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April 26, 2017

The Storms Before the NFL Draft

By bryanflynn

There has been plenty of news before the NFL Draft’s kickoff tomorrow night, Thursday, April 27, that could send players down the draft board. Some is understandable, and some could be considered ridiculous.

Let’s start with the ridiculous and work our way to more serious elements. One thing to remember: the run-up to the draft is one long job interview.

Last week in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, writer Bob McGinn reported the scores of several players who took the Wonderlic intelligence test at the NFL Combine. ESPN’s Darren Rovell pointed out two players who scored an 11 out of 50 on the test and Rovell was roasted on social media. Since then, Rovell took the official test and wrote about taking it and how it changed him.

The leaking of Wonderlic scores has gone on since the NFL began using the test in the 1970s. If you don’t know, the test is 50 questions taken in 12 minutes with just a pencil and scrap paper. The employers use the test to assess the intelligence of prospective employees.

If you follow the NFL Combine, everyone does the same testing. All the players bench-press 225 pounds, run the 40-yard dash, and so forth. Not all the tests really apply to every position, but to get an apples-to-apples comparison, every player does the same tests.

The Wonderlic doesn’t mean a ton for most positions. If any position makes sense, it is the quarterback position, where you have to process a good deal of information and do it quickly.

What other players score on the test really isn’t entirely game-changing but is important. Players have known for years that the NFL gives the test at the combine. Agents have been preparing players for the test for years, as well.

If everything is a test at the combine, the way a player approaches the Wonderlic is a test. Remember, this is a giant job interview. If a player scores low on the test, teams might do more research on the player to find out why.

NFL teams will want to know why a player bombed a test that he knew he had to take. Did the player care enough to even prepare for the test? Is the player bad at taking tests? If the player didn’t care to prepare for the test, teams will wonder if that player will prepare for a NFL career. The test is part of an evolution process and not really about how smart the players are.

No one should be made fun for what he scored on the test. It is simply a way for teams to see whether players are going to put in the work that is needed to be in the NFL.

It also never fails that a player or two will fail the drug test at the NFL Combine. This year, it was University of Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and University ...

April 25, 2017

Saints Sign Peterson

By bryanflynn

New Orleans just did a major solid for ESPN. Breaking news this morning, Tuesday, April 25, is that is the Saints are signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

It just so happens that the Saints travel to Minnesota in week one of the 2017 NFL season. That game will also be the first in a double-header for Monday Night Football on ESPN. The “worldwide leader” network now can hype the hell out of Peterson facing his former team to get eyeballs on a game that starts at 6 p.m.

New Orleans ends up with a future Hall of Fame running back on a team-friendly two-year deal. Peterson disclosed the details of the deal, which will pay him just $3.5 million this season between a $1-million salary and $2.5 million signing bonus. The whole $3.5 million is guaranteed for this season at signing.

The second year of the contract is also for $3.5 million, but none of it is guaranteed for the 2018 season. If Peterson is with the Saints, he will make $2.4 million in a roster bonus that includes $750,000 guaranteed on the third day of free agency plus $1.65 million per game, $1.05 million in salary and a $50,000 workout bonus.

Before signing with the Saints, some media sources suggested that Peterson wanted $8 million a year, which the running back debunked, and other reports said the running back wanted $4 million to $6 million per year or $5 million to play this season.

New Orleans got the 32 year old for less than any of the reports that were out in March. Peterson is the 22nd-highest-paid running back behind 33-year-old Indianapolis Colt Frank Gore, who is making $4 million this season. Peterson is also making less than the Saints’ No. 1 running back, Mark Ingram.

Peterson went on the market after the Vikings decided not to pick up an $18-million team option on the running back. It took Peterson two months to find a new team, and with the upcoming draft featuring a strong class of running backs, it seemed like he might not find a new home until after the draft.

Peterson is second on the active list of running backs with 11,747 yards for 16th on the all-time rushing list, again behind Gore, who has amassed 13,065 yards and is 8th on the all-time rushing list.

Peterson missed most of last season with injuries, and in 2014, he missed time due to a suspension. However, he has proven his value on a few times in recent years. He rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012, earning the MVP Award for that season, and he rushed for 1,485 yards to lead the league during the 2015 season, as he has fought back Father Time.

This won’t be the first time Peterson has played with a Hall of Fame-worthy quarterback. While in Minnesota, he teamed with quarterback ...

April 19, 2017

The Dark Side of Sports

By bryanflynn

Two former college-football stars ended up dead just over a year apart. Both former players ended up hanging themselves in their jail cells.

Former University of Nebraska star running back Lawrence Phillips didn’t have the best childhood, as he grew up in group homes in his youth. Football was a way for Phillips to escape his past and build a future.

The running back might have been able to outrun defenders on the football field, but he couldn’t outrun his anger off the field. He dragged a former girlfriend down a couple of flights of stairs while playing for Nebraska.

Then-Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne kicked Phillips off the team for just six games before reinstating him, saying he needed the structure of football in his life. Phillips helped Nebraska win back-to-back national championships.

Life in the NFL was not as great for the former college star. The St. Louis Rams drafted him sixth overall but cut him due to him showing up drunk for work and his inability to stay out of trouble.

Phillips spent time with the Miami Dolphins, NFL Europe, the San Francisco 49ers and the Canadian Football League. The running back ended up being released at nearly every stop for fighting with coaches, getting into legal trouble or failing to do the necessary work to be successful at the pro level.

After football, Phillips stayed in trouble and ended up in jail after running over three teenagers with car and nearly choking his girlfriend to death. He was no longer a football star and on Jan. 13, 2016, the former star hung himself.

Flash-forward to today, April 19, when former University of Florida and New England Patriots star tight end Aaron Hernandez was found dead from hanging in his jail cell. Hernandez was a high school star at Bristol, Conn., before he committed to play at Florida.

While at Florida, the coaches were worried about the people Hernandez was spending time with off the field. The coaches even tried to keep him in Gainesville, Fla., when school was out for breaks.

Some of the issues Hernandez dealt with while in college was a fight at a Florida bar, a double-shooting and rumors of spending time with the wrong people. There were also rumors of failed drug tests while playing for the Gators.

Those issues ended up dropping Hernandez to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The New England Patriots gambled that the tight end would leave his past behind him and even rewarded him with a contract extension in 2012.

Hernandez didn’t leave his past behind and was still associated with the wrong people. He was convicted in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd and given a life sentence in 2015.

Last week the former NFL player was acquitted of double murder charges in Boston, Mass. He was still suspected of other crimes at the time of ...

April 18, 2017

JSU, USM and MSU Playing for Conference Titles

By bryanflynn

As April comes to an end, there are three Division I baseball teams in our state that are chasing division or conference titles: Mississippi State University in the SEC, the University of Southern Mississippi in Conference USA and Jackson State University in the SWAC.

JSU and USM are leading their respective conferences, and MSU is a game behind its division and conference leader, the University of Arkansas. Both the Bulldogs and the Golden Eagles are ranked in multiple baseball top-25 polls.

MSU is 25-13 overall and 10-5 in SEC play, but the Bulldogs are tied with the Auburn University and the University of Kentucky for second place in the conference. The Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers are also tied for second place in the SEC West.

MSU still has five three-game conference series left to play. The Bulldogs host the last-place University of Alabama this weekend before hosting Auburn in the next weekend. They end the season on the road against Texas A&M University, on the road at the University of Georgia, and at home against Louisiana State University. Georgia is in last place in the SEC East, and Texas A&M and LSU are within striking distance in the SEC West.

Back in March, Arkansas swept the Bulldogs in a three-game series that could come back to haunt them if they finish in second place. It is within reason to believe that MSU could win two of the three games in every series left.

MSU is still in play to win both the SEC West and the SEC regular-season titles. The Bulldogs will need to keep winning and get some help from others if they are going to take either the division or conference crown.

Southern Miss is currently leading C-USA by a full game over Florida Atlantic University. The Golden Eagles are 28-9 overall and 12-3 in conference play, and they have five more three-game series in conference play.

Southern Miss hosts Old Dominion University this weekend and travels to Middle Tennessee State University in the next weekend. Then, the Golden Eagles host Florida Atlantic, stay at home against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and finally, hit the road to finish the season at the University of Texas, San Antonio.

Old Dominion is third in the C-USA standings, and the Florida Atlantic series could decide the regular-season championship. Middle Tennessee, UAB and UTSA are in the middle to bottom of the conference standings.

Southern Miss is in great shape to take the regular-season title. The Golden Eagles get to host the second- and third-place teams to end the season, and if they can win the series against Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic, they will be in the driver’s seat for their last two series.

Jackson State currently has a two-game lead over Alabama State University in the SWAC East division. The Tigers are five games ahead of Texas Southern University, who leads the SWAC West. ...

April 17, 2017

First Woman Kicker Gets Scholarship

By bryanflynn

Several women have played football at the college level for years now. Most of these young women were walk-on players, or players with no scholarship.

In 1997, Liz Heaston became the first woman to ever play and score in a college football game when she scored in a game for Willamette University, in Oregon, a then-NAIA-level university, in a 27-0 win over Linfield College, in Oregon. Heaston kicked two extra points, and her jersey hangs in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Two years later, Katie Hnida became the first woman to suit up for a NCAA Division I (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) school at the University of Colorado. In 2003, she became the first woman to score in a Division I game at New Mexico State University. She became the first woman to try an extra point in a bowl game the year before, but an opposing player blocked it.

Before Hnida, Ashley Martin became the first woman to kick an extra point at the NCAA Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision) level for Jacksonville State University. She made three extra points without a miss in a 71-10 win over Cumberland University.

Former University of West Alabama kicker Tonya Butler became the first woman to kick a field goal in 2003 when she kicked a 27-yard field goal in a 24-17 win over Stillman College.

Other women have been kickers at nearly every level of college football. Some did get a chance to kick for their teams, and others were never called upon.

It hasn’t always been easy for women playing college football. Hnida alleged that she had been sexually assaulted while at Colorado. She didn’t press charges, but the incident became a major scandal at the schools, as other women spoke out about being sexually harassed and assaulted by members of the football team.

In 2014, Shelby Osborne became the first woman to play a position besides kicker when she became the first college defensive back at NAIA school Campbellsville University, in Kentucky. NAIA schools don’t hand out athletic scholarships.

Last week, April 14, 2017, Becca Longo became the first women to sign a national letter of intent to play college football. Longo will kick for NCAA Division II Adams State University, which is located in Colorado.

She is the first woman at Division II or higher to play college football on scholarship. The other kickers and players who made history didn’t receive a scholarship.

Each year, it is becoming more common for young women to play football at the high-school level.

As it becomes normal for them to play football in high school, it will become more common to see them at the college level. One day, a young woman might quarterback a college football team at the NAIA or NCAA Division III level of college football.

April 14, 2017

The First Tee of Central Mississippi

By bryanflynn

Sports are a great way to teach kids about life lessons such as winning and losing, hard work, dealing with adversity and more.

The First Tee Central of Mississippi is a way for kids to learn lessons using the program’s “Nine Core Values” of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility and perseverance. Golf is a unique sport in that players are supposed to call penalties on themselves, fix the field of play, including replacing divots of grass that the club cuts out of the ground, follow a certain etiquette on the course, keep score and more.

The First Tee national program started in 1997 with a partnership between the LPGA, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour, the USGA and the Masters Tournament to get more kids playing golf by starting affordable junior golf programs.

With a need to grow the game and get kids interested in golf, those partners came up with The First Tee program. The organization blended learning the rules of the game with life lessons from its Nine Core Values.

In June 2008, The First Tee of The Pine Belt was established after a four-year quest to bring the national program to Mississippi. The journey of The First Tee of Central Mississippi started in June 2015. It became an official The First Tee program on March 30, 2017.

The First Tee of Central Mississippi held a press conference at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum on April 13, to make the formal announcement of First Tee becoming an official program in central Mississippi.

This program will serve Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties. Four golf courses, The Refuge Golf Course, LeFleur’s Bluff Golf Course, Grove Park Golf Course and Sonny Guy Municipal Golf Course are the first courses to join the program.

Now that the program is a part of The First Tee organization, the program is hitting the ground running. On June 1, a nine-week summer program is starting at the four golf courses, and www.thefirstteecentralmississippi.org will have information on signing up.

The First Tee of Central Mississippi is open to kids from ages 7 to 18. The program is going to partner up with physical-education teachers in the area to begin teaching kids about the game of golf and work with local afterschool programs such as the YMCA to help teach.

Lisa Hill, who is the program director, explained at the press conference that volunteers, equipment, donations and giving time are needed to help the program be successful. The First Tee of Central Mississippi is a nonprofit program.

For more information, visit the website, www.thefirsteecentralmississippi.org. The program is on Facebook (The First Tee of Central Mississippi), Instagram (@TheFirstTeeCentalMS), Snapchat (@TheFirstTeeMS) and Twitter (@TheFirstTeeCentralMS).

April 14, 2017

49ers Release Former Belhaven Star

By bryanflynn

One of the feel-good stories of the 2010 NFL offseason has come to an ugly end seven years later. The San Francisco 49ers signed undrafted free agent Tramaine Brock out of tiny Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss.

On April 6, 2017, Brock was arrested in Santa Clara, Calif., for suspicion of felony domestic violence against his girlfriend. He made bail the next day, and shortly afterwards, San Francisco released him.

Brock’s arrest happens to be the first major off-the-field incident for the new regime of General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. It is the third new coach in San Francisco in the last three years. They wasted no time in releasing the player.

Before Brock, no player in the history of Belhaven football had played in the NFL, and his road wasn’t the typical path.

He played at Long Beach High School in Gulfport, Miss., and then at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He signed with the University of Minnesota after two years at MGCCC but left Minnesota after being suspended for academic ineligibility. He went from Big Ten-conference school Minnesota to tiny NAIA Belhaven.

Brock played his senior year with the Blazers but went undrafted in the 2010. He ended up signing with the 49ers and landed on the practice squad after training camp. In his rookie NFL season, Brock appeared in three games and made just three tackles.

The former Belhaven star played in 11 games in the following year and recorded his first career interception. He would play in all 16 games in the 2012 season and forced his first career fumble that season. The 49ers also reached Super Bowl XLVII that year but ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens.

Brock had his best season as a professional thus far in 2013, with five interceptions, 13 defended passes and a touchdown. He played in all 16 games and started in seven during the season, which is also the first time that he started in the NFL.

Injuries derailed the Gulfport native’s 2014 season as he played in just three games with only two starts. Brock bounced back in 2015 with 15 starts in 15 games played with three interceptions.

Brock started all 16 games for the first time in his career last season as he set a career high in tackles with 49 total stops. He made one interception and forced this second career fumble.

The 49ers have a recent history of players, such as Ray McDonald and Aldon Smith, with off-the-field issues. The release of Brock was a message to the rest of the team on how things will now be done in San Francisco, even if Shanahan says it wasn’t message. When the team was winning earlier this decade, it overlooked bad behavior by some players.

Recently, San Francisco hasn’t been winning games, and that means the hammer comes down faster. Brock wasn’t a star for the ...

April 12, 2017

U.S., Mexico and Canada to Bid for 2026 World Cup

By bryanflynn

Only once in the history of the FIFA World Cup has more than one nation hosted the tournament. That was the 2002 World Cup, which had joint hosts South Korea and Japan.

That could change with the 2026 World Cup if the joint bid to host from the United States, Mexico and Canada wins. If the bid is successful, this will be the first World Cup that any of these three countries has hosted since the U.S. in 1994.

Mexico hosted the event in 1970 and 1986, with the 1970 tournament still holding fourth place for highest average attendance per match. Canada has never hosted a men’s World Cup but did host the 2015 Women’s World cup.

When the U.S. hosted the event, it set records for the highest average attendance per match and highest total attendance. The U.S.’s tournament only had 24 teams since the current format of 32 teams started with the 1998 World Cup.

Even as the tournament has added more teams and more matches, the U.S.-hosted tournament still is the standard for attendance. Soccer grew leaps and bounds when the U.S. last hosted, and the sport could grow even more if the nation gets another turn at the reins.

However, the 2026 World Cup could end up setting records no matter which country hosts it. The number of teams will jump from 32 to 48, and the number of matches will jump from 60 to 80. It makes sense for more than one country to host a super-sized tournament.

Lone host nations could become harder to find with the amount of teams that will be participating. That’s a bonus for this bid because there are numerous stadiums in all three countries that can hold matches.

Even before these three countries announced their bid, the U.S. seemed to be the frontrunner to host the 2026 tournament. The U.S. lost the 2022 tournament to Qatar under dubious circumstances that ended up changing the way that FIFA votes on World Cups bids.

Under the old format, which started after 1982, an executive committee of about 48 members voted on bids to host the World Cup. The new voting format is actually the old one, which the organization used before 1982, where every member of FIFA votes for a bid.

There are 211 members with the votes allocated as follows: Europe has 55 votes, Africa has 54 votes, Asia has 46 votes, CONCACAF has 35 votes, Oceania has 11 votes, and South America has 10 votes. The idea behind this bid is that the 35 votes of CONCACAF would pull together to host the tournament.

No team from CONCACAF has hosted the tournament since 1994. The other major confederations each have held at least one World Cup since then.

As Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup and Qatar is hosting the 2022 tournament, neither Europe nor Asia can bid on 2026 due to FIFA rules on hosting. ...

April 11, 2017

Saints’ and Cowboys’ Preseason Schedules

By bryanflynn

As the NFL Draft inches closer, the league gave fans a treat on Monday, April 10, releasing the preseason scheduled for every team and the dates of the eight nationally televised games. Times and dates of the other games are not set at this point.

Only one of the national games could end up being a big deal in our state: the Hall of Fame Game, which has the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals kicking off the preseason on Thursday, Aug. 3, at 7 p.m. on NBC. The first full week of preseason games will be held from Aug. 10 to Aug. 14, with all 32 teams in action.

There will be plenty of fans who will want to see if Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott avoids a second-year slump. If he plays in the Hall of Fame Game, it won’t be for long, but fans will still want to see the young star.

This newly released schedule gives us a chance to look ahead at the matchups for both the Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints.

Dallas will be in Los Angeles against the Rams for the first full week of the preseason. This game will feature two young quarterbacks—Prescott, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2016, and Jared Goff, who was the first overall pick of the same draft.

New Orleans will travel to Cleveland in week one to face the Browns. If both teams use their current draft power, this game could feature four first-round picks, with both teams having two in the upcoming draft. It could also feature the number-one overall pick if the Browns don’t trade that spot before or during the draft.

Week two of the preseason, which takes place from Aug. 17 to Aug. 21, will see the Saints heading out to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, who are no longer in San Diego. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees will face his former team but not in the same city where he played.

Dallas will head home in week two to host the Indianapolis Colts. For the second week in a row, the Cowboys will face a quarterback who was the first overall pick in the draft. This time, it is Andrew Luck, who was the top pick in 2012.

The third week of the NFL preseason is normally the week that the starters see the most playing time. These games will be held from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 as teams try to get in a dress rehearsal before the season starts.

New Orleans will get its first home game of the preseason as the team hosts the Houston Texans. The Saints will try to keep a returning J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney away from Brees when the starters are on the field.

Dallas will at home for the second week in a row, as the team hosts the Oakland Raiders. Prescott against the Raiders’ Derek Carr is ...

April 10, 2017

MSU’s Rooker is the Best Player in the State

By bryanflynn

Another month is left until the finalists for the 2017 C Spire Ferriss Trophy is announced, but the race might as well be called right now. If this was a heavyweight fight, the official would need to call it for a technical knockout.

Mississippi State University outfielder Brent Rooker is putting up unreal numbers. He is having the type of season that will be remembered for years in the rich MSU baseball lore.

Make no mistake: Four-year universities and colleges in our state have plenty of great baseball players.

One example is Jackson State University Tigers third baseman Lamar Briggs, who leads the SWAC in hits (53), doubles (11), and total bases (70). He is fifth in batting average, third in runs batted in and fourth in runs scored.

In a normal year, Briggs would be a great candidate for the Ferriss Trophy. His play is one of the reasons that JSU is 26-11 overall and 12-3 in SWAC play, just behind Alabama State University in the conference standings.

The University of Southern Mississippi is leading C-USA with a 10-2 mark in conference and 26-7 record overall. But the Golden Eagles lead just four statistical categories in the conference in hitting.

USM outfielder Matt Wallner leads C-USA in slugging percentage (.699) and home runs (11). He is fourth in on-base percentage and eighth in RBI in the conference. Teammate Dylan Burdeaux is having a strong season for the Golden Eagles as well.

But Rooker’s numbers blow everyone away. He is leading the SEC in batting average (.448), hits (56), RBI (56), doubles (19), home runs (15), total bases (126), stolen bases (14), stolen base attempts (18), slugging percentage (1.008) and on-base percentage (.548).

Last week the baseball must have looked like a beach ball to Rooker. He went 10 for 16 at the plate with a .625 batting average and drove in 13 RBI, scored nine runs, and hit six home runs, earned five walks, one double, and a pitch hit him three times in five games.

Rooker’s efforts landed him SEC Player of the Week honors for the second time in a row. This is the first time a player has won the award in back-to-back weeks since University of Georgia player Gordon Beckham in 2008, and Rooker is the first MSU player to accomplish the feat since Rex Buckner in 1992.

This is the third time this season Rooker has been named SEC Player of the Week. With the season he is having, it almost seems like he is a shoe-in for SEC Player of the Year.

In the preseason, MSU was picked to finish fourth in the Western Division and seventh in the conference. Right now the Bulldogs are tied for first in the division and the conference with an 8-4 mark.

The University of Kentucky, Auburn University and the University of Arkansas are tied ...

April 7, 2017

Peterson to Visit the Saints

By bryanflynn

No one can say the New Orleans Saints are standing pat after three straight 7-9 seasons. This offseason, the Saints have been busy exploring options, making deals and bringing in players for meetings.

New Orleans will be hosting another high-profile player on Monday, April 10, when former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson comes for a visit. Peterson hit the free-agent market when the Vikings decided not to pick up his $18-million option in February.

The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks have already met with the running back. At this late stage of free agency, it doesn’t hurt to kick the tires on the 32-year-old future Hall of Famer.

Peterson missed most of last season with injuries and most of the 2014 season suspended due to legal issues. Sandwiched in between those years, the 2015 season saw him rush for 1,485 yards, leading the league in rushing.

Peterson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in seven of his 10 seasons in the NFL and rushed for double-digit touchdowns in eight of those. He failed to reach the end zone in 2014 and 2016, however, and rushed for a grand total of 149 yards those two seasons. New Orleans will have to decide if they would be getting the 2015 version of Peterson or the injury-prone 2016 version.

It is no secret that running backs begin to decline after reaching age 30 in the NFL. Peterson is known to keep himself in great shape and once recovered from an ACL tear during the 2011 season to rush for 2,097 yards in 2012, winning league MVP honors. It isn’t out of the question for the running back to produce another bounce-back year for whichever team he signs with in 2017.

New Orleans currently features Mark Ingram as its No. 1 running back. The 27 year old rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last season. It was just the second time in his career that he played in all 16 games, and he is still under contract for two more years.

If the Saints are going to sign Peterson, the team might have to change its offense. Both running backs are better when they get 20 or more carries in a game. That means that New Orleans must not rely on quarterback Drew Brees to carry the whole offense.

New Orleans will have to become a “run first” team if it signs the former Viking. Otherwise, the team is just wasting money on a big-name player when it still has a slight opening for a deep playoff run.

Ingram and Peterson would be a great one-two punch at the running-back position, but neither has been a major part of the passing game. New Orleans would have to make sure that it has a third-down-pass catching back. Peterson has also never been good at pass blocking during his career.

There are plenty ...

April 6, 2017

Jackson One of 11 Cities for Pelicans’ D-League Team

By bryanflynn

Finding ways to develop talent is one of the most important aspects of running a winning team. The teams that are better at discovering and building up young players are normally the best in their leagues.

Major league baseball uses the minor league to do that through the farm system, which gives players a place to get game experience as they hone their craft.

In basketball, the NBA began the D-League, or Developmental League, in the 2001-2002 season. It will be called the NBA Gatorade League, or NBA G-League, starting next season.

The D-League currently has 22 teams, all of which are affiliated with a single NBA team. That pro team either fully owns and operates its D-League outfit, or the developing team has a hybrid ownership in which the an NBA team funds and manages it, but local ownership controls business and manages community relations.

The Memphis Grizzlies purchased an expansion franchise in January that is set to begin play next season in Southaven, Miss. Memphis is one of five teams that has launched an expansion team or bought an existing D-League team.

On Friday, March 31, the New Orleans Pelicans announced their intentions to start an expansion team, as well. Pelicans owner Tom Benson, who also owns the New Orleans Saints, will own and operate the D-League team, which will begin play in the 2018-2019 season.

New Orleans sent a Request for Proposal, or RFP, to 11 Gulf Coast-region cities, which the Pelicans and the NBA selected based on market research.

Of those 11 cities, seven are based in Louisiana (Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe, Shreveport and St. Tammany Parish), two are in Mississippi (Biloxi and Jackson), one is in Alabama (Mobile), and one is in Florida (Pensacola).

New Orleans starting a D-League team means it can call up players from that team and get them players on the same day. Players will learn the same plays that the Pelicans use, as well, meaning that they won’t have to learn a new playbook when they are called up.

The Pelicans can use its D-League affiliate to develop draft picks that need more playing time before joining the NBA team. It also allows the team to expand its fan base outside of New Orleans.

Jackson makes perfect sense for a team looking to widen its reach. New Orleans Saints fans are numerous around the capital city, but there doesn’t seem to be one NBA team that a majority of Jacksonians root for each season.

New Orleans can build a fan base in Jackson that will be as loyal to the Pelicans as it is to the Saints. Fans in Central Mississippi never stopped loving the Saints no matter how terrible the team happened to be during the season. These same fans could be just as loyal to the Pelicans.

April 5, 2017

M-Braves Begin Season on Thursday

By bryanflynn

When the Atlanta Braves owned the National League back in the early 1990s to mid-2000s, the team dominated with starting pitching. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and others helped the club win its division from 1991 to 2005.

The Braves set a MLB record after winning their division 14-straight times. Not even the great New York Yankees match that record.

Since that epic run of division titles came to an end, the Braves have reached the postseason three times but haven’t won a postseason series, and finished in first place just once. Last season, Atlanta finished in last place in the NL East.

There is plenty of hope for the team, and that hopes begins with its farm system. The Braves are stacked with talent working its way up to the majors.

Last season the Braves’ farm system showed why it could be the start of stocking Atlanta with talent for years to come. The Rome Braves, in Rome, Ga., won the 2016 South Atlantic League Championship at the Low-A level. At the Triple-A level, the Gwinnett Braves, in Gwinnett County, Ga., reached the championship series in the International League, and the Mississippi Braves of the Double-A level reached the championship series of the Southern League.

In 2016, the M-Braves finished 39-30 as the team earned a playoff spot. The M-Braves defeated Pensacola 3-1 in the semifinals. In the finals, the Jackson Generals defeated the club 3-1 and took the championship.

It is safe to say that this year’s club at Trustmark Park will feature plenty of talent. The 2017 M-Braves feature four of the top-10 prospects in the Atlanta farm system, Baseball America says.

Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka are the No. 3 prospect and No. 4 prospects in the Braves’ farm system. Both are 19-year-old pitchers selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, and Allard left-handed.

Patrick Weigel is the No. 9 prospect who split time between Rome and the M-Braves last season. Weigel is 22 years old, and his 11 wins last season were second in the Braves’ minor-league system.

Max Fried is the No. 10 prospect in the Braves’ farm system. The 23-year-old spent last season in Rome. The Braves acquired him in a trade with San Diego in December 2014.

The M-Braves welcome 2016 High-A level Player of the Year in Keith Curcio and Pitcher of the Year Matt Withrow, respectively. Both players spent last season playing for the Carolina Mudcats in the Carolina League.

As the season begins, the M-Braves’ roster features 16 players taken in the first nine rounds of their respective drafts, and six former first-round draft picks. The roster includes eight players who spent last season in Rome, and 16 players who spent time in Pearl.

The M-Braves open the 2017 season with a five-game homestand beginning Thursday, April 6, against the Jacksonville ...

April 4, 2017

Bulldogs and Rebels Play Spring Game This Weekend

By bryanflynn

College football lasts almost a year long, with the season starting in September, bowl games in December and January, national signing day in early February, spring practice in March and spring games in April.

National signing day in college football has been a major deal to fans for a while now, and even the players have gotten in on the spectacle. The fans’ obsession with college football means knowing the recruits a school wants to sign, following them on social media and hoping that recruit does sign with their school.

But college football fans have a new obsession: The spring game is becoming a major way to tell which team has major expectations for the upcoming season.

Ohio State University ended up with more than 100,000 fans at a glorified practice during its spring game last year, and the University of Georgia packed more than 90,000 fans into the stands for its spring game.

As more fans are making the trip to see the games, it comes as no surprise that ESPN would get in on the deal. Just this month, the network is showing 21 games across its various platforms such as the SEC Network and ESPN3.

Several universities have built a whole weekend or week around their spring games. Those universities use concerts, other sports, reunions and more to lure fans to watch a game that really means nothing.

For years, Mississippi State University has used Super Bulldog Weekend to highlight its spring game. This year is no different, with Super Bulldog Weekend taking place from Friday, April 7, to Sunday, April 9.

On the baseball diamond, the Bulldogs host the University of Kentucky, and the softball team hosts the University of South Carolina. Both teams will play a three-game series in their respective sports starting on Friday.

MSU tennis will host Texas A&M University on Friday and Louisiana State University on Sunday. The volleyball team will hold an alumni game on Friday and host Southeastern Louisiana University and Samford University on Saturday.

The spring game starts at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, with free admission. The SEC Network will broadcast the game for the fans who can’t make the trip.

MSU isn’t the only school hosting its spring game this weekend. The University of Mississippi is putting on Grove Bowl Week for this year’s spring game.

The Rebels will host the University of Alabama in baseball with a three-game series beginning on Friday. The 28th annual Chucky Mullins Award Ceremony breakfast will be held just before the spring game.

UM will play its spring game at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 8, with the SEC Network broadcasting the game. The Rebels are breaking in new offensive and defensive coordinators this season, and this is the first peak at what both units look like for the 2017 season.

April 3, 2017

Future Bright For MSU Even After Title Game Loss

By bryanflynn

Even though another team celebrated under a shower of confetti, the Mississippi State University women’s basketball team had an amazing run. MSU ended the University of Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak in one national semifinal of the Final Four.

The overtime game might be the best basketball game, men’s or women’s, played this year. MSU jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half and led by eight at halftime.

UConn battled back, tying the game and taking the lead as the middle of the third quarter approached. During the rest of the game, both teams battled each other for the lead as each team answered the other’s runs.

The outcome couldn’t be decided in the 40 minutes of regular time, as Morgan William couldn’t make a game-winning shot in regulation. Both teams were exhausted as they began to play a five-minute overtime period.

On weary legs, MSU’s tiny guard William put the Bulldogs up for good with a game-winning shot as time expired. The Bulldogs outscored the Huskies 6-4 in the five extra minutes.

MSU slayed the biggest giant in either men’s or women’s college basketball. Playing the late game, going into overtime and the post-game interviews pushed the Bulldogs into early morning before they could return to their hotel and finally sleep.

This season’s nemesis, the University of South Carolina awaited MSU in the final. The Gamecocks were responsible for two of the Bulldogs’ four losses heading into the title game.

MSU took down the biggest player in the game but then ran into the one other team that does the same things as well as the Bulldogs left standing. South Carolina plays suffocating defense just like MSU, and the Gamecocks have the length to match the Bulldogs that few other teams possess.

The Bulldogs started the national championship game quickly, but before the first quarter ended, it was plain to see that the team didn’t have the same legs it did against the Huskies. South Carolina didn’t panic when MSU went up early.

Before the first quarter ended, the Gamecocks took the lead and didn’t surrender it the rest of the way. MSU cut the lead four points at times but couldn’t find the energy needed to retake it.

Early foul trouble, cold shooting and slow movement plagued the Bulldogs throughout the game. South Carolina looked quicker, more energetic and rested than MSU. Before the start of the final quarter, it was clear that beating UConn ended up taking everything out of the Bulldogs.

Even the hero of the tournament for MSU, William, ended up riding the bench for the whole fourth quarter. The tank was on empty for the Bulldog with the biggest heart. MSU has plenty of heart, and that is why the Gamecocks didn’t run away with the lead completely until late. They just didn’t have the legs to go 40 minutes.

While there isn’t a championship being delivered ...

March 31, 2017

WrestleMania 33 Predictions: Part Two

By bryanflynn

Seven matches to predict are left on the card , and each one could be considered a main-event level match. If you missed the predictions for the three kickoff-show matches, and the three matches I would start WrestleMania 33 with, you can read all about them here.

“SmackDown” Commissioner Shane McMahon settles his beef with the “Phenomenal One,” A.J. Styles. If you haven’t seen Styles wrestle, go to YouTube and watch some of his matches. He really is phenomenal.

Even though McMahon has worked just two matches since returning to his father’s company, this match will be watchable because of Styles. You could give him a broken mop, and he somehow could get a four-star match out it.

The confusing part of this match is the lack of a gimmick. McMahon is normally in a cage match, no-holds barred one or a street fight-type one—any type of match with something for him to try to kill himself, like jumping off Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania 32.

Really, Shane McMahon has a death wish. He has done some insane things you can find all over the Internet. Be sure to check out the concussion he got in a match with Kurt Angle.

Styles even brought up the fact this match has no gimmick at the go-home show for “SmackDown Live.” If it is going to be a wrestling match, he will dominate the whole way. But the fact Styles mentioned the lack of a cage or weapons makes me wonder if a late stipulation will be added to this match.

The match should finish with Styles getting the win but start the tease of a McMahon heel turn. Shane is the only beloved McMahon. So Styles slowly pushing McMahon to perform heel actions as a way to get back at him will be great TV.

Former best friends clash when U.S. Championship holder Chris Jericho battles Kevin Owens. This could be the best match on the card, but it won’t go on last because it isn’t a world-title match and will be needed to pick up the middle of the show.

Jericho is doing some of his best work at the age of 46 and shows no signs of stopping. He can still pull out the moves he did back in WCW and is able to put on top matches with younger guys.

Even at this stage in his career, the crowd still loves Y2J. Here is a list of things Jericho has recently gotten over (getting over means the fans cheer or boo depending on what is trying to be accomplished) with the fans: scarves, a potted plant, saying, “stupid idiot,” telling people they are going to get (insanely long pause) it, a clipboard, a pen, the list of Jericho and the festival of friendship.

If you haven’t enjoyed the gift of Jericho, go to YouTube and drink it in, man.

There isn’t anything Jericho can’t turn to ...

March 30, 2017

WrestleMania 33 Predictions: Part One

By bryanflynn

“Monday Night Raw” and “SmackDown Live” held their “go-home shows,” the last shows before a pay-per-view event, earlier this week, so the card for WrestleMania is set. That is, if the WWE doesn’t decided to add another match during WrestleMania 33.

Neither go-home show made me feel any better about this WrestleMania. Both shows were solid, but they didn’t leave me with an uncontrollable desire to see what happens this Sunday, April 2.

I lost count of how many times a wrestler mentioned in his or her promo that WrestleMania is “the ultimate thrill ride” the tagline for this event. The announcers saying the tagline, as well, seems to just be overkill in promoting the show. How many more times will they say that catchphrase on Sunday? It is just too much at this point.

Still, there is plenty of potential for this to be a good WrestleMania, depending on what the company sees itself doing after this show.

WrestleMania 33 has 13 matches on the card, with three matches on the kickoff show and the other 10 matches on pay-per-view or the WWE Network. The kickoff show will also air at 5 p.m. on the USA Network.

If it was my show—and it's not my show—I would start the kickoff show with the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Personally, I would have this match on the main show, but since it is in the kickoff, I would have it go first.

Alexa Bliss, the current champion, will face five other women from the “SmackDown” roster for the title. The winner will be whoever gets the pinfall or submission, and the event could start fast and furious with each woman executing her finisher in the build up to the ending.

There is no reason for Bliss to lose unless the WWE wants to see Naomi win in her hometown of Orlando, where WrestleMania 33 is taking place. Bliss should keep the title to help build a feud with one of the other five women down the line.

Neville, the current cruiserweight champion, will take on Austin Aries for the cruiserweight title on the kickoff show. The WWE can’t go wrong here unless neither man puts on a great match. Both are solid performers, and either as champ works well.

The finish of the cruiserweight match could end up being tied to the winner of the women’s match. A title change should happen on the free show, so if Naomi wins the title, then Neville retains, and if Bliss retains, expect for A-Double to win.

Finishing up the kickoff show is the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Thirty wrestlers will start in the ring, and an opponent must throw them over the top rope to eliminate them. There is only one possible winner of this match, and that is Braun Strowman.

The “monster among men” should be allowed to just run through the field. He could eliminate half the ring by himself, ...

March 30, 2017

Stone Cold Stuns the President

By bryanflynn

This is one of my favorite weeks in sports with the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Four and WrestleMania held on the same weekend. Looking at the card for WrestleMania 33, it could be a dud, but the in-ring action may surpass expectations, depending on the angles that the company wants to go with post-show.

If you checked out The Slate in the Jackson Free Press this week, there is a tease about a future president taking part in a past WrestleMania. No, not The Rock, although he might one day run for the office, and he has the charisma and charm to win.

WrestleMania 23 took place at Ford Field in Detroit on April 1, 2007, and while it wasn’t the greatest “showcase of the immortals,” it wasn’t horrible and does have an interesting place the event’s history.

In the run-up to the event, WWE owner Vince McMahon entered into a feud with longtime friend Donald Trump. This feud started when Trump interrupted McMahon on “Monday Night Raw,” stealing the WWE chairman’s spotlight and laying the groundwork for their future match.

This wasn’t the first time Trump ended up as part of McMahon’s traveling show. Trump signed a deal to have Trump Plaza sponsor WrestleMania IV and WrestleMania V, even though the events took place at Atlantic City Convention Hall, now known as Boardwalk Hall.

In WrestleMania history, this is still the only time that the event took place in the same location in back-to-back years. Trump was in the crowd as a fan at WrestleMania VII and WrestleMania XX, making him a fixture at the event four times before the 23rd “show of shows.”

At WrestleMania 23, the Trump-McMahon match was billed as the “Battle of the Billionaires.” So what would these so-called billionaires battle over but hair-vs.-hair, with the loser having his head shaved? What else would the two battle over if not their locks?

Instead of fighting each other, the two men chose proxies to fight in their place, with Trump picking ECW champion Bobby Lashley and McMahon going with Intercontinental champion Umaga. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin came in as a special guest referee for the match to add more sizzle.

Interesting fact: McMahon wanted Hulk Hogan to be Trump’s pick for the match as a callback to WrestleMania III, but money issues between the two kept the Hulkster from taking part in the event.

As for the match, it isn’t a classic for its in-ring work, but Stone Cold handed out his signature move, the “stunner,” to McMahon’s son, Shane, after he entered the match when Umaga had “knocked out” Austin. That set the IC champ up for the finish with a stunner from Austin and a pin by Lashley.

After the match, Trump, Lashley and Austin helped shaved McMahon, and as it turned out, Vince, with no hair, has the tiniest head in the history of wrestling. Stone Cold did his normal ...

March 28, 2017

A Miracle on the Hardwood

By bryanflynn

Even if you don’t follow sports, you’ve probably heard of the 1980 Olympics’ “Miracle on Ice” at some point. A group of young American hockey players took down one of the best hockey teams in the world in the USSR.

What you might not know is that the game against the USSR wasn’t even for the gold medal. The U.S. team still had to play Finland to win the gold, but the game against the USSR is so steeped in lore most just believe it was for the gold.

That USSR team was cloaked in an aura of invincibility. It was a team that reached mythic status even as they still played the game. The country had already beaten many teams before the U.S. stepped on the ice against them.

Why is a game hockey at the end of March so important with no Winter Olympics in sight? If you think about it, the “Miracle on Ice” and the Final Four game that the Mississippi State University women’s basketball team will play on Friday, March 31, are similar.

MSU will face the University of Connecticut, which compares well to that USSR team. The Russians were considered the best in the world and so are the Huskies.

The USSR dominated their sport, even beating the NHL All-Stars 6-0 a year before the Olympics. Connecticut has won 111 straight games and is making its 10th straight Final Four, but the Bulldogs are making their first appearance.

In the 1980 Olympics, the USSR crushed most of the other teams in the tournament in the run-up before facing the Americans. The team had close games against Canada and Finland, but the Russians still won easily.

In the Final Four, UConn is normally in the midst of a blowout before halftime of nearly every game it has played. The closest game the Huskies have played is a 15-point victory over the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Huskies beat many teams that step on the court before the opening tip because UConn possesses the same aura and mystique that the USSR displayed. It is easy to see why since the Huskies have won the past four straight national championships and six of the last eight.

Going into the 1980 Olympics, the USSR had won four straight Olympics, the World Championship and the World Cup. People considered the Russians, like UConn today, nearly unbeatable.

Before the Olympics, the U.S. and the USSR played each other in a game where the Russians won 10-3, as the opposition starstuck the Americans. MSU might not have been starstruck, but they were beaten 98-38 in the Sweet Sixteen last year.

U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks knew he had to break that aura and mystique the Russians held over his players. He began to compare great USSR player Boris Mikhailov to comedy legend Stan Laurel of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

MSU ...

March 27, 2017

MSU Headed to Final Four

By bryanflynn

A season for the ages for the Mississippi State University women’s basketball team just keeps getting better and better. The program reached the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row, but these Bulldogs didn’t want to go home in the first game of the second weekend.

MSU’s task in the Sweet Sixteen was to find a way to slow down Kelsey Plum of the University of Washington, who happens to be the all-time leading scorer for women’s NCAA basketball and has set the single-season record for scoring.

The Huskies star ended up scoring 29 points, but on 10-of-25 shooting and 3-for-8 from the three-point line. MSU harassed Plum all game long with a suffocating defense that rarely gave the guard open looks at the basket.

Even with the stellar defense on Plum, Washington stayed in the game until the fourth quarter. That is when Bulldogs center Teaira McCowan put the team on her back and carried them.

In the first three quarters, McCowan scored six points before exploding for 20 points in the final quarter alone. No player was more dominant in the game than the Bulldogs center, who nabbed 12 rebounds and made a career-high six blocks.

Washington had no answer in the paint for McCowan, as she grabbed rebound after rebound and put missed shots back for easy buckets. A close game for three quarters saw the Bulldogs pull away in the 75-64 victory.

MSU used its depth to wear Huskies out, with 11 players getting into the game and seven playing double-digit minutes. Star guard Victoria Vivians came off the bench and scored 13 points, and rounds-one and -two leading scorer Blair Schaefer scored 10 points. Another impressive fact is that 10 of the 11 players who saw action scored at least two points.

The win propelled MSU to its first Elite Eight appearance in program history. But then Baylor University stood in the Bulldogs’ way of reach the Final Four, and the two teams put on a show on Sunday night.

During that game, each team seemed to battle back after the other made a run to either tie or take the lead. Just when it seemed like one team was about to put the other away, the game tightened up again.

It might not have been a masterpiece for every second, but it was two teams making big shot after big shot. The smallest Bulldog on the floor, Morgan William, ended up taking and making most of those big shots for MSU.

William entered the game after scoring 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting in the team’s other three games during the NCAA Tournament. She exploded for 41 points on 13-of-22 shooting, 6-of-8 from three, and 9-of-10 from the free throw line, with seven assists and zero turnovers.

William hit shots no matter which Bear tried to guard her, and even hit deep three-point shots when Baylor ...

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