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June 27, 2013

Associated Press

 

Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather and Saul "Canelo'' Alvarez stared each other down for nearly a minute and the cheers from the fans packed into Times Square grew louder by the second.

This is the matchup they've been waiting to see: Four belts, two undefeated fan favorites - and a title fight simply billed as "The One.''

"Canelo, I appreciate you for taking the fight,'' Mayweather said on a steamy Monday in the heart of Manhattan in front of a few thousand fans standing behind metal barriers or sitting in temporary bleachers with Broadway marquees serving as a colorful backdrop.

"Now,'' Mayweather said, "let's give the fans what they want to see.''

The fighters kicked off an 11-city tour to officially announce and promote their title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Sept. 14. The promotional tour includes stops in cities such as Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami and Mexico City, and is jumpstarting the hype ahead of one of boxing's most anticipated bouts in recent memory.

Mayweather, 36, is unbeaten in 44 fights with the last a unanimous 12-round decision over Robert Guerrero on May 4 in defense of his 147-pound title.

"The Earth is my turf,'' Mayweather said. "You can put me in any ring and I will always come out victorious.''

Alvarez, a 22-year-old star from Mexico, is 42-0-1 and unified the 154-pound titles in April with a unanimous victory over Austin Trout on April 20.

"In the sport of boxing, it's everybody's time, and this is my time,'' Alvarez said through a translator as fans chanted "Mex-i-co!''

"I'm going to win.''

The 12-round fight will be contested at 152 pounds with both men's super welterweight/junior middleweight titles on the line - Mayweather's WBA super welterweight "super'' championship, and Alvarez's WBC, WBA and Ring Magazine super welterweight championships.

The bout, expected to be a monstrous draw on pay-per-view for Showtime, also just might satisfy many fans who had been wishing during the last several years for Mayweather to take on Manny Pacquiao.

"In every sport, there are certain rare occasions when you have the best fighting the best,'' said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. "The Super Bowl, Final Four, the college football national championship. Sept. 14 will be one of those occasions - the two biggest stars in the sport, the two biggest fan bases.

"We have America's No. 1 fighter versus Mexico's No. 1 fighter. We have the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport versus the No. 1 new star in the sport.''

There remains some dispute over who set the 152-pound catch weight, with Mayweather's camp saying Alvarez's people brought it up first. Alvarez, however, insisted it was Mayweather who decided on having both fight at 152 pounds instead of 154.

"It wasn't me,'' Alvarez told reporters before the news conference. "I don't want to fight 2 pounds below my weight class.''

There was also some contention between the two because Alvarez chose to headline his own fight card against Trout rather than be included on the undercard of Mayweather-Guerrero card. But both fighters agreed that this is a matchup that needed to happen.

"I've visualized this fight for years,'' Alvarez said, "and I feel I'm going to win.''

The fighters each announced on Twitter last month that they would face each other, exciting boxing fans around the world. Monday's event marked perhaps the sport's most ambitious promotional tour since Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya also stopped in 11 cities before their 2007 bout - won by Mayweather. Alvarez has been picking De La Hoya's brain about fighting Mayweather, and the former champion believes the young star has a few advantages - including youth - he didn't have.

"I used reckless pressure and he's going to use smart pressure,'' De La Hoya said. "That's what going to be the difference. ... And I have three letters for (Alvarez): jab.''

Each fighter took a stroll down a makeshift red carpet leading to the dais with pops of confetti marking their entrances. Mayweather received a noticeable amount of boos with the crowd appearing to slightly favor Alvarez.

One fan, though, got Mayweather to crack up when he held up a Chucky doll from the "Child's Play'' movie franchise, taking a clear shot at Alvarez's hair color.

The two took their seats after their stare-down - Mayweather next to Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO Mayweather Promotions, and Alvarez next to De la Hoya, the president of Golden Boy Promotions. It was a mostly tame news conference with the banter between sides at a minimum.

Before the news conference, Mayweather talked about shooting a commercial with the Spanish-speaking Alvarez and someone asked why he isn't doing his usual trash talking with his opponent.

"He wouldn't understand me anyway,'' Mayweather said, laughing.

It is the second in Mayweather's six-bout, 30-month contract with Showtime that could pay him more than $200 million. After Mayweather beat Guerrero, he said he wanted to fight again in September - marking the first time since 2007 he will be in the ring twice in a calendar year.

"I said I was going to be very active so I could stay sharp and be at the top of my game,'' Mayweather said.

Mayweather showed little rust while dominating Guerrero by using superior defensive skills in his first ring appearance since serving a jail term for assaulting the mother of his children.

Alvarez is a confident and rapidly rising fighter who should provide a huge test for Mayweather. Alvarez was dominant against the previously unbeaten Trout, showing up some fans and media who speculated that perhaps he wasn't ready to face such an experienced opponent.

"To be the best,'' Alvarez said when asked before the news conference what his motivation is to fight Mayweather now. "(I want) to go down in history as the guy who beat the guy people consider the best.''

When the news conference was over, both fighters got up and stared each other down one more time. And again, the crowd went wild.

"It's always been one of my ultimate goals to get to the pinnacle of the sport and push myself to the limit by facing the best,'' Mayweather said. "He's a young champion. What else can I say?''

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June 20, 2013

Associated Press

 

RICHMOND, Va. -- Shaka Smart smiles with a told-you-so look that is part amusement, and part frustration.

Two years after leading VCU to the Final Four and becoming one of the stars of college basketball, Smart has gone through his third consecutive offseason where he was mentioned as a candidate for job openings at major programs. But he's still writing on dry erase walls in an office overlooking the Rams' home court, trying to find overlooked gems on the recruiting trail and tweaking the aggressive defensive style he calls ''havoc.''

On the expanding urban campus, with a contract extension this year that now pays him $1.5 million a year and runs through 2023, along with fundraising well under way for a basketball practice facility, the 35-year-old Smart seems more than content.

''I've always said, I think that there is an overly simplistic view of when people leave and go somewhere else. They're all about being greedy and all about money, and all about going to the highest level. On the flip side, if someone stays, they're the most loyal person in the world,'' he said.

''I'm the same as you or anyone else in that I want to work at a place where I really enjoy it,'' he said, a view he's uttered many times. ''I want to take care of my family just like everyone else does. I want to work with people that are fun to be around. I'm just fortunate that I have that at VCU.''

The school's administration would say the same of Smart, whose record is a glistening 111-36.

On the weekend the Rams played in the NCAA quarterfinals in 2011, the school had 11 million visitors to its web page, VCU President Michael Rao said, noting that he was talking about the university web page, not the athletic site. By 2012, VCU received almost 1,700 more applications than it had in 2010.

A conservative estimate of the exposure value of the Rams' stunning Final Four run, Rao said, is $15 million to the university. The team's success continues to pay huge dividends.

Ten years ago the Rams never appeared on national television, according to athletic director Ed McLaughlin. This past season, when they climbed into the Top 25 for the first time in nearly 30 years and led the nation in steals, they had 21 national TV appearances.

''You can't pay for that type of advertising,'' McLaughlin said.

Yet there is a price to pay. VCU has reworked Smart's contracts after each season, likely helping to stave off interest in Smart from North Carolina State, Illinois and other BCS conference schools that came calling.

Retention of Smart became paramount to making a statement about VCU, Rao said, particularly after their relentless style produced the five victories that made them the top story of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Rao had arrived on campus just two years earlier.

''It became clear to me that it was time for VCU to stop being a stepping stone for people like Anthony Grant and his predecessor with Shaka,'' Rao said Wednesday. Grant became the coach of Alabama after replacing Jeff Capel, who left for the Oklahoma job.

''I wanted this to become a destination,'' the VCU president said.

In four years, Smart's salary has jumped from $350,000 to $1.5 million, and the school has already raised about two-thirds of what it needs to build a practice facility with a price tag near $15 million.

In an academic community, Rao said, there are other ways he can think of to spend the kind of money they are paying Smart, but none that bring the return on investment the school and athletic programs get in return for success on the court.

''I've never spent more money at an institution and gotten more thank yous for it,'' Rao said.

Those thank yous also come in the form of donations from alumni and boosters that feed academic initiatives and other programs, he said, much like football is credited with doing at other schools.

Smart, meanwhile, is learning of the issues that arise as a program maintains a certain level of success, the kind that has seen the Rams finish in the top 40 of the RPI ratings two years running.

On the plus side, there's players like Terrance Shannon, who finished his degree work at Florida State this year and opted to transfer to VCU, where he can play right away while doing graduate work.

On the down side, finding teams willing to play a home-and-home series has become the challenge Gonzaga coach Mark Few promised Smart it would be if the Rams continued their winning ways. Smart wants VCU to become one of those programs - like Gonzaga and Butler - with winning reputations larger than their conferences suggest.

Few ''told me scheduling is the last thing to come around, and to be honest with you, that's something that we've really struggled with,'' Smart said, particularly since he and McLaughlin feel like the Rams have elevated their profile enough so teams should be willing to play on the Rams' floor, too.

''I'm not saying they're afraid,'' Smart said. ''They just won't play.''

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June 20, 2013

Associated Press

 

WIMBLEDON, England — After 16 consecutive years of always showing up at Wimbledon, winning five titles along the way, Venus Williams pulled out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament Tuesday, citing a lower back injury.

Williams, who turned 33 on Monday, never had missed Wimble­don since making her debut there in 1997, although she lost in the first round a year ago. She won the singles trophy — it happens to be called the Venus Rosewater Dish — in 2000-01, 2005 and 2007-08, to go with two more major championships at the U.S. Open in 2000-01.

But Williams has been dealing with a bad back for a while, playing only three matches in the last two-plus months. She was clearly hampered by the injury during a three-set, three-hour loss to 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland in the first round of the French Open last month, then cited her back when she and younger sister Serena withdrew from the doubles competition in Paris.

The older Williams said after the singles loss at Roland Garros - her first opening-round exit there in a dozen years - that the inflammation in her back made it painful to serve hard, limiting one of the best parts of her game.

Once ranked No. 1, Williams is currently No. 34. Still learning to live as a professional athlete with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Sjogren's syndrome, she has two first-round losses in the past four Grand Slam tournaments. That includes her defeat at Wimbledon last year, the first time she’d left a major championship that early since she lost in the first round of the Australian Open in 2006.

“With what I've gone through, it’s not easy. But I’m strong and I’m a fighter. You know, I don’t think I’m just playing for me now. I think I’m playing for a lot of people who haven’t felt well,” Williams said after her loss to Radwanska. “I think for me today, it’s a positive to be able to play three hours. I’m constantly finding ways to get better and to feel better.”

Play begins at Wimbledon next Monday.

Serena Williams, who is ranked No. 1, will be a big favorite to win what would be her sixth Wimbledon title and 17th major championship overall. She’s won 31 matches in a row, the longest single-season streak on the women’s tour since Venus put together a 35-match run in 2000.

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June 20, 2013

By Jason Lewis

LAWT Sports Editor

 

Over 100 local children were treated to a visit from Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, St. Bernard High School alumni Joselio Hanson of the Oakland Raiders and Donald Penn of the Tampa Bay Bucs, as Penn returned to Playa Del Rey to host his annual football camp. 

Last year St. Bernard  was forced to suspend its varsity football team for a season because of financial reasons, but the program will resume play this year under Head Coach John Bibb  who was extremely appreciative of Penn's support.

“For alumni to come back, especially with what St. Bernard has been through, and what a lot of schools are going through, to come back for a free football camp, to do that for young kids to teenagers, even kids who are transitioning to college next year, that’s what life is all about,” Bibb said. 

After graduating from St. Bernard, Penn played football at Utah State, and he is now a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Penn puts on this camp as a way to give back to his community. 

“The camp was remarkable,” Bibb said. “It was an outstanding thing for the community and the boys.  That pigskin brings together a lot of things that inner city kids need, outer city kids need, youth as a whole need. Discipline and teamwork.”

Many children do not have the opportunity to be coached by NFL players, especially because of the cost of many camps. 

“This day and age the economy is rough,” Bibb said.  “So I want to emphasize that this camp was free.  There are camps from here to Alabama to Texas, and locally at UCLA and USC.  Camps have to get the money to run the camps. They have to pay for the coaches, and to pay for the facilities.  One thing Donald Penn did was give this to us for free.”

Even though the camp was given at no cost, they still gave quality coaching to the kids on hand.

“We go hard or we go home,” Bibb said. “That’s one of our mottos here at St.  Bernard.  But we weren’t stressing pushing the kids, but learning the techniques and the fundamentals. They were being coached by players who played the game for five to ten years.  So they were really getting hand on coaching.  And it was good for them to hear something coming from another person besides myself.  I like to scream and fuss a little bit, but it’s good to hear from a guy that you see on Sundays.  A guy that you see on Saturdays. You know, college guys and NFL guys.  To hear the different terminology coming from a player with a lot of experience.”

Penn is doing a great thing for kids that are in a similar position that he was when he was a teenager, and he is an asset to the black community.

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June 20, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

One day after negotiations were declared “off” by both teams, the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics resumed talks on a blockbuster trade that would send Celtics head coach and star Kevin Garnett to the Clippers, according to multiple media reports.

Speculation had it that a deal could be achieved by late Wednesday.

 In return for Garrett and Rivers, the Clippers would send DeAndre Jordan to the Celtics in exchange for Garrett, while Rivers would likely command a price of two first-round picks from L.A.

Citing unnamed sources, ESPN reported that Rivers and Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge met Wednesday to finalize Rivers’ future with the team — or whether he will be granted the opportunity to go to the Clippers. Rivers said a decision by team management could come by Thursday morning.

Ainge wants Rivers, who has been in his post for nine seasons, to remain the Celtics’ head coach, a move which appeared heightened when talks between both clubs broke down Tuesday. It was at that point that Rivers appeared likely to remain with the Celtics, even though he has expressed concern about staying with the team if it began a massive rebuilding program.

“(Rivers) wants another championship or at least another chance at it,” said a source close to Rivers. “He doesn’t want to go through a rebuilding process.”

Rivers also has the option of leaving Boston and not coaching at all, perhaps working as a broadcaster next season.

ESPN’s report did not indicate which side contacted the other to reignite talks for a reported third time, although other media reports indicate it was Clippers star point guard Chris Paul that urged his team to try one more time for Rivers’ services. Paul is a free agent, but has hinted that he would re-sign with the Clippers if Rivers becomes their head coach.

The Clippers, who reportedly are willing to pay Rivers $7 million per year, similar to what he was making with Boston, are keeping their options open, continuing interviews with additional clients Byron Scott and Brian Shaw, according to media reports.

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