent, Ricky Lefft.

"Coach, certainly with all that he's contributed to the program and the university and to the city, I think was deserving of better," Lefft said. "It's definitely, definitely, definitely disappointing."

When Smith left Kentucky, he was promised by the previous Minnesota administration a new practice facility and improvements to historic, but outdated, Williams Arena. Those improvements never came, but Smith remained hopeful.

"To be able to compete, you have to have the resources available there," Lefft said. "It's not a level playing field."

The decision to part with a big-name coach after a rare tournament victory for the program is a bold one for Teague, who is in his second year on the job. It requires a cash-strapped athletic department to raise $2.5 million for Smith's buyout, in addition to the funds Teague is trying to generate to upgrade the facilities.

"Any time you spend money for buyouts it bothers me as well, just like it bothers citizens of Minnesota," Teague said. "I hope fans will look at this one as an investment, rather than an expenditure."

With a bevy of highly touted recruits in the state, Teague is acting quickly partially to give a replacement time to forge relationships with players including Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones, one of the most sought-after juniors in the country.

Teague and his top assistant, Mike Ellis, are considered to be plugged in to the college basketball world and have a list of candidates to replace Smith at the ready.

"You always have a short list. ... Some are realistic, some are unrealistic but I have a list in mind," Teague said, declining to name any specific candidates. "We'll work that and we'll get a terrific coach."

Teague came to Minnesota from Virginia Commonwealth, and it has been speculated almost since his arrival that he would eventually bring Shaka Smart with him. But Smart may have higher profile suitors waiting for him as well with openings already at UCLA and USC.

Other names that could come up are former Timberwolves coach and Golden Gopher alumnus Flip Saunders, Villanova's Jay Wright and Marquette's Buzz Williams.

"You want to move quickly and you want to hustle but you don't want to be too much in a hurry," Teague said. "So we'll move swiftly. I don't want to put a time frame on it but I want to get there as soon as we can."

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March 21, 2013

By BILL DRAPER Associated Press

 

Kansas City was announced Wednes­day as the host site for the only advance public screenings of a film chronicling the rise of Jackie Robinson, a nod to the city where the baseball great made his professional debut two years before breaking the major league color barrier.

Harrison Ford stars as former Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey in the film, “42,” which details Robinson’s Rookie of the Year season in 1947 while combating unabash­ed racism on and off the diamond.

Ford and fellow cast member Andre Holland planned to attend the screenings on April 11 at a movie theater on the city’s north side. Proceeds will benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, museum president Bob Kendrick said.

Although the story of Robinson in Brooklyn is well known, Kendrick said Kansas City also played a prominent role in his early career. Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs, a member of the Negro Leagues, in 1945, batting .387 while hitting five home runs and stole 13 bases in 47 games. After a year in the minor leagues, he joined the Dodgers in 1947 and won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award.

The film gets its name from Robinson’s uniform No. 42, which is retired throughout baseball and prominently displayed at major league stadiums

Kendrick said Robinson’s story “signaled the beginning of what we know as the civil rights movement” and was a source of pride for Kansas City.

“This film gives us the opportunity to collectively stick out our chest,” Kendrick said Wednesday at a news conference at the museum.

Other than the official premiere in Los Angeles, the movie will be shown only in Kansas City prior to its nationwide opening April 12, which is three days before the 66th anniversary of Robinson's first game as a Dodger.

The Negro Leagues museum is in the midst of a revival after falling on hard times following the death in 2006 of one of its founders, former Kansas City Monarchs star Buck O'Neil. Only blocks from where the Monarchs took the field at Municipal Stadium, the museum sits adjacent to the American Jazz Museum in the heart of the city’s 18th and Vine District. After nearly being forced to close in 2010 after it started losing money, the museum got a huge boost last year when Kansas City hosted the major league All-Star Game.

Kendrick said the exposure “42” brings to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will be as important as the financial windfall from the advance screenings.

“We’re often asked here if Jackie Robinson was the best player in the Negro Leagues,” Kendrick said. “No, he wasn’t. He may not have been the best player on our Kansas City Monarchs team. But he was the right man” to break the color barrier.

The Overland Park, Kan., financial planning company Waddell & Reed was instrumental in bringing the screenings to Kansas City, taking advantage of its relationship with Legendary Pictures — which along with Warner Bros. Pictures produced the movie — to arrange them.

Thomas Butch, executive president of Waddell & Reed, said the $42 tickets include unlimited concessions, two adult drink tickets and a souvenir bag and has a total value of $70. He said “42” is the only movie that will be shown at the BarryWoods 24 complex on the night of the screenings.

Tickets are available exclusively on the website 42kansascity.com.

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March 21, 2013

By BARRY WILNER

AP Pro Football Writer

 

If it was good enough for football's greatest running back, NFL owners figure, it should work in the 21st century.

Team owners passed a player safety rule Wednesday barring ball carriers from using the crown of their helmets to make forcible contact with a defender in the open field. Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney put the change succinctly.

''Jim Brown never lowered his head,'' he said with a smile. ''It can be done.''

And according to the rules, it must be done beginning this season.

The second significant player safety rule passed this week to help protect defensive players came with much debate. Several coaches and team executives expressed concern about officiating the new rule, but Commissioner Roger Goodell championed it and it passed 31-1. Cincinnati voted no.

On Tuesday, the league took the peel-back block out of the game.

The changes were the latest involving safety, and head injuries in particular, with the issue receiving heightened attention amid hundreds of lawsuits filed by former players claiming that the NFL did not do enough to prevent concussions in years past. League officials have defended the NFL's record and did so again on Wednesday.

''I have always thought that player safety has been at the forefront of our discussion for a long, long time,'' said Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee that recommends rule changes. ''The game has gotten safer over time. Where we have really focused is on the big hits, the open field hits and hits where players truly can't defend themselves. In this step that we are taking we are trying to protect the player from himself with respect to this rule.''

The tuck rule, one of the most criticized in pro football, was eliminated. Now, if a quarterback loses control of the ball before he has fully protected it after opting not to throw, it is a fumble.

The Steelers were the only team to vote against getting rid of the tuck rule. New England and Washington abstained.

Peel-back blocks had been legal inside the tackle box, but now players can't turn back toward their goal line and block an opponent low from behind anywhere on the field.

Video review now will be allowed when a coach challenges a play that he is not allowed to. But the coach will be penalized or lose a timeout, depending on when he threw the challenge flag.

That change stems from Houston's Thanksgiving victory over Detroit in which Lions coach Jim Schwartz challenged a touchdown run by the Texans' Justin Forsett. Although officials clearly missed Forsett being down by contact before breaking free on the 81-yard run, when Schwartz threw the red flag on a scoring play that automatically is reviewed, the referee could not go to replay.

That loophole has been eliminated.

Goodell was eager to get approved the competition committee's proposal to outlaw use of the crown of the helmet by ball carriers, and there was talk the vote would be tabled until May if the rule change didn't have enough support.

But after watching videos of the play that clearly showed the differences in legal and illegal moves by ball carriers, the owners voted yes - and then applauded the decision, something Rams coach Jeff Fisher said is ''rare.''

''We had discussions with the players association and the players themselves, the coaches' subcommittee,'' said Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee. ''A lot of people talked to us about this rule and how to roll it out in our game.''

The penalty will be 15 yards from the spot of the foul, and if the offensive and defensive players both lower their heads and use the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.

''It'll certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. ''One of the questions I ask a lot is who gains from this, offense or defense? And it's a toss-up as to which side of the ball has the advantage on this rule, if any. The main thing is it's pro-health and safety, and that's the big thing.''

The owners discussed simply using fines on ball carriers to eliminate the tactic, but instead voted to make the rule change.

Goodell announced that the Pro Bowl will be held in Honolulu on Jan. 26, the Sunday before the Super Bowl. The commissioner has considered scrapping the all-star game, but was satisfied with the level of performance in this year's matchup, won 62-25 by the NFC.

He added that the system for choosing the players won't change, but some consideration has been given to having team captains select their rosters, rather than an AFC vs. NFC format.

The Rooney Rule that requires every team to interview at least one minority candidate when there is a coaching or general manager opening was discussed at length. This year, with eight coaching vacancies and seven for GMs, no minority candidates was hired.

Goodell said he was disappointed in those results and would like to see more flexibility when teams ask to interview candidates whose clubs still are playing.

''One of the major focuses we've had was that we are going to reinstate the symposium program that we've had in the past,'' Goodell said. ''That was primarily focused on coaches but we are likely to have some potential GM candidates also attend with the coaches.''

The owners also approved tight ends and H-backs wearing numbers between 40 and 49. Previously, they were supposed to have numbers in the 80s.

 

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March 21, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

Over 500 Compton Unified School District (CUSD) Dominguez High School students listened as professional football player Richard Sherman shared his journey from their school’s football field to college, and finally the NFL, Wednesday, March 6.

The Dominguez High School alumnus, who graduated in 2006, visited his alma mater as part of a special assembly sponsored by Students with a Goal (SWAG), a nonprofit dedicated to presenting motivational speeches by professional athletes. Sponsors also included Fritz Management, Educa­tion Inc., and Revolution Prep K-12. Moderator Romal Tume, founder of SWAG, provided students with the opportunity to ask Sherman questions about his experiences as a Dominguez student, his college years, and his NFL career. The assembly was also filmed by the NFL Network’s E60 program.

While attending Dominguez, Sherman, who plays cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, maintained a 4.2 GPA and scored 1,400 on the SATs, but he acknowledged that his path to success was not an easy one. “It always feels good to come back to Compton. It’s gotten a little less violent, everything’s a little more cleaned up, but making things better starts with you guys.

Wherever you want to be, wherever you want to go, understand that the future is right here. It is what you make of it,” he said.

Sherman, a graduate of Stanford University, also cautioned students about the dangers of making the wrong kinds of friends. “In high school gangs might seem cool because those guys, some of them are your friends and maybe they support you, but down the line they’ll be the same dudes from jail, and the same dudes back on the streets,” he said. “But you’ll be saying, ‘Man, I could’ve been a doctor. Man, I could’ve been somebody.’ Those same people you follow, where are you following them to? You can be somebody right now. You can make those decisions right now. It all depends on what direction you want to go.” Sherman praised Dominguez’s teachers for their support during his high school years and reminded students to value them. “You have great teachers, you have great staff. It may seem like they hold you down or are messing with you all the time, or your coaches are too tough on you, but they really just want to see you be successful,” he noted. “It’s tough out there. It’s tough in the Hub City, but once you make it outside the city, nobody can stop you. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

SWAG’s Founder Romal Tume said he hopes each event he brings to schools awakens students to tap into their potential and excel in whatever they’re passionate about. “It’s our mission to work with schools by having athletes share their personal stories. We want them to show young people they can achieve their dreams and overcome challenges,” he said. “We want them to know that yes, it is difficult, but if they stay focused, they can make it happen.” Tume added that because Sherman grew up in Compton and attended Dominguez High his life story resonates with students. “Richard is here saying he’s been through what they’ve been through, but that they can still succeed.”

For Assistant Principal Bobby Walker, the SWAG assembly was a great opportunity to open the eyes of Dominguez students. “It was wonderful of him to come out and share his experiences with our children. I hope they walk out knowing there are positive role models coming out of our community, and our school,” he said. “Having Richard here today is a reminder that our kids don’t always have to believe the bad things people say about our city.”

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March 14, 2013

By Antonio R. Harvey

Special to the NNPA from the Sacramento Observer

 

Ending weeks of widespread speculation and rumors, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson told The OBSERVER that billionaire Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24-Hour Fitness, are the majority equity partners who will make a bid for the Sacramento Kings.

“Yes, they are,” Johnson told The OBSERVER when asked if Burkle and Mastrov are in fact the deep-pocket “whale” investors interested in purchasing the Kings. Mayor Johnson has helped to orchestrate the group’s counter-proposal to a reportedly $525 million agreement the Kings’ owners made with a group to move the team to Seattle.

Johnson will publicly announce Burkle’s and Mastrov’s involvement at the annual “State of the City” address at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium Thursday evening. Johnson is also expected to reveal the details of a new sports and entertainment arena, another major factor in keeping the Kings in Sacramento — the place the NBA franchise has called home since 1985.

The Maloofs agreed to sell the Kings to an investment group that includes billionaire Chris Hansen. However, NBA commissioner David Stern agreed to let Mayor Johnson, a former NBA All-Star point guard, submit a purchase proposal that includes a new arena plan to the league by March 1. Stern also agreed to let Johnson state the city’s case in front of the NBA’s Board of Governors in April to prevent the Maloofs from selling the team to the Seattle-based investors.

The Board of Governors — the NBA team owners — will vote whether the sale to the Seattle investor-group is acceptable. Mayor Johnson said the city of Sacramento can make a convincing argument that it is a strong NBA market and the leadership is in place to make a major deal like this work.

Sacramento already cleared the way earlier this week for Burkle and Mastrove when the City Council voted 7-2 to push forward with an effort to keep the bidding process alive.

“I feel confident about our chances (to keep the Kings in Sacramento),” Mayor Johnson said. 

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