NEW YORK — I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I uttered some version of this phrase in the past few months: “If Michigan State ever gets healthy, the Spartans can win the national title.” I wasn’t alone, obviously. The Spartans have been this wonderfully intriguing mishmash of veterans and viruses, of sophomores and surgeries, of rising stars and swelling joints. It was easy to believe in their talent, rougher to believe in their ability to stay healthy. They started the season 18-1, then won just five of their next dozen games. Coach Tom Izzo has been forced to use 15 different starting lineups this season. Only two players — Denzel Valentine and Gavin Schilling — have appeared in all 36 games. “It was just so frustrating,” sophomore guard Gary Harris told Sporting News. You’ll notice Harris’ use of the word “was” instead of “is.” The Spartans are riding a five-game winning streak into their Sweet 16 showdown with top-seeded Virginia on Friday evening at Madison Square Garden. They’re finally healthy, and showing the ability everyone in the country knew was lurking somewhere in that infirmary report. And “everyone” includes their opponent Friday: “I knew as soon as they got healthy, they’d be back to full force,” Virginia big man Mike Tobey said. The quick recap: Harris missed three games with an ankle injury. Adreian Payne missed seven games, with plantar fasciitis and a foot sprain. Keith Appling missed three with a sore wrist. Branden Dawson missed one with a shin bruise and nine with a broken bone in his right hand. Matt Costello missed four with mononucleosis. Travis Trice missed one with foot blisters and another with an illness. There are other issues, but you get the point. One guy came back, another went out. “It was pretty hard, losing, winning, losing, winning in that stretch we had. It was pretty tough,” said Valentine. “Coach kept pushing us and kept believing in us.” Those inside the Michigan State locker room shared a similar thought about this team: Get healthy, get better. “It seemed like somebody was always hurt, we never had a full team,” Costello said. “We really bonded on that, like, ‘OK, we’ve been through some tough times, let’s go and take care of what we need to take care of. Let’s win some championships at the end of the year.’ ” The Spartans have already wrapped up one championship, blowing past Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament title game. That victory essentially served as the all-clear, the sign that it was finally OK to believe in the Spartans again. Despite their spot as a No. 4 seed in the East region, Michigan State was installed just behind Florida as the Vegas favorite to win it all. “Next thing you know, everybody’s picking you to win the national championship,” Valentine said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Australia’s Adam Scott believes it is no surprise Tiger Woods has pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.Scott will replace Woods as the world No. 1-ranked golfer with a victory at the PGA Tour event in Orlando, Fla. He does not want to miss the opportunity after failing to take his chance at the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this month. Woods pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Tuesday because of a back problem.Scott does not believe Woods will miss the Masters next month.”It has now been two weeks and his previous two tournaments his back has been bothering him,” Scott said on Wednesday.”I am sure his mind is set on being ready for Augusta so it seems simple whether it is Tiger or Jason Day (who is also injured) who are trying to be able to play Augusta. Jason is going to have to get ready and Tiger is doing the same I am sure.” Scott has never been ranked the world’s best player before and hopes he can clinch victory at Bay Hill to achieve a long-term career goals.”I don’t know how many of those chances I’ll get so, again, if that’s the case this week, I’m going to be doing my best to take it,” Scott said.”Because, like I said, the well might dry up and I might never have this opportunity again and I spent 10 years not even thinking about it so to be number one in the world is a pretty incredible achievement whatever you are doing.”
I’m back from Arizona, spending a week at home in New York before heading back on the road for the other half of spring training, in Florida. There’s no better way to start a week than to answer your questions, and thankfully many of you have sent good ones for this week’s #AskSpector Tweetbag. So many, in fact, that I’m keeping a few leftovers for the next edition. If you’d like to be in that next edition of the Tweetbag, just send a question on Twitter using the #AskSpector hashtag!Let’s get to it… @jessespector sneaky/dark horse/sleeper candidate for Cy Young this year in both leagues? #AskSpector— Luke Longmuir (@lukelongmuir) March 8, 2014 I picked Yu Darvish for the American League and Clayton Kershaw for the National League in the Sporting News Baseball Yearbook, so I didn’t exactly go with sleepers. For purposes of this discussion, let’s throw out last year’s other Cy Young finalists, Jose Fernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Max Scherzer, and Adam Wainwright. Also toss aside active former winners Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, David Price, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana and Justin Verlander. Okay, Lincecum and Santana would qualify as sleepers, but you get the point. There are others, like Stephen Strasburg, who would feel like cheap picks for this exercise.The guy who I’ve probably talked about most as a dark horse for this year is Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, and White Sox left-hander Chris Sale would be my corresponding pick for the American League. If those guys are too easy to pick because both received Cy Young votes last year, I’ll go with Indians ace Justin Masterson and Pirates flamethrower Gerrit Cole. @jessespector which group of 4 met pitchers do u think will have more wins as mets: Doc/El Sid/Ron/Bobby O or Harvey/Wheeler/Synd./Montero?— sportstalkny (@sportstalkny) March 8, 2014 Dwight Gooden (157), Ron Darling (99), Sid Fernandez (98), and Bob Ojeda (51) won a combined 405 games for the Mets. To date, Matt Harvey (12), Zack Wheeler (7), Noah Syndergaard (0), and Rafael Montero (0) have combined for 19 wins. Two have yet to pitch in the major leagues, and one is out for this entire season. As much promise as they all have, this is a big ask, to have all four pan out as successful major leaguers, and stay with the Mets long enough for an average of 100 wins apiece.How hard is it? Here are the active pitchers with 100 or more wins for a single team: Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Mark Buehrle (White Sox), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Tim Hudson (Braves), John Lackey (Angels), Jon Lester (Red Sox), CC Sabathia (Indians), Justin Verlander (Tigers), and Jered Weaver (Angels). Of those pitchers, only Hernandez, Lester, Verlander and Weaver are still with those clubs. Player movement being so fluid, even with top-flight talent, I’d go with Gooden and Co. and their 405 wins already in the bank. @jessespector Do you think it is weird when pitchers don’t get charged for runs when they commit the throwing error.. IT’S WEIRD JESSE— Michael Dixon (@spazmaztic) March 8, 2014 It does seem strange, but when you think about it more, it makes sense. Earned run average measures pitching performance, and the goal of any statistic should be to hone in as close as possible to what it is measuring. A pitcher’s fielding prowess is part of his full package of tools as a baseball player, but does not reflect on his pitching. If a pitcher misplays a ground ball, it does not change the fact that he accomplished his primary goal of inducing a ground ball back to the mound. That should be reflected in the most commonly used statistic to measure pitching performance. More advanced statistics for pitchers aim to take defense entirely out of the equation — the most popular of these is FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching, so leaving pitchers’ fielding out of ERA really is not a problem to me. @jessespector Is there any broadcast team in full that’s worse than the Jays’? We have some bright spots but in total it’s pretty subpar.— Lucas Kschischang (@kukastweets) March 8, 2014 I don’t know much about the quality of Toronto’s broadcasts because I hardly ever listen to any. I live in New York, so Yankees games I watch are on YES, and I very much like the other three play-by-play men in the American League East — Don Orsillo (Red Sox), Gary Thorne (Orioles), and Dewayne Staats (Rays). The result is the same as how I view the National League West, primarily with Dodgers games called by Vin Scully, supplemented with great broadcast teams in San Francisco, San Diego and Arizona… and no idea how good or bad the Rockies’ announcers might be. @jessespector #AskSpector Yankees. Contenders? Pretenders? They seem old. #SignedAMetsFan— Duke Wall (@dukewall66) March 8, 2014 Contenders. They are old, but not as old as last year, and while there are question marks, the talent of the outfield is top-notch, the addition of Brian McCann at catcher makes a big difference to me, and I think people are making a mistake to say that Derek Jeter is done. There are question marks in the infield, for sure, but there also is depth that did not exist last year. I think they’re in the race, and that’s why I picked them as a wild-card team. @jessespector in everything, for whatever criteria you want, what’s your favorite stadium to be in? #AskSpector— Kailey Kubota (@KaileyK) March 9, 2014 Wrigley Field, on pretty much every level. I even love the tiny clubhouses, because in more modern facilities, players have lounges where they can hang out and avoid being interviewed by the media. As a fan, I’m going to be very sad when they put in a jumbotron, but I do believe that they’ll be able to maintain the spirit of Wrigley, where it’s pretty much impossible to have a bad time. @jessespector Who’s the biggest threat to the Astros as the worst team in baseball?— Craig (@WardenBear) March 8, 2014 The posted over/under for gambling is 63.5 wins for the Astros, five worse than the next-lowest total, which belongs to the Chicago Cubs. The Miami Marlins are listed at 69.5. None of these teams has any real plan to contend this year, so take your pick, I guess, but let me also throw in the Phillies, who are on the precipice of collapse under the weight of their Social Security checks, and could crash violently with a July selloff, and the Blue Jays, who are a pretty good team in a hellscape of a division and also could be seen as big-time July sellers. What do you think of @imseanavery’s chances on Dancing With the Stars? #AskSpector— Jo Schmoe (@daigledog) March 4, 2014 I am not a “Dancing With The Stars” watcher, but there are some ways to handicap Avery’s chances as he becomes the first hockey player, active or retired, to appear on the show. There have been 17 seasons of DWTS, and athletes have a pretty good record, with wins by Emmitt Smith (season 3), Apolo Ohno (season 4), Helio Castroneves (season 5), Kristi Yamaguchi (season 6), Shawn Johnson (season 8), Hines Ward (season 12) and Donald Driver (season 14).Avery is paired with a former champion professional in Karina Smirnoff, who won dancing with actor J.R. Martinez in season 13, and was in the top three each of the past two seasons, with Jacoby Jones and Corbin Bleu. Peta Murgatroyd, the last female pro to win, in season 14, is paired with James Maslow, of whom I know nothing, while two-time winner Cheryl Burke goes with Drew Carey. As far as the competition among male celebrities goes, Avery’s chances look okay. He’s always been in great shape, knows how to move his body, and has a sense of style. That said, the Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancers, Meryl Davis (with Maksim Chemerkovskiy) and Charlie White (with Shanna Burgess) have to be considered the favorites, as they’re basically coming down a degree of difficulty, from dancing on ice to dancing on the ground. @jessespector Your love affair with In ‘n Out was well documented. If you opened a restaurant, what would it be like? #AskSpector— Matt F. (@95Sports) March 9, 2014 I don’t imagine I’m alone in this, but I have restaurant ideas all the time that I never do anything with. The one most prominent in my mind right now is an ice cream shop where you get a banana split wrapped in a tortilla for a portable and hand-friendly dessert. Ideally, the tortilla would be chocolate, and some tinkering must be done to keep melting ice cream from getting on your hands. It’s a work in progress. @jessespector If you could be any NHL player, past or present for a day, who would it be? #AskSpector— Theresa (@TheHockeyViper) March 9, 2014 Bobby Orr on May 10, 1970. If time travel is unavailable, Teemu Selanne. @jessespector if you could see any player for a season live, any sport, who would it be and what season? #AskSpector #tsn— One Man Gang (@Sid_and_Geno) March 9, 2014 This question is entirely too difficult, so I’ll cop out and go with a player I hoped to see live, but did not: Lionel Messi in 2011. I flew to England to watch Sunderland play Newcastle in the opening game of the 2011-12 season, then went on to Spain, where I hoped to see Messi and Barcelona face Malaga, but the game was called off because La Liga went on strike. They eventually made up the game, but I was long since back in the U.S. I still had a great time spending a day and night in Spain, but it’s tough to know that I didn’t get to see one of the world’s best athletes at the peak of his powers when I was there and the game was scheduled. @jessespector #AskSpector Are the Rangers a better team having traded Callahan?— Susan Lewis (@kitty62862) March 9, 2014 Yes, as Martin St. Louis is a better player than Ryan Callahan. Whether the trade works out in the long term depends on the draft picks, but the Rangers are a team with a window of opportunity centered around an elite goaltender who is over 30, and as much as Callahan meant to the team, they are better with St. Louis. @jessespector #AskSpector why do people live in places that aren’t california— Chemmy (@felixpotvin) March 9, 2014 Many people do not really have a choice. I do have a choice, and as much as I love New York, I think the only thing that keeps me in the northeast is proximity to family. I’m sick of winter. I could leave tomorrow and never miss it. I’d be happy to come back and visit in the summer. But there are other places that don’t get cold where I would be happy to live. Unfortunately, most of these are in the southern hemisphere, but I think that “Uruguay is super nice” is a solid reason not to live in California. @jessespector Why must our government interfere with my sleep schedule? #AskSpector— Cassie McClellan (@dagmar27) March 9, 2014 Government does not mess with your sleep schedule if you live in Arizona. Personally, I’d be happy to keep daylight saving time year round, but then, I’m more of a night person anyway. @jessespector #AskSpector #topical #daylightsavings what’s better: sleeping in or going out for brunch?— CorneliusHardenbergh (@HBAdventure) March 9, 2014 Sleeping in is better, because the very nature of brunch is to be flexible in terms of time. I generally find brunch to be distressing, because there’s always menu regret — too many options. @jessespector Going back and forth between hockey and baseball, how much catch up to do on with stat advancements & personnel? #AskSpector— Keith (@KeithLHHockey) March 9, 2014 I was still a baseball fan when I was writing hockey, so it really wasn’t that much work catching up, since I’d already been following along. Personnel was a little trickier, because there were definitely players who came into the majors during the years I covered hockey who were under my radar. But I spent the few weeks of transition between the two jobs pretty much reading as much as I could and catching up that way. @jessespector Will Shea Weber be a Flyer next year?! #AskSpector pic.twitter.com/7L5ypvbU6C— cGrossHockey (@cGrossHockey) March 9, 2014 No, because then there wouldn’t be any “The Flyers should trade for Shea Weber” columns anymore, and those are the lifeblood of the NHL economy. Can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. @jessespector Shouldn’t there be more timeouts in basketball? Doesn’t seem like there are enough. #AskSpector— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 9, 2014 Chris Webber agrees. Sorry, Michigan fans, that will never not be funny to me. It’s not the timeouts that are the problem to me in basketball. It’s the accompanying commercials, and in the NBA, the fact that teams get to advance the ball more than halfway up the floor because they called one. Imagine if a baseball team could call timeout and instantly get a runner on second. It’s stupid. @jessespector #AskSpector What do you make of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro this year? Bounce back or more of the same from last year?— Ricky Sanders (@RSandersRX) March 9, 2014 I think they’ll be better. It’s important to remember that progress in baseball is not always linear, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the Cubs have a new manager in Rick Renteria. Also, I wouldn’t be too down on Rizzo. His averages definitely slipped last year, but his walk rate went way up, and he hit 23 home runs. @jessespector HAve you seen the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. If so, how much do you love them #askspector— bobby lemaire (@bib21693) March 9, 2014 I’ve only seen the first one. I liked it. I don’t really know why I haven’t gotten around to seeing the others. @jessespector what event do you want to cover the most in your career? #AskSpector— Monica McAlister (@MonicaMcAlister) March 9, 2014 I’ve done the Stanley Cup, World Series and Super Bowl in the last year, so that’s pretty cool. I haven’t done the NBA Finals, but I have covered an NBA playoff game. I think the Olympics are a pretty obvious target, but I would be just as happy to go to the Olympics as a fan. Same for the World Cup, and honestly the Super Bowl was that way, too — it was cool just to be there and check it off the sports bucket list that is more a metaphor than any actual list I have. It’s a different kind of “cover,” but I’d like to do some of these events as a photographer. @jessespector Which Valley area In-n-Out was your favorite? #AskSpector— Brendan Porter (@brendanporter) March 9, 2014 I don’t really have a favorite, because they’re all very similar and serving the same food, but I liked that I could walk to the one in Tempe from my hotel when I was in Arizona. @jessespector What should I have for lunch today? #AskSpector— Nora Fayerberg (@NoraFayerberg) March 9, 2014 Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Simple. Classic. Always a winner. @jessespector How masculine is too masculine? pic.twitter.com/uIU2pMcuMn— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) March 9, 2014 I believe that searching for the answer to this question was a large part of what made “King of the Hill” such a great show. Animation can help us to answer some of the questions that stretch the boundaries of imagination, and at a time like this, I believe that the answer can be found in the Warner Brothers vault.When you’re so hopped up on testosterone as to no longer be able to form words, but only grunts and growls, that’s too masculine.
He has had Carmelo Anthony on his side, and these days, that counts for a lot in New York. That’s the best way to explain how Knicks coach Mike Woodson has managed to keep his job.By most accounts, Woodson should have been a goner long ago. The Knicks are 22-40, six games out of a playoff spot and needing to jump ahead of three teams, including two (Atlanta and Detroit) that hold a tiebreaker edge. New York closes with 11 of 20 on the road, and even if the Knicks somehow managed to go 13-7 to finish the year, the Hawks would need to go 8-16 to give the Knicks a playoff shot. In other words, Woodson has led what was expected to be a contender in the East out of a playoff spot altogether.Which begs the question: How the heck did he manage to stay on this long? For that answer, you have to go back two years, when Knick-dom was still in the waning throes of the Jeremy Lin phenomenon. Anthony, you’ll remember, had been injured for much of that oh-so-brief Linsanity phase, and when he returned the oil-and-water nature of Lin’s game vs. Anthony’s game became apparent. Lin needed the ball in his hands. Anthony needed it in his.When the Knicks ran a losing streak to six games in mid-March that year, coach Mike D’Antoni (Lin’s main benefactor) paid the price and left the job by mutual agreement. Woodson took over and returned the reins to Anthony, tossing a bucket of cold water on what Lin had done the previous month.Lin injured his knee shortly thereafter, but you can bet Woodson’s approach registered with Anthony — in what came down to a Lin vs. Anthony choice, the coach had his star’s back.This year can be seen as Anthony returning the favor. Woodson may well be the most embattled coach in the league, and has been for three months. Yet he has hung on, through a folly of a season in which his players seemed to have given up on him. That he owes to Anthony.Anthony will be a free agent this summer, and given the Knicks’ rotten showing this season, the surety of re-signing him to a long-term contract has faded within the organization. There is a bit more urgency to cater to Anthony, a favorite of Knicks owner James Dolan. At least once during the season, Dolan huddled up with Anthony about the future of the team and what to do with Woodson.Inevitably, Anthony backed Woodson, and that’s why he is still the coach.That’s not to say the Knicks have not considered taking action on Woodson.Those rumors reach as far back as early December, with the first report that the Knicks were seriously considering firing Woodson and pursuing former New York coach Jeff Van Gundy. Another report stated that Woodson was to be fired in mid-December if the Knicks’ game in Milwaukee — which they won in double overtime, in spite of themselves — didn’t go well.Remember, too, when the Knicks were nearing “open revolt” in mid-January, and even the mild-mannered Tyson Chandler was making insubordinate comments about his coach? Or how about last month, just ahead of the All-Star Game, when the Knicks were said to be certain to let Woodson go before the break? When that didn’t happen, they would let him go just after the break. Assistant Herb Williams was said be ready to step in for Woodson.The latest report suggested that, as of Feb. 26, the next three to five games would be crucial for Woodson. That was five games ago. Before their win Wednesday in Minnesota, the Knicks had lost four in a row, by an average margin of 19.8 points. New York has gone 2-8 since the All-Star break, allowing an average of 105.5 points and scoring just 96.0. All of this does not mean that Woodson will stick with the Knicks — if even Anthony gives up and gives the say-so, Woodson could be fired by week’s end.Chances are, Woodson lasts the season and the Knicks put on a thorough coaching search, one done with the goal of keeping Anthony as a free agent. The names will be big, with Van Gundy certainly to be approached, and the likes of Phil Jackson, Lionel Hollins and Tom Thibodeau (who is unlikely to leave Chicago, of course) to be bandied about, too.But it is a near miracle that Woodson has lasted as long as he has this season, and an even bigger miracle should he stay on the bench for the remaining six weeks. For that, no question, he can thank Anthony.
PHOENIX — Former NFL All-Pro safety Darren Sharper was indicted in Arizona on charges of sexual assault and administering dangerous drugs, authorities said Wednesday.It was the latest development in several ongoing sexual assault investigations involving the Sharper in Louisiana, California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Sharper, 38, was in custody Wednesday in Los Angeles, where he has pleaded not guilty to seven rape and drug counts in connection with two alleged attacks in Hollywood. He had been freed on $1 million bail until an arrest warrant was issued in a New Orleans case.In Arizona, the Tempe Police Department said a grand jury in metro Phoenix had charged Sharper after sexual assaults committed in Tempe in November.Police didn’t release any other details of the charges. The indictment has not yet been publicly released. A call to the county prosecutor’s office, which runs grand jury investigations, wasn’t immediately returned.Police reports released earlier said two women believed they were sexually assaulted by Sharper at a Tempe apartment on Nov. 21. One of the women told police she suspected she had been drugged before she was attacked.It’s not known whether Sharper has a lawyer in Arizona.Prosecutors in New Orleans said Wednesday there will not be an indictment of Sharper there by Thursday, a deadline set by a California judge who said she would have to release Sharper if charges weren‘t filed by then in Louisiana. The case remained under investigation, New Orleans assistant district attorney Christopher Bowman said.Sharper was selected All-Pro six times and chosen for the Pro Bowl five times. He played in two Super Bowls, one with the Green Bay Packers as a rookie and was part of a successful championship run while with the New Orleans Saints.He retired after the 2010 season and was working as an analyst for the NFL Network before being fired last week.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino and Tom Lyles, the father of Class of 2014 Kentucky recruit Trey Lyles, can’t seem to remember the same conversation the same way.During an appearance Tuesday on the Dan Patrick Show, Pitino was asked if he had ever been told by a recruit that he was going to be a one-and-done player, and Pitino replied: “A young man Trey Lyles, who came down to Kentucky and us, said to me he wanted to stay in college one year and how did I feel about that. I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t make that decision. I certainly couldn’t make that decision. You should let the pros make that decision.’ I said, ‘Going into it you don’t want to get disappointed and certainly have a great freshman year and let the pros tell you if you’re ready.’ ” However, Pitino’s side of the story, which appears at approximately the 1-minute mark of the video, doesn’t mesh with what the Lyles camp is saying.”What was said at the time was, ‘If it’s the right time for him to go and if he’s mentally prepared as well as ready talent-wise, it’s something that would be looked at and talked about as a family,’ ” Trey’s father Tom Lyles told The Indianapolis Star. “Trey isn’t going to college thinking he’s a one-and-done player. It’s accurate to say the NBA was talked about, but it’s not accurate to say Trey told him he’s going to be one-and-done.”Tom Lyles also said he was in a position to know what was said between Pitino and his son, given he was there for every meeting between the two. “Actually, part the recruiting pitch from (Cardinals assistant Kevin) Keatts was that Trey could be Pitino’s first one-and-done player,” Tom Lyles told The Indianapolis Star. “The big sell was that he could break that stigma that Pitino doesn’t get one-and-done players. So I’m surprised that was put out there the way it was. But it’s more important to us that Trey is mentally and physically ready for the NBA if that happens, than being ‘one-and-done.’ And I’m not saying anything that Trey wouldn’t echo me on.”And thus concludes the latest piece of friction between Louisville and Kentucky. You’ll remember that Wildcats coach John Calipari did give Pitino and Tom Izzo the business for knocking social media just a few weeks ago.Now that Pitino has returned fire, we’ll see what Cal cooks up next.
The search for missing OHL player Terry Trafford, sadly, is over.Trafford’s body was found in his pickup truck on Tuesday, eight days after he went missing, the Saginaw Spirit announced. Trafford, 20, disappeared shortly after the team sent him home for disciplinary reasons and had told his girlfriend he was “devastated” by it. The Spirit released a statement confirming the news:Our deepest condolences are with Terry’s family and his friends both in Ontario and Michigan. Terry played on our team and was a member of the Spirit family for the last four years and he will be missed.We have reached out to Terry’s parents and will look to provide them with support over the coming days. In addition, we met with team players and staff this evening, along with our Team Chaplain.On behalf of the Spirit we would like to thank the police who were looking for Terry, the media for providing updates and all who provided information. The coming days will be difficult and we will endeavor to keep the community and media apprised of arrangements and other details. Hockey lost a great young man today, wish his family all the best. Rest in peace, Terry Trafford. pic.twitter.com/KxQGn6jCdx— Will English (@will_english19) March 12, 2014Trafford last was seen about 9:30 a.m. on March 3 at the Dow Event Center, the team’s home arena in Saginaw, Mich. Michigan State Police started investigating his disappearance on March 9 and had coordinated their efforts with police in Trafford’s hometown of Toronto.He’d been living with Saginaw coach Craig Goslin and his family.”The reason that he was in with us was that he needed some mentoring,” Goslin told MLive.com. “We made sure we mentored the young man.”
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Novak Djokovic benefited from an erroneous call and claimed he didn’t realize he had broken the rules. When Andy Murray walked to the net and challenged him about it, Djokovic responded with a shrug and a sheepish smile.Murray lost the dispute, and the match. The pivotal ruling against the defending champion helped Djokovic win 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Sony Open. Roger Federer was up a service break twice in the second set but lost to No. 20-seeded Kei Nishikori 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Nishikori will play Djokovic on Friday.The point that aggravated Murray occurred at the start of the 12th game, when he was serving at 5-6. Djokovic charged forward to volley a short ball and hit it for a winner.Murray argued — and TV replays confirmed — he should have be awarded the point because Djokovic’s racket was on the far side of the net when he hit the ball. Chair umpire Damian Steiner declined to change his call, and such rulings can’t be appealed for video review.Murray briefly discussed the matter with Djokovic.”I went and asked Novak, and he told me he was over the net,” Murray said.”Look, it might be my mistake,” Djokovic said. “I think I crossed the net with the racket. I didn’t touch the net. Maybe the rule is that you are not allowed to pass on his side with the racket. I’m not sure. You tell me.”That is indeed the rule. Djokovic said that if he had understood it correctly, he would have conceded the point.A flustered Murray committed unforced backhand errors on the next three points to lose the game and the set.”Obviously, that distracted him mentally, and after that he gave the set away,” Djokovic said.Murray took a lead in the second set but lost the final four games and the last 12 points. Afterward, he downplayed the bad call.”I’m not angry,” he said. “It maybe had a slight bearing on that game, but I was still up a break in the second set.”Djokovic’s next opponent, Nishikori, will be playing in only his second ATP Masters 1000 semifinal, and his first in 2½ years. He advanced by breaking Federer five times, including in the final game.”I thought I really played well, especially in the third set,” Nishikori said. “I was hitting balls deep and striking well. Everything was going well.”Federer was the runner-up to Djokovic at Indian Wells two weeks ago, and said he’s pleased with his start to the year despite the latest loss.”I just couldn’t find my rhythm on the serve today, which was surprising,” Federer said. “It’s a bit frustrating, but Kei did well to stay with me. He was more consistent in the second and third, and in the end it’s to his credit.”Li Na became the first Chinese woman to reach the Key Biscayne semifinals when she beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 7-5. Li’s opponent Thursday night will be Dominika Cibulkova, who erased three match points in the second set — one when a call was overturned via replay — and beat Agnieszka Radwanska 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.Six-time champion Serena Williams will play five-time runner-up Maria Sharapova in the other women’s semifinal. Williams has beaten Sharapova 14 consecutive times.Murray won the Key Biscayne title in 2009 and 2013 but wasn’t at his best against Djokovic. The Scotsman committed five double-faults and 32 unforced errors, including a flurry down the stretch.He took a 3-2 lead in the second set with his only service break, then double-faulted twice to give it right back.But it all might have been different if not for the call that made one point stand out from the other 125. Djokovic had won praise for his sportsmanship when he conceded a point following an erroneous call in his match Tuesday, but against good friend Murray, he left the verdict to the umpire.A sideline reporter told Murray that TV replays showed he was correct about the call, and during the ensuing changeover he questioned Steiner.”His racket was over the net,” Murray said. “It’s quite clear. You can see it on the replay.””I have to make a decision at the moment,” Steiner replied.Any hard feelings on Murray’s part didn’t carry over after the match, when he shook hands with Djokovic and Steiner. “It’s a hard one for the umpire to call,” Murray said. “Just frustrating.”And Djokovic said the call was the umpire’s to make.”It’s not my fault,” he said. “I mean, I was never lying on the court. I always try to be fair to whoever I play against.”
Congratulations to the Sporting News NFL Executive of the Quarter-Year, Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith.Also, congratulations to Sporting News for blatantly making up a new award just to give it to him. The award normally given out is for a full season, but what Smith has done with one of the league’s more dysfunctional franchises deserves special recognition. Considering the Buccaneers’ assets, or lack of them, nobody has done more in the early part of the 2014 free-agent season than Smith, the new head coach, and Jason Licht, the ex-Cardinals’ and Patriots’ executive hired to be Smith’s GM.Broncos vice president John Elway called the battle for talent between his team and the Patriots “kind of a fun arms race.”They already have weapons, though. Smith entered free agency armed with a slingshot.But his reputation, connection with players and respect from them have put him in the fight in just 2 1/2 months on the job.To an organization still reeling from the disastrous two-year Greg Schiano fiasco, Smith has signed quarterback Josh McCown (the new starter), left tackle Anthony Collins, guard Evan Dietrich-Smith, guard Oneil Cousins and tight end Brandon Myers for the offense; and cornerback Alterraun Verner , defensive end Michael Johnson , defensive tackle Clifton McDonald and linebacker Dane Fletcher for the defense. He also re-signed promising running back Bobby Rainey. Verner, Johnson, Collins and McDonald were on Sporting News’s list of the top 50 free agents.The gutsiet move: releasing cornerback Darrelle Revis after just 11 months. Smith and Licht inherited a roster that started last year 0-8 on the way to 4-12, a young quarterback (Mike Glennon) anointed by the old regime in the wake of the mishandled Josh Freeman benching, a feature back (Doug Martin) who missed most of the season injured, the NFL’s worst offense and a middle-of-the-pack defense that was about to lose the expensive Revis.It’s a legacy of championships versus a legacy of MRSA.The regular season is still nearly six months away, so the Bucs may have won nothing more than the unwanted “offseason championship.” Still, so far, Smith has made his team as much of a contender as the Super Bowl favorites.VIDEO: Tucker on bargain shopping in free agency
Here’s a deep thought for you: First base and third base are both 90 feet away from home plate, but they’re leagues apart in terms of fantasy depth.Take that, Jack Handey– there’s a new philosopher in town. In fact, there are three, and you can hear all of us on the latest Sporting News Fantasy Source Baseball podcast. Bill Bender, Brad Pinkerton and Matt Lutovsky drop some serious knowledge (and one unfortunate infectious disease comment) about the corner infield positions. (Download link): Podcast: C/RP preview | Mock Draft | Draft Kit:vs. vs.vs.– who comes out alive in this first-round cage match?=?Whyoffers better value thanand.What can we reasonably (or unreasonably) expect from?=?, a Fantasy Source love letterreveals why he holds a grudge againstSleeper picks: A Phillie (Philly?), a Rockie (Rocky?) and an A (?) make the cutF(orget) That Guy picks: Three oldies — and apparently not goodies — make the list, including a Phillie (Philly?), White Sock (?) and the aforementioned nemesis of Brad Pinkerton, Mark Teixeira.:vs.How boring is?Why we all likemore thanandThe various problems — be them medical or glandular — with,andMike Moustakas = James Loney?Why don’t late-round 3Bs hit homers anymore? Sleeper picks: We’ve got a Tiger, a baby bear and an article of clothing. Sorry, it seemed like there would be more of a theme when I started typing that sentence.F(orget) That Guy: We have a nice mix of old and young here, and we ultimately go off on a tangent about Taco Bell breakfast — because that’s going to help you win your fantasy league.We’ll be back next Tuesday (and every Tuesday) with a new episode of our free podcast, which you can find on the SN Podcast SoundCloud page, our Tumblr page, our podcast page and on iTunes.
While the physical tests garner much of the attention at the NFL Combine, the interview portion of the pre-draft event is just as important. It’s the portion of the Combine where teams get to find out what type of person a player is.It’s where red flags are raised and players show whether or not they can handle media pressure. It’s not uncommon for scouts to ask players about their family history, such was the case when the Dolphins questioned Dez Bryant about his mother’s past work as a prostitute.This year’s bizarre interview comes from Blake Bortles, the Central Florida quarterback who some are pegging as a potential No. 1 overall pick.In case you’re new to the internet, Blake Bortles has a girlfriend. She’s attractive. Very attractive. So naturally, scouts inquired about her, possibly to see if he would be comfortable answering question about his personal life.Bortles appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and detailed what the exchange was like. This isn’t the first time a girlfriend has been brought up at the combine, though. But it may be the first time a “real” girlfriend has been discussed.Remember Manti Te’o?(H/T Will Brinson)
Normally so composed, so in control, so not-very-teenlike on and off the slopes, Mikaela Shiffrin suddenly found herself in an awkward position halfway through the second leg of the Olympic slalom.Guilty, perhaps, of charging too hard as she swayed this way and that around the course’s gates, Shiffrin briefly lost her balance. Her left ski rose too far off the snow. Her chance at a gold medal in the event she’s dominated for two years was about to slip away. “Yeah, that was pretty terrifying for me. There I was, I’m like, ‘Grrreat. I’m just going to go win my first medal.’ And then, in the middle of the run, I’m like, ‘Guess not,'” the American said with a laugh Friday night. “So like, ‘No. Don’t do that. Do not give up. You see this through.’ My whole goal was to just keep my skis moving.”Somehow, she did just that. Shiffrin stayed upright, gathered herself and, although giving away precious time there, was able to make a big lead from the first leg stand up. She won by more than a half-second to become, at 18, the youngest slalom champion in Olympic history.”It’s going to be something that I chalk up as one of my favorite experiences for the rest of my life,” Shiffrin said. “But my life’s not over yet.”No, Mikaela, it’s not. It’s only just beginning. Think about this for a moment: How might a typical American teenager have spent her Friday night? At the mall with friends? At a movie? At a high school dance?Shiffrin spent hers outracing the best skiers in the world down a floodlit Rosa Khutor course, knocking aside gates with her neon yellow pole handles. She was fastest in the first run, then sixth-fastest in the second, for a combined time of 1 minute, 44.54 seconds.A pair of Austrians won silver and bronze: Marlies Schild was 0.53 behind Shiffrin, and Kathrin Zettel was 0.81 back. At 32, Schild is the oldest Olympic slalom medalist ever — old enough to have been someone Shiffrin looked up to as, well, even more of a kid than she is now.”I won my age class,” Schild joked.She holds the record with 35 career World Cup slalom wins and now owns three Olympic medals in the discipline, two silvers and a bronze.”You know what’s surreal? That Marlies and Mikaela are on a podium together,” said Shiffrin’s father, Jeff. “Marlies, she’s battled, she’s had injuries, but she’s been the queen of slalom. Mikaela has said, ‘I’ve channeled Marlies.'”Shiffrin has won nine of the last 19 World Cup or world championship slaloms; no one else has won more than two in that span. Last year, her slalom world title made her the youngest champion in any event since 1985.ATHLETES EXPELLEDThe first doping cases also hit the Winter Games on Friday. Italian bobsledder William Frullani and German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle were kicked out of the games after positive doping tests. Frullani was in the four-man bobsled race, which begins Saturday. Sachenbacher-Stehle, a five-time Olympic medalist, participated in five events in Sochi but did not win any medals.4X6-KILOMETER BIATHLONFour Ukrainian women gave their politically torn country some good news.Ukraine’s team of twins Vita and Valj Semerenko, Juliya Dzhyma, and Olena Pidhrushna missed five targets but avoided penalty loops to finish in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 2.5 seconds. Russia was 26.4 seconds behind to take silver, and Norway trailed by 37.6 to win bronze.As government and opposition leaders worked to end the months-long Ukrainian crisis that erupted in deadly violence this week, the four women celebrated with a Ukrainian flag as lawmakers back home paused to mark the occasion.”Great proof of how sport can unite the nation,” Sergei Bubka, the pole vault great and leader of the Ukraine Olympic Committee, wrote on Twitter.FREESTYLE SKIINGThompson and Serwa gave Canada its third 1-2 finish in freestyle skiing events in Sochi. The others came in men’s and women’s moguls. Canada also won gold and bronze in women’s slopestyle skiing, and picked up a silver in the men’s halfpipe, for a total of nine freestyle medals. In the skicross final, Ophelie David of France wiped out about two-thirds down the course, giving the bronze to Sweden’s Anna Holmlund.CURLINGCanada routed Britain 9-3 to win its third straight gold medal in men’s curling. Canada’s championship gave the country a sweep of the curling titles in Sochi. The Canadian women won their first-ever curling title on Thursday. Sweden won the bronze in men’s curling, taking an extra end to defeat China 6-4. SPEEDSKATINGShort track speedskating gold medals went to Viktor Ahn of Russia in the men’s 500, to Park Seung-hi of South Korea in the women’s 1,000, and to Russia in the men’s 5,000-meter relay.Ahn, who was born in South Korea and became a Russian citizen in 2011, now has a career record eight short track medals. In addition to winning the 500, he anchored the Russian 5,000 relay team. He also became the first skater to win all four individual short track events at the Olympics. The U.S. team won silver in the relay, ending a medal drought for the American speedskaters. The long track team failed to get on the podium in 12 events, and the U.S. had been shut out in the first seven events at short track.Contributors: The Associated Press, Jason O. Boyd
JOHANNESBURG — Parts of Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial can be broadcast live on television by three remote-controlled cameras in court, but testimony given by the double-amputee Olympian can’t be shown, a judge ruled Tuesday.Pistorius’ lawyers failed in their bid to stop any part of the trial being broadcast as a judge sitting in the North Gauteng High Court, where the trial will open next week, ruled mostly in favor of the South African TV and radio applicants. A live audio-only feed can broadcast the entire trial.Judge Dunstan Mlambo’s decision opens up much of Pistorius’ blockbuster trial to the expected scrutiny of millions of fascinated followers around the world.”Court proceedings are in fact public and this objective must be recognized,” Mlambo said.The decision came two days after a Twitter site to be used by members of Pistorius’ family during the trial became active. It already has more than 20,000 followers.Mlambo, who won’t preside over the trial, granted permission to the South African media houses to install unmanned television cameras in unobtrusive locations in the courtroom before the trial starts Monday. Still photographs can be taken by two mounted cameras operated by photographers, but TV footage or photographs cannot show “extreme” close up images of anyone and some witnesses who object can stop their testimony from being broadcast.Trial judge Thokozile Masipa can stop the recordings at any time, Mlambo said.Pistorius’ lawyers argued that broadcasting the trial in any way would harm his chances of a fair trial. Brian Webber, a lawyer for Pistorius, declined to comment on the ruling, saying he had yet to study it.Pistorius was charged with murder for the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp a year ago, unleashing a wave of intense interest in the already world-famous disabled athlete. He faces 25 years in prison if he is convicted on the main charge of premeditated murder, which he denies.Mlambo called Pistorius “a local and international icon” and said the broadcast decision was a “balancing act” between guaranteeing him a fair trial and also respecting the freedom of the media. South African democracy is relatively young and the justice system is “still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and vulnerable,” Mlambo said.”Enabling a larger South African society to follow firsthand the criminal proceedings which involve a celebrity so to speak will go a long way into dispelling these negative and unfounded perceptions about the justice system,” he said.The broadcasts also can be made available to international stations through a sharing agreement.Opening and closing arguments can be shown along with the presiding judge’s decision and sentencing shouldPistorius be convicted, Mlambo ruled. Expert state witnesses’ and police officers’ testimonies can be broadcast on television and photographed, but not those of Pistorius or his defense witnesses.The judge did not explain the reason for blocking images of Pistorius and defense witnesses.The court could consider showing some testimonies from behind the witness stand, obscuring faces or using a general wide shot of the court. No parts of confidential discussions between Pistorius and his lawyers can be broadcast in any way, nor can discussions at the bench among the prosecution, defense and judge, Mlambo said.The broadcast applications were brought by a South African television news station, a radio network and a cable provider which plans to launch a 24-hour TV channel dedicated to the Pistorius trial on Sunday.Pistorius’ spokeswoman, Anneliese Burgess, told The Associated Press earlier Tuesday that the new Twitter feed, titled @OscarHardTruth, will be operated by herself and members of Pistorius’ family “for information sharing.”Pistorius’ lawyers argued broadcasting the trial, and specifically witness testimony, could influence the evidence given by later witnesses. The prosecution did not oppose the general application for live broadcast, as long as some conditions were met, but one legal expert said it’s a risk.”It actually puts the state under far more pressure to make sure that the process behind this trial and the preparation of witnesses is absolutely faultless,” said Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the public law department at the University of Cape Town. Phenyo Butale of the Johannesburg-based Freedom of Expression Institute, a non-governmental organization, noted the decision was in line with the expansion of freedom of expression in South Africa since the severe restrictions under apartheid, and trusted the experience of judges.Trial judge Masipa will ultimately pronounce Pistorius innocent or guilty as South Africa has no trial by jury.”In a justice system like ours, where you have a highly experienced judge or judicial officer presiding over the case, chances of (the judge) being swayed by media reports and what happens in the court of public opinion are highly unlikely,” Butale said. “You cannot only imply that there would be prejudice. It has to be demonstrable.”
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has run out of compliments for Lionel Messi after the Argentine’s hat trick against Real Madrid on Sunday.The Argentine star struck three times, including two second-half penalties, to lead his side to a 4-3 Clasico win at Santiago Bernabeu. With his first goal, which came just before halftime to level the contest at 2-2, Messi became the all-time leading goalscorer in Clasico matches, surpassing former Real striker Alfredo Di Stefano.Martino admits he has run out of superlatives for Messi, telling reporters: “I can hardly talk about Leo but there’s no need. It’s compliment after compliment.”Today he breaks another record. I hope he gives me the match ball!”Karim Benzema’s first-half double gave Real a 2-1 lead after Andres Iniesta’s opener, only for Messi to level before halftime.Cristiano Ronaldo’s controversial penalty 10 minutes after the break put Real ahead once more, only for the game to turn on 63 minutes.Sergio Ramos denied Neymar a clear goalscoring opportunity and was sent off, with Messi dispatching that spot kick and then another on 84 minutes.Neymar was otherwise ineffective but Martino insists he produced the moment that mattered.”Neymar’s only 21 but it all happened with him. Ramos was sent off through his phenomenal diagonal run,” Martino said.Barca is a point behind La Liga leader Atletico Madrid (70 points), while Real is on the same number of points as its city rival, but behind based on its head-to-head record. Martino, who claimed prior to the match this was his side’s “last chance” of defending its title, admits his team is right back in the race.”The league begins again,” he said.”But it doesn’t change my perception that beyond El Clasico, it’s just one game.”MORE: Messi magical in victory
PHOENIX — The Arizona Cardinals have landed their top priority in free agency — a left tackle.A person with knowledge of the situation says the Cardinals and towering free agent Jared Veldheer have agreed on a five-year contract. The deal is worth $35 million, with $17 million guaranteed, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the agreement has not been officially announced. The contract includes another $2.5 million tied to playing time.The 6-foot-8, 320-pound lineman, entering his fifth NFL season, will be reunited with quarterback Carson Palmer. Veldheer blocked for Palmer when the two were together in Oakland.The deal first was reported by ESPN.Additionally, the Cardinals agreed to contracts with three of their free agents: a two-year deal for defensive end Frostee Rucker and one-year contracts for kicker Jay Feely and tight end Jake Ballard. The team also officially announced that left guard Daryn Colledge had been released.The Cardinals made left tackle their free agent priority in what looks to be a greatly revamped offensive line.Last season, the team traded left tackle Levi Brown — who since has been released — to the Pittsburgh Steelers and gave the job to inexperienced Bradley Sowell.He was adequate as the line’s performance improved as the season wore on, but the Cardinals obviously didn’t believe he was ready to take the job long-term.Veldheer, 26, missed the first 11 games last season with a torn triceps. He played in all 16 games in his first three seasons with Oakland.The Raiders chose him in the third round of the 2010 draft out of NCAA Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan. Oakland reportedly had considered using the franchise tag on Veldheer but instead chose to let him go.With the release of Colledge, the Cardinals could have two new guards. One of them, 2013 first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper, missed all of last season with a broken leg. The leading candidate for the other guard spot is Earl Watford, a fourth-round draft pick last season.If Arizona doesn’t re-sign free agent right tackle Eric Winston, the lone returnee on the offensive line would be center Lyle Sendlein.