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Hoops Dream: Florida Walk-On Relishes Moment Years in Making | Sports News

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By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Chris Sutherland was sitting near the end of Florida’s bench, sandwiched between teammates, when he heard the chants. They were faint at first, growing louder and clearer by the second.

“We want Chris! We want Chris!”

Sutherland had waited years for this moment, a chance to finally play college basketball and complete a journey that started as a kid in Queens, New York, and continued through high school in Fort Myers and well into college.

He should have been ready. After all, he was no stranger to game, the O’Connell Center or even the program. But what should have been Sutherland’s career achievement ended up feeling more like “One Stumbling Moment.”

His warm-up jacket got caught on his arm as he hustled to the scorer’s table. An official had to tell him to tuck in his No. 34 jersey, which was the only one without a name on the back. He stood in the wrong spot on the free-throw line, drawing a dirty look from an opponent. If that wasn’t bad enough, his wrist band snapped into pieces all over the court and delayed the game.

“Why in the world was I so nervous?” Sutherland recalled last week. “There was just so much going on.”

More than most outsiders knew.

Sutherland was a graduate student who worked his way onto Florida’s bench in January after serving as an arena worker, a practice player for the women’s team and a team manager for the men’s program. Gaining NCAA eligibility was an equally daunting task that required him to pay back scholarship money and remove his name and likeness from a website he created last year to sell streetwear he designed.

“What a unique story,” coach Mike White said. “What a great story. He brings as much positive energy as any player or manager I’ve ever been around. It is unbelievable. As soon as you walk into the gym, you hear him. It’s crazy.

“You want guys like that in your program.”

Sutherland was hoping for a few more weeks with the Gators. But his college career was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. He lost out on what was his first — and likely only shot — at playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s good to understand that there’s more important things than basketball,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland seemed to have that figured out long before COVID-19 wiped out college athletics for the spring and summer.

He turned down several scholarship offers to play college basketball, including one to Division II Belmont Abbey near Charlotte, North Carolina. He instead chose to stay closer to his mom, a diabetic in Fort Myers.

He had hoped to get a walk-on spot with Florida’s track and field team after finishing fifth in the 2015 Class 2A state high jump finals. But there was nothing available, so he settled into life as a regular student.

He became a Rowdy Reptile, a member of the raucous student section at men’s basketball games. Little did he know the group would one day be cheering for him.

Still, being in the stands quickly made him realize he wanted more to do with hoops. He became a recreation sports referee as a freshman, but eventually moved on because he couldn’t get enough hours. He then landed a job working events at the on-campus O’Connell Center in the spring and was promoted to supervisor the following year.

That proved to be a turning point. Working a late-night security shift, Sutherland met a fellow student who happened to be a graduate assistant for the women’s basketball team.

They chatted about hoops, of course, and she told him the team was always looking for practice players — regular students good enough to get on the court and pose a challenge for the women. Sutherland showed up a few days later and had a side gig.

That got him in the door, but it took adding something else on his plate to get him to the men’s side of the facility.

The 6-foot-3 Sutherland joined a fraternity as a junior, and one of his frat brothers was a team manager for the men’s team.

“He gave me the blueprint for how you get in, which was to work summer camps,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland volunteered to work camps in 2017, but didn’t get one of the manager spots. No surprise since there were dozens of applicants and only a few opportunities. He tried again the following year and got the call.

“It was surreal,” he said.

He was around the team 24-7, becoming close friends with freshmen Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke, and creating lasting memories on the road with a team that made the NCAA Tournament. He quickly developed a reputation as a hype guy, someone who always brings energy in practice and before games. His post-victory dances were legendary.

He also became a regular in “noon ball,” a pickup game involving coaches, managers and staff.

“The first time I met him, he was blocking my shots with his elbows, talking my basketball and talking trash to me,” White said. “I quickly learned I didn’t want him guarding me. He’s a good player.”

Good enough that fellow coaches approached White about possibly getting Sutherland to transfer. But Sutherland was content in his role, especially since he was getting ready to graduate with a sports management degree.

He got accepted to graduate school and signed on for another year as a team manager. Little did he know his bench role would change dramatically.

Once freshman walk-on Alex Klatsky decided to focus on academics and big man Gorjok Gak decided to transfer, the Gators were in need of an extra body.

White and his staff turned to Sutherland. It was an easy decision and a complicated process.

His parents had to pay back $5,000 he had received from a student-manager scholarship because walk-ons can’t get any funding from the sports program. His father had a good enough job in New York that he stayed there, even after the family moved to Florida. Still, scraping together five stacks isn’t trouble-free for most working-class families.

Sutherland had a pile of NCAA compliance paperwork to do, as well as various physicals. He also had to remove his name and image from his apparel website, WavyTings.com, which he launched last year.

“He had to jump through a bunch of hoops for him to become cleared by the NCAA,” White said. “He had to backtrack and make a lot of personal sacrifice just to be able to wear the jersey.”

The process took several weeks, and Sutherland was finally cleared to play in mid-January, just a few days before the Gators hosted then-No. 4 Auburn. He was in uniform and on the bench for a nationally televised game that took place inside a packed O’Dome.

Sutherland never expected to play. After all, the Tigers were good and he didn’t even have his name on the back of his jersey. But the game turned into a rout, a 22-point beatdown that was Auburn’s worst loss of the virus-shortened season.

With 25 seconds remaining and the student section clamoring for one of their own, White turned and called on the last guy on his bench. Even though Sutherland blundered his way through his collegiate debut, he won’t forget that feeling.

“Having the announcer call my name and being able to talk to my family and send them the video, that was something,” he said. “The amount of support I received from the campus was just unbelievable. Seeing that there are so many people are just happy for you to success in the world we live in, where it’s not common, I appreciated that. That really stuck with me.”

Sutherland waited a month to get off the bench again. This time, it was a much smoother outing.

With the Gators leading Vanderbilt by 20 on the night they officially unveiled “Billy Donovan Court,” Sutherland got the call with 1:40 to play. This time, his name was on the jersey.

He missed his first opportunity to score, but he got a rebound at the other end and got fouled. He stepped to the line amid more chants and missed the first free throw.

“I was like, ‘This is crazy. I might not get the opportunity to score again,’” he said. “I took my time, breathed and knocked down the next one.”

One point in two games over five years. It might not seem like much to everyone else, but it’s everything to him.

“The lifelong dream was just to play college basketball,” he said. “I find joy in that.”

After the season ended abruptly, Sutherland quarantined himself for a few weeks in hopes of making sure he didn’t spread COVID-19 to his mother. He got back into the kitchen and started cooking again — something he hadn’t had the time to do in years — and spent countless hours working on new designs for his website.

“When you’re passionate about something, you just have to try and see what happens,” he said.

Nothing sums up his college basketball career better.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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All Black legend Carter in shock Super Rugby comeback, Sports News

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Two-time All Blacks World Cup winner Dan Carter announced a shock Super Rugby comeback with Auckland Blues on Thursday at the age of 38, saying he realised during coronavirus lockdown how much he missed the game.

Carter, a three-time world player of the year, has been a free agent since returning to New Zealand in March from Japan, where a virus-enforced shutdown ended his lucrative stint with Kobe Steelers.

“Two things from the lockdown that I realised was that I really enjoyed spending more time with my family and that I miss rugby,” Carter said.

“For me it is a chance to mentor some young players and to give back to New Zealand rugby,” he added.

The signing comes as New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams prepare to start a domestic tournament next week, after COVID-19 halted the southern hemisphere championship in March.

Carter has not played in his homeland since his international retirement in 2015, when he helped the All Blacks seal back-to-back World Cup titles at Twickenham.

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said Carter signed a short-term deal as cover for injured fullback Stephen Perofeta. He joins a squad already containing Beauden Barrett, his successor as All Blacks playmaker.

As a replacement player, Carter will reportedly be on a minimum contract worth NZ$1,800 (US$1,155) a week, a huge cut from the millions he earned playing club rugby in France and Japan.

“It definitely not about money, he’s not getting rich doing it,” MacDonald said.

As the Blues already have Barrett — himself a two-time world player of the year — Carter may fill the role of supersub off the bench.

“I have not played for several months so it will take me a little bit of time to get game-ready,” he said.

Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry had no doubt Carter still had the ability to play at the top level, despite his age.

“It’s marvellous, he’ll add a huge amount of experience but he’s also been playing very well in Japan,” Henry told Radio New Zealand.

All Blacks halfback and former teammate Aaron Smith tweeted: “The goat (greatest of all time) is back in Super rugby!”

– Thumbs-up from nanna –

MacDonald indicated Carter would be behind Barrett and rising star Otare Black in the pecking order.

“If he gets back into playing form that warrants selection, then he could help us as a utility back in midfield or fullback,” he said.

Carter played the first of his 112 Tests for the All Blacks in 2003, scored a record 1,598 points during his international career and was the world player of the year in 2005, 2012 and 2015.

He played for French club Racing 92 after retiring from Test rugby following the 2015 World Cup, before signing a two-year deal with Kobe Steelers in 2018.

The South Island native already has three Super Rugby titles from his 13-year stint with the Canterbury Crusaders and remains the competition’s top points-scorer with 1,708.

Often described as the best fly-half to play the game, Carter revealed in his autobiography that he turned down an approach from the Blues in 2009 after his Crusaders-supporting grandmother Pam Carter opposed the move.

However, Nanna Carter said on Thursday that she had no problems with the latest deal and would support the Blues over the Crusaders when her grandson was playing for the Aucklanders.

“I don’t care where he plays as long as he plays,” she told stuff.co.nz.

“I miss him playing. I’m thrilled. I heard it on the news this morning and I thought ‘Good on you Dan’.”

The Blues claimed the last of their three Super Rugby titles in 2003 and have not made the playoffs since 2011. 

Once regarded as a regional powerhouse, they have been the worst performing New Zealand Super Rugby team since 2014.

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Drew Brees faces backlash from teammates, others in NFL and around sports for anthem protest comments

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It’s not often that an NFL receiver will publicly call out his quarterback for something, but that’s exactly what Michael Thomas did to Drew Brees on Wednesday. The Saints receiver clearly wasn’t happy after seeing an interview that Brees did with Yahoo Finance. During the interview, the Saints quarterback was asked what his thoughts were on the subject of players potentially kneeling again during the national anthem for the 2020 season. 

Brees then made it very clear that he’s against that form of protest because he views it as disrespectful to the American flag. 

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said. “Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.”

Brees also added that standing with your hand over your heart is an equally good way of showing unity. 

“Every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag, and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about, and in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed,” Brees said. “Not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the ’60s, and everyone, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point. And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go, but I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better and that we are all part of the solution.”

Since making the comments, Brees has faced some major backlash, including some that came from two of his own teammates: Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  

Sanders just signed with the team back in March after reaching the Super Bowl with the 49ers last season. 

As for Thomas, although he called Brees out, he also gave his quarterback the benefit of the doubt. 

Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins posted a very emotional video on Instagram in response to Brees’ comments and said that if he didn’t understand what was wrong with what he said, then he is “part of the problem.”

LeBron James was one of many athletes who were surprised by Brees’ comments. 

Back in the NFL, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted a photo of himself linking arms with his teammates, saying, “A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.”

Richard Sherman, like Jenkins, added that Brees’ comments are “part of the problem.”

Tyrann Mathieu, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Jamal Adams and Hall of Famer Ed Reed, who grew up just outside of New Orleans, weighed also weighed in. (NSFW language in Reed’s video) 

A few hours after making his comments, Brees attempted to clarify his remarks.

“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said, via ESPN.com. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”

Brees was asked about the possibility of players kneeling because there’s a chance that some NFL players could end up making the decision to kneel during the national anthem this season as a way to protest racial injustice and police brutality against minorities.

Colin Kaepernick started the protest in 2016 and his actions have been lauded by some NFL coaches and players around the league following the death of George Floyd in May. The African-American man was killed in Minnesota last week after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. 



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MLB owners reject MLBPA’s 114-game proposal for 2020 season, per report

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On Sunday, the MLB Players Association submitted a proposal to Major League Baseball for a 2020 season that would include, among other aspects, a 114-game regular season and expanded playoffs. It took the league a few days to respond, but on Wednesday owners rejected the union’s proposal and said they would not send a counteroffer, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

The owners are said to want a shorter regular season, perhaps as short as 50 or 60 games, with an emphasis on getting to the postseason quickly. The hope is to have the postseason completed before a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus can sweep the country, thus ensuring the league pockets all of the money from playoff television deals. (The union, as part of its proposal, included the potential for mass deferrals if the postseason was canceled due to a renewed spread of COVID-19.)

It should be noted that refusing to make a counteroffer is a well-known negotiating tactic, one commonly employed in baseball circles by agent Scott Boras, and that the league’s stance does not necessarily mean the 2020 season is endangered. Still, this was eyed as a pivotal week if the two sides wanted to begin play sometime in early July, and so far there’s been limited momentum toward a deal. 

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that commissioner Rob Manfred would be willing to force a shortened season with prorated salaries if the two sides could not strike an agreement. That season would be about half as long as the players’ desired length.

While the sides remain apart on the money and season length, it appears they’re closer than not when it comes to the health component. Indeed, the players are expected to get “much of what they want on health and safety,” according to SNY’s Andy Martino

Originally, the league had sent the union a 67-page proposal that laid out its vision for testing and safety protocols. That document included guidelines on travel, clubhouse arrangement, and players’ etiquette when on the road. The union subsequently offered revisions, with players reportedly wanting more access to workout and recovery equipment.

MLB had originally intended to launch its season on March 26.Two weeks prior, the league was forced to hit pause, alongside every other in-season professional sports league, due to the spread of COVID-19. 



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