December 26, 2013

Associated Press

 

Former NBA star Dennis Rod­man arrived in North Korea on Thursday  December 19 to help train the national team and renew his friendship with the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, a visit unaffected by the recent execution of Kim’s uncle in a dramatic political purge.

Rodman was met at Pyongyang’s airport by Vice Sports Minister Son Kwang Ho. He made no public comments, but told a mob of reporters earlier at Beijing’s airport that he expected, as on previous visits, to meet with Kim and make final arrangements for a Jan. 8 exhibition game in Pyongyang marking the leader’s birthday.

“I know (Kim) is waiting for me to come back. So hopefully we will have some conversation about some things that’s going to help the world,” Rodman said.

His visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of No. 2 official Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace of one of the most powerful figures in the country.

Jang’s execution marks North Korea’s most serious political upheaval in decades and has sent North Korea watchers speculating over the stability of the Kim dynasty. However, Rodman’s visit — should it proceed uneventfully — could be a sign that Kim is firmly in charge and unconcerned with any potential challenges to his rule.

Asked about the execution, Rodman said that had nothing to do with his visit. He said he wasn't worried about his personal safety in the North, despite the recent detentions of two Americans there, one of whom, Kenneth Bae, has been held for more than two years.

Rodman and Kim have struck up an unlikely friendship since the Hall of Famer traveled to the secretive Communist state for the first time in February with the Harlem Globe­trot­ters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.

He remains the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011.

Known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as he was for basketball, Rodman has mostly avoided politics in his dealings with the North. He’s mainly focused on using basketball as a means of boosting understanding and communication and studiously avoided commenting on the North’s human rights record, regarded as one of the world's worst by activists, defectors and the U.S. State Department.

Defectors have repeatedly testified about the government’s alleged use of indiscriminate killings, rapes, beatings and prison camps holding as many as 120,000 people deemed opponents of Kim, the third generation of his family to rule.

Rodman said he planned to return to North Korea in two weeks with a roster of 12 American basketball players, but offered no names.

“I hope this game brings a lot of countries together, because as I said, sports it is so important to people around the world,” Rodman said. “So I hope this is going to engage American people, especially (Presi­dent Barack) Obama, to just to try to talk to them.”

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December 26, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

Through a partnership between AEG and Chris Paul’s CP3 Foundation, 100 children from LA’s BEST enjoyed a holiday party last night at Lucky Strike L.A. LIVE as part of AEG’s Season of Giving charitable campaign.

In addition to enjoying an afternoon of food and bowling, each child had the opportunity to take a one-on-one photo with six-time NBA All Star Chris Paul. Chris also played Santa and gave each child a gift, courtesy of Mattel Children's Foundation and assisted by his “elves,” cast members from Nickelodeon’s “Haunted Hath­aways.”

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December 19, 2013

Associated Press

 

This is it, the final go-round for the BCS.

The much-maligned system for determining college football’s national champion will be mothballed after this season, replaced by a four-team playoff next season.

As finales go, it’s hard to argue too much about the final title-game participants. Florida State was the only major-conference team to finish undefeated and Auburn had the best resume of the one-loss teams.

That’s the big one, but of course there are 34 other bowls, starting with four on Saturday, that will feature plenty of other good teams, star players and interesting match-ups.

To get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of what to look for:

TOP GAMES

BCS National Championship, Florida State vs. Auburn, Jan. 6, Pasadena, Calif. Duh.

Sugar Bowl, Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2, New Orleans. Two storied programs that fell short of their national-title aspirations are still pretty good.

Orange Bowl, Ohio State vs. Clemson, Jan. 3, Miami. Teams that are a combined 45-5 since the start of last season and among the highest-scoring in college football.

Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Michigan State, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. If you like smash-mouth, defensive-minded football, this is your game.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Arizona vs. Boston College, Dec. 31, Shreveport, La. So what’s so exciting about two 7-5 teams? Two All-American running backs going at each other: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and BC’s Andre Williams.

TOP PLAYERS

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Won the Heisman Trophy, playing for a national championship. Not a bad freshman season.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama. There will be no three-peat as national champion, but he’s been as good a college quarterback as we've seen in a while.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. Collects tackles like baseball cards.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona. Second nationally in yards per game, runs like he’s trying to punish defenders for daring to tackle him.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Last year’s Heisman winner could be making his last hurrah in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State. Arguably the most disruptive interior lineman in the country.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. All-American can turn the simplest of routes into a score.

SPONSORS

Food is king among bowl sponsors for the third straight season.

The 2013-14 bowl season includes seven bowls with food affiliations, from potatoes to pizza to wild wings.

Second on the list are financial companies with six and auto-related companies are third with five.

This year’s bowl lineup also includes a helicopter company, a university, a defense contractor, a department store and a cause (Fight Hunger).

ODDS

The folks at Glantz-Culver have made Florida State a decided favorite over Auburn in the national championship game at 8 1-2 points.

In the other bowls, the biggest spread is the Fiesta Bowl, where Baylor is a 16 1-2-point favorite over Central Florida. Right behind is the Pinstripe Bowl, with Notre Dame giving away 15 1-2 points to Rutgers. Alabama also is a 15-point favorite over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Tightest odds? San Diego State and Buffalo are a pick `em in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and three other bowls — Cotton, New Orleans and Capital One — all have 1-point spreads.

DISTANCES

Florida State and Auburn will have to make quite a road trip to play for the final BCS championship despite being about 200 miles apart.

The Seminoles will cover about 2,200 miles to get to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the Tigers have a trip of roughly 2,100 miles to get there.

That’s still not the longest road trip to a bowl. That distinction belongs to Boise State, which will travel about 2,800 miles to play Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl. Central Florida also has a long trip ahead of it before the Fiesta Bowl, needing to go over 2,100 miles to get from Orlando to Glendale, Ariz.

Tulane has the shortest trip, staying in New Orleans for its bowl, but its opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, doesn’t exactly have to go far, traveling about 130 miles for the New Orleans Bowl. Rutgers has a short trip over about 45 minutes across the Hudson River — depending on traffic — for the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame and Maryland should be able to get to the Military Bowl in Annapolis in about a half hour. North Texas has a similar drive to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

NUMBERS

2-Female officials (Sarah Thomas and Maia Chaka) working the Fight Hunger Bowl, a first for an FBS game.

13-Years since UNLV played in a bowl game. The Rebels will face North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

56-Years since Rice had won an outright conference title before taking the Conference USA championship this season.

624.5-Yards of offense per game by Baylor, most in the nation this season by over 50 yards and second-most all-time to the 624.9 by Houston in 1989.

4,866-Passing yards by Fresno State’s Derek Carr, which led the nation.

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December 26, 2013

Associated Press

 

Rookie safety T.J. McDonald heard from a former Pro Bowler after he grabbed his first interception of the season.

His father, Tim, played 13 years in the NFL with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers as a strong safety. He earned Pro Bowl honors six times. He currently is a secondary coach for the New York Jets.

The 6-foot-2, 219-pound McDonald picked off Saints quarterback Drew Brees on New Orleans’ first play after the St. Louis had to punt Sunday. That set the tone for the game.

The Rams scored on their first play on a 31-yard catch and run by tight end Cory Harkey. St. Louis went on get a 27-16 victory.

“He called and congratulated me,” McDonald said of his father Thursday after practice at Rams Park.

“He told me it was a good play. Him being a coach, he analyzed the play a little bit and whatnot. We talked about it. Hopefully, we can talk about another one pretty soon.

“We always talk football. He’s helping me to be the best football player I can be. I think it’s an advantage for me.”

McDonald, a third-round selection, earned the start at strong safety in his first NFL game. He played on all 70 snaps on defense and recorded seven tackles in the 27-24 win over Arizona.

His progress was slowed when sustained a broken leg Sept. 26 against San Francisco in Week 4. McDonald got “leg-whipped” on the play.

The injury landed him on the injured reserve/designated to return list and kept him out for the following eight weeks. He returned in Week 12 for a home game against Chicago.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was a scary situation,” McDonald said. “I was just getting in the groove of things and I wanted to keep going. I had to put it on pause a little bit. I was definitely hungry to get back on the field.”

McDonald is back and getting into the flow in the Rams’ defense. Before he got hurt midway through the 49ers game, McDonald had 18 tackles and a pass breakup.

He earned his spot in the starting lineup against Chicago. He had six tackles.

However, McDonald noted his return to the field left him scrambling to make up for lost time.

“Coming back mentally, I felt good,” McDonald said. “I feel like I’m taking good steps since I’ve come back. I can’t get back all the reps and game time I missed but I’m going forward.”

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said McDonald has done well.

“Well, he’s just getting better and better,” Fisher said. “In his first game back, he had a little trouble decelerating, which is understandable because of the injury.”

The interception was aided by defensive end Robert Quinn, who hit Brees as he was throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham.

Watching film aided McDonald on the play.

“It was something we had seen on tape,” McDonald said. “Graham came in motion and ran a seam route. We got some great pressure from Rob and the D-line. I was just able to make the play. I didn’t think it would take this long to get my first interception and I hope it doesn’t that long to get the next one.”

McDonald played all 86 defensive snaps against New Orleans. He also saw time on six special teams plays. He finished with five tackles, an interception and a pass defended.

That’s the kind of game defensive coordinator Ray Walton said he expects from McDonald.

“He’s flying around and he’s tackling well with a lot of aggression,” Walton said. “We’re very pleased with him. He’s doing all the things you need to do as a safety.”

As for the first interception, McDonald kept the ball.

“I got it put back, most definitely,” McDonald said.

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December 19, 2013

Associated Press

RENTON, Wash. (AP) -- Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner was suspended indefinitely by the NFL on Wednesday for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

The suspension is the second in two seasons for Browner. He was suspended four games last season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He's the second Seahawks player to be suspended for violating the substance abuse policy this season. Fellow cornerback Walter Thurmond is serving the final week of a four-game suspension.

Browner, whose suspension is effective immediately and without pay, sent out a lengthy statement vowing that he would continue to fight his suspension and sounding resigned that his career with the Seahawks was over.

"I want to thank the Seahawks organization for the incredible opportunity they gave me when they took a chance on a player who was out of the NFL and playing in the CFL for 4 years," Browner wrote. "I also want to thank all of my teammates, coaches, trainers, staff and the 12's (fans) for their support, respect, and friendship and for helping me grow into the player, father, and person I am today. I have been treated with nothing but first class by everyone associated with the Seattle Seahawks and for that I am forever grateful.

"Although I disagree with the circumstances surrounding my suspension, I accept responsibility for all of my actions and I apologize for any that causes any unflattering reflections of my family and the Seahawks. I believe in my innocence and will continue to fight with all legal resources available to me to."

Browner, who was injured in Week 10 against Atlanta and hasn't played since, filed an appeal of the suspension while injured and the Seahawks were waiting for an answer from the league. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said earlier Wednesday before the suspension was announced that he was frustrated the process for making a determination on Browner's status had taken so long.

"It has taken a long time and I've been a little disappointed in that, but we're handling it," Carroll said.

Browner is in his third season with the Seahawks. He started all 26 games he has played for the Seahawks and has 19 tackles, one interception and 10 passes defensed this season. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2011 when he had 23 passes defensed and six interceptions, but had not been able to match those numbers in the subsequent two seasons.

Browner was to become a free agent after the season and could file for reinstatement after one year.

News of the suspensions for both Browner and Thurmond came as the Seahawks were returning from their bye in late November. Browner is the seventh official suspension for a Seattle player for substance-abuse or performance-enhancing drugs violations by the league since 2011. That doesn't include Richard Sherman, whose suspension was overturned on appeal late last season.

The two suspensions have given chances to backups Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. They have played well enough that it was not guaranteed Thurmond or Browner would get their starting spots back when they returned.

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