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Basketball’s World Cup Is Set To Begin, And The U.S. Isn’t Worrying About Pressure

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MANILA, Philippines – The Naismith Trophy is part of the prize package for the Basketball World Cup champion. It has been on a whirlwind tour recently, including a trip to Las Vegas, where US guard Tyrese Haliburton spent some time in its company.

He recognized the mission right away.

“It’s nice to see it,” Haliburton commented. “It’ll be nicer if we can bring it home.”

The opportunity for 32 teams to do so finally begins on Friday, when the World Cup kicks off in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan. Consider this a chance for the United States to redeem itself after finishing eighth — its worst-ever finish — at the previous global Cup in 2019 and having its 12-year reign atop the men’s national-team global rankings expire last November.

However, the only team with 12 NBA players on its roster finds itself back in the role of favorite, knowing that only gold will suffice and anything less will be labeled as a failure.

“We intend to compete.” We’ll play as hard as we possibly can. “We’re going to try to win a gold medal,” stated United States coach Steve Kerr. “If we don’t, we understand there will be a lot of criticism, and that’s fine with us.” But our mindset is that this is a lot of fun, and we’re extremely lucky to compete and know that we did everything we could. We’re making an effort. We intend to win. Whatever happens, happens — and we’ll deal with it.”

world cup

The Naismith Trophy is part of the prize package for the Basketball World Cup champion.

There are numerous challenges. After winning bronze at the most recent World Cup in China in 2019, silver behind the United States at the Tokyo Olympics two summers ago, and silver behind Spain at last year’s EuroBasket, France is finally in a position to win gold. Slovenia possesses Luka Doncic, the tournament’s finest one-on-one player and an All-NBA star for Dallas. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads a wave of NBA talents from Canada. Patty Mills and Joe Ingles are two experienced Australians. Then there’s Spain, the current World Cup champion.

Just don’t mention Spain around coach Sergio Scariolo.

“Honestly, I hate the definition of defending anything,” Scariolo stated. “There is nothing to defend. Every team is beginning a new round of competition. Every team begins at a 0-0 tie. We are happy to have exceeded all expectations in recent events, earning championships that no one predicted. We may win, but we are once again trailing numerous clubs in terms of ultimate result expectations.”

The competition begins on Friday with eight games, followed by eight more on Saturday, including the United States’ opener against New Zealand, and will likely see history on Day 1. Local officials anticipate that more than 40,000 people will attend the meeting between the Philippines Karl-Anthony Towns and the Dominican Republic in Manila. That total would break the previous World Cup attendance record of 32,616 in 1994 when the United States defeated Russia in Toronto.

It will be a proud time for Filipinos.

world cup

The Naismith Trophy is part of the prize package for the Basketball World Cup champion.

“For me, it’s just relishing the opportunity,” said Philippines coach Chot Reyes. “I mean, who gets this opportunity, right? To coach your country’s national team in a major event in your hometown? I’m aware that there are many critics, but I always remind myself that what we’re doing here is unique. That’s all I need. That is sufficient for us.”

Qualifying for this event began more than two years ago, with 80 aspirants being narrowed down to the 32 countries in Asia for the next few weeks. Teams were divided into four-team groups, with the top two teams from each of the eight groups advancing to the second round. Some countries fully know that they will need to pull off the upset of all upsets to proceed World Cup.

When asked how to guard Doncic, who awaits them in their tournament opener on Saturday, Venezuela’s David Cubillan replied, “You need to pray.”

The inaugural games feature some intriguing matches, including Serbia versus China. Sasha Djordjevic stepped down as Serbia’s coach following the World Cup in China last year, then was hired by China — and, sure enough, Serbia awaits him on Saturday.

“For me, that’s very, very special,” Djordjevic said. “Extremely emotional. It will undoubtedly be an emotionally charged contest. But we are professionals, and we must give our all to the teams for whom we work. It’s a detail that you people in the media will undoubtedly appreciate, but for me, it’ll be a game full of pride.”

world cup

The Naismith Trophy is part of the prize package for the Basketball World Cup champion.

Kerr is attempting a one-of-a-kind double: as a collegiate player, he won the Global Cup, then known as FIBA’s global championship, when the United States defeated the Soviet Union 87-85 in Madrid behind 23 points from Kenny Smith. After damaging a knee ligament in the semifinals, Kerr was forced to miss the championship game.

“This experience,” Kerr says, “is something our team will never forget.”

That was one of the selling points Kerr, Grant Hill, and Sean Ford — the men’s basketball braintrust at the moment — used to entice this squad of athletes who had never played on this stage. There is no shortage of skill, nor is there a lack of expectation.

“There is no such thing as pressure for me,” US point guard Jalen Brunson stated. “I’ve realized that as long as I keep working hard on my game and putting everything I have into what I do, there is no such thing as pressure.” There are times and situations when the stakes are higher than others, but as long as I work hard, there is no pressure. And I believe this team will rely on one another.”

SOURCE – (AP)

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Zack Wheeler And Phillies Reach $126 Million, 3-Year Deal For 2025-27

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Philadelphia — Ace Zack Wheeler and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed on a $126 million, three-year contract for 2025-27, with the fourth-highest average salary in baseball history of $42 million.

The Phillies have set an 11 a.m. EST press conference at their spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida.

wheeler

Zack Wheeler And Phillies Reach $126 Million, 3-Year Deal For 2025-27

Wheeler will earn $23.5 million this year in the final season of a $118 million, five-year contract, one of the greatest free agent contracts in Phillies history.

The new contract for the 33-year-old right-hander increases his annual salary to $42 million. He receives a hotel suite on road trips and agrees to make a $100,000 charitable donation each year.

Wheeler’s average trails only Los Angeles Dodgers two-way star Shohei Ohtani ($70 million), Texas ace Max Scherzer ($43.33 million), and Houston pitcher Justin Verlander ($43.33 million), the latter two of whom signed contracts with the New York Mets.

ESPN was the first to report the new contract’s amount.

Wheeler has led the NL in strikeouts and innings over the last four seasons after losing time with ailments with the Mets from 2013 to 2019. He also leads all pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR) while with the Phillies with 19.3, according to FanGraphs.

After missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, Wheeler has made 90 starts over the last three seasons.

wheeler

Zack Wheeler And Phillies Reach $126 Million, 3-Year Deal For 2025-27

The NL Cy Young Award runner-up in 2021, Wheeler also won a Gold Glove last season.

The Phillies, who have reached the NL Championship Series in each of the last two years, now have their top two starters anchoring the rotation for the foreseeable future. Philadelphia signed fellow right-hander Aaron Nola to a seven-year, $172 million contract.

In 11 postseason games, Wheeler’s ERA is 2.42.

wheeler

Zack Wheeler And Phillies Reach $126 Million, 3-Year Deal For 2025-27

The Phillies have continued to spend money in their pursuit of their first World Series championship since 2008. Team owner John Middleton has been open about spending money to recruit free agents such as Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Kyle Schwarber while also signing hefty deals with Nola, Wheeler, and catcher J.T Realmuto.

Wheeler has an 87-63 record and a 3.45 ERA in 227 career starts, dating back to his Mets debut in 2013.

SOURCE – (AP)

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Chris Mortensen, Longtime NFL Insider For ESPN, Dies At 72

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The network reported that Chris Mortensen, an award-winning journalist and longtime NFL insider for ESPN, died. He was 72.

Mortensen worked for ESPN for three decades, appearing on “Sunday NFL Countdown,” analyzing the NFL Draft, and contributing to “SportsCenter.”

“Mort was highly regarded as an industry pioneer and greatly adored as a helpful, hardworking coworker. He covered the NFL with exceptional skill and passion and remained at the top of his game for decades. “Colleagues and fans will sorely miss him, and our hearts and thoughts are with his family,” ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement.

mortensen

Chris Mortensen, Longtime NFL Insider For ESPN, Dies At 72

Mortensen joined ESPN in 1991 and rapidly became known as one of the most trusted football insiders. He formerly worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, covering the Atlanta Braves and Falcons from 1983 to 1990. While at the newspaper, he received the 1987 George Polk Award for a 110-page article titled “Ignoring the Rules” regarding amateur sports and collegiate players.

He disclosed in January 2016 that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer. Mortensen returned to ESPN after declaring that his cancer treatments were successful.

In September 2023, Mortensen said he would leave ESPN “to focus on my health, family, and faith.”

Mortensen joined ESPN in 1991 and spent years shaping the network’s NFL coverage as it expanded to year-round coverage. He appeared on numerous network shows and also wrote for ESPN.com.

In 2016, the Professional Football Writers of America honoured him with the Dick McCann Award. It was renamed the Bill Nunn Jr. Award in 2021 and is given annually during the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies to a reporter who has made a long and notable commitment to game coverage.

Mortensen previously worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1983 until 1989. He covered the Atlanta Falcons from 1985 to 1986 and the league from 1985 to 1989. He departed for The National in 1989, where he worked for over two years.

He was an NFL columnist for The Sporting News and a contributor to Sport magazine. He also consulted on CBS’s “The NFL Today” in 1990.

mortensen

Chris Mortensen, Longtime NFL Insider For ESPN, Dies At 72

“I join the millions of hearts across the country, including those in journalism and the sports community, in mourning Chris Mortensen.” “I’m grateful to have had the privilege of knowing Chris through his incredible work beginning at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, like so many others, being blessed by his professional excellence and personal grace over the many years that have followed,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement.

“I considered Chris a personal hero, and it is difficult to imagine sports journalism without him.” His ability to face life’s challenges with tenacity and drive was always truly inspiring, and his immense influence on so many people, including myself, will continue via this work and unwavering friendships.”

Mortensen, a Torrance, California native, attended El Camino College. He spent two years in the Army before starting his journalism career at the South Bay (Calif.) Daily Breeze in 1969.

mortensen

Chris Mortensen, Longtime NFL Insider For ESPN, Dies At 72

“A completely awful day. “Mort was one of the greatest reporters in sports history, and an even better man,” wrote ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter on social media. “Mort was the absolute finest. He will always be missed and remembered.”

He is survived by his wife, Micki, and their son Alex.

SOURCE – (CNN)

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F1 Champion Max Verstappen Wins Season-Opening Bahrain Grand Prix Amid Red Bull Turmoil

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SAKHIR, Bahrain – The continuing turbulence surrounding Red Bull had little influence on their three-time reigning world champion, Max Verstappen, who led the field by 22 seconds in the season-opening Formula One race on Saturday.

Verstappen started the Bahrain Grand Prix on pole and was never truly pushed on his route to a dominant one-two victory for Red Bull alongside teammate Sergio Perez. Christian Horner, the embattled team principal, was joined before the race and during the podium celebration by his former pop star wife, Geri Halliwell.

“Today went even better than expected,” Verstappen stated. “It was a lot of fun.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished third for Ferrari, fighting hard with teammate Charles Leclerc.

verstappen

F1 Champion Max Verstappen Wins Season-Opening Bahrain Grand Prix Amid Red Bull Turmoil

Verstappen is already on track to match his near-perfect record from 2023, when he won 19 of 22 races, as the longest F1 season in history begins with 24 races.

Verstappen’s ninth consecutive victory, dating back to September last year, came in Bahrain. Last season, he achieved a Formula One record by winning ten straight races.

The F1 paddock has firmly focused on Horner, with Verstappen claiming on Saturday that his boss was “probably a little bit distracted.”

“Obviously, it’s not been pleasant, some of the unwanted attention, but the focus is now very much on the cars,” Horner told reporters. “My focus has very much been on what’s going on on track and the result today, I think, demonstrates where the whole team’s focus is and we move onwards.”

verstappen

F1 Champion Max Verstappen Wins Season-Opening Bahrain Grand Prix Amid Red Bull Turmoil

Horner arrived on race day with Halliwell, better known as Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls, and they celebrated together as Verstappen was presented with his trophy. The race came after FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem told the Financial Times that Horner’s controversy was “damaging the sport.”

On Wednesday, the club’s parent corporation dropped a complaint against Horner for alleged misconduct toward a team employee. A day later, during practice in Bahrain, a file purportedly containing evidence against Horner was emailed to over 200 persons in the F1 paddock, including Liberty Media, F1, the FIA, the other nine team principals, and several media agencies.

The Associated Press did not verify the files’ legitimacy; the file originated from a generic email address.

In another indicator that Red Bull is substantially faster than any other team, Perez surged from sixth to second on the grid and encountered little opposition afterwards.

Sainz’s third place was his first podium finish since the October United States Grand Prix, as George Russell’s Mercedes challenge faded.

After qualifying second, Leclerc stated that Ferrari had taken a “step forward” compared to its disastrous 2023. However, the Italian team needed help to reduce the gap with Red Bull on race day.

Leclerc’s challenge to Verstappen ended as the Dutchman took the inside line at the opening corner. Russell, Perez, and Ferrari teammate Sainz overtook Leclerc in rapid succession.

verstappen

F1 Champion Max Verstappen Wins Season-Opening Bahrain Grand Prix Amid Red Bull Turmoil

Sainz, in particular, fought closely with his teammate and then repeated the effort after Leclerc briefly regained the lead at the pit stop. It was Sainz’s first race after being confirmed that he would lose his Ferrari spot to Lewis Hamilton in 2025.

Leclerc’s day went from bad to worse when he protested to Ferrari that the car was pulling rapidly to the right under braking in a “dangerous” manner, leaving him unable to maintain his position. However, he recovered to pass Russell and finish fourth.

Russell finished fifth, Lando Norris sixth for McLaren, and seven-time winner Lewis Hamilton seventh following an unremarkable race in the second Mercedes. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri finished ninth, ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.

SOURCE – (AP)

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