Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ranking the most intriguing games in ESPN?s 24-hour marathon

ESPN released the lineup on Thursday for its fourth annual college hoops marathon to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

What has been a terrific event the past three years once again looks as though it has a slate of games worthy of your espressos and energy drinks. Click here for a list of games in chronological order or read on for my ranking of the games in order of the 10 most intriguing games

1. Kentucky vs. Kansas (from New York), 9 p.m. EST

Comment: Much of the nation's first glimpse of Kentucky's top-ranked freshman class will come in a matchup against a fellow college basketball blue blood. Will Kansas take a step backward after losing the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the NBA? This should provide an early indication.

2. Florida at Ohio State, 8 p.m. EST

Comment: Ohio State clobbered Florida 93-75 in Gainesville last November behind 26 points and 10 rebounds from Jared Sullinger. The Gators will have an opportunity for revenge a year later in a matchup of likely preseason top 15 teams.

3. Duke vs. Michigan State (from New York), 7 p.m. EST

Comment: Michigan State's first chance to atone for last year's disappointing season will be a matchup with a Duke team that has reloaded despite the departure of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. The Blue Devils defeated the Spartans 84-79 a year ago, but next year's teams will hardly resemble the ones that met the previous winter.

4. Belmont at Memphis, 12 p.m. EST

Comment: They both dropped opening-round NCAA tournament games a year ago, but Belmont and Memphis bring back enough talent to make far deeper runs next March. The Bruins return the core of a team that won 16 Atlantic Sun games by 10 or more points and pushed Tennessee and Vanderbilt to the brink on their home floors. The Tigers' promising 2010 freshman class should have made a big leap entering their sophomore year.

5. George Mason/Fla. International at Virginia Tech, 6 p.m. EST

Comment: As long as George Mason and Virginia Tech win their first-round games, this Preseason NIT quarterfinal should have plenty of storylines. The Hokies have shied away from facing in-state mid-major powers and haven't played the Patriots since splitting a pair of games during the 1991-92 season.

6. San Diego State at Baylor, 2 p.m. EST

Comment: San Diego State probably will take a step backward without D.J. Gay, Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas, but this could be a good time for the Aztecs to catch Baylor. Star forward Perry Jones will be serving a suspension and promising freshmen Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello will still be trying to mesh with their veteran teammates.

7. Washington State at Gonzaga, 12 a.m. EST

Comment: The frontcourt duo of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre will make Gonzaga a clear favorite in this matchup of in-state rivals. Washington State's guard duo of Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden is formidable, but the Cougs will miss Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto, both of whom left school early to turn pro.

8. Northern Iowa at Saint Mary's, 2 a.m. EST

Comment: NCAA tournament darlings in the Sweet 16 two years ago, both Northern Iowa and Saint Mary's missed March Madness a year ago. The winner of this game will have an early quality win to boost their resume next season.

9. Kent State at West Virginia, 10 a.m. EST

Comment: This early-morning matchup won't be a pushover for revamped West Virginia. Three of Kent State's four leading scorers return from a team that won the MAC East with a 12-4 record a year ago.

10. Rhode Island at Texas, 4 p.m. EST

Comment: Even after losing Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton to the NBA draft, Texas should have little trouble with Rhode Island. The Rams lost their two leading scorers from last year's middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team.


Matt Cassel Matt Light Matt Ryan Michael Griffin

Real Zaragoza fan wears Mourinho-proof glasses

Real Madrid opened the slightly delayed new season in Zaragoza and one fan came to the stadium prepared. Wearing snorkeling goggles and a cardboard sign that read "gafas anti Mou" (anti-Mou glasses), the guy in the SpongeBob shirt wasn't risking a sneaky Jose Mourinho eye-poke.

The special goggles did not prevent Mourinho's team from absolutely dominating Zaragoza 6-0, though. But regardless of that, don't be surprised if Pep Guardiola wears these for the next Clasico.

Photo: AP


Drew Brees Dwayne Bowe E.J. Henderson Jamaal Charles

Where could the Dodgers ship unhappy Andre Ethier?

Andre Ethier seems to be telling two stories.

According to what he said to the L.A. Times' T.J. Simers, Ethier thinks the Los Angeles Dodgers keep putting him in their lineup despite a balky knee that's going to need surgery this offseason.

And yet, continuing to play is his decision. That's what he told reporters before Sunday's game against the Colorado Rockies ? in which he was held out of the lineup.

Ethier supposedly wants out of L.A. because he's unhappy over not getting a contract extension, along with the traveshamockery of Frank McCourt's ownership. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is mad about being accused of forcing Ethier to play hurt. And GM Ned Colletti is implying that Ethier is using injury as an excuse for his poor play (.224/.316/.284, one home run, and seven RBIs) since the All-Star break.

L.A. probably isn't going to work out for Ethier, who has one arbitration year left before free agency. So for the two sides to part, a trade needs to happen. Ethier would surely prefer to go to a playoff contender. But wouldn't the Dodgers kind of like to deal him to the baseball equivalent of Siberia for some of his recent behavior? If Colletti were feeling vindictive, where could he exile Ethier?

? Houston Astros: Oh, you'd like to play somewhere else, 'Dre? How about the worst team in baseball, one that's probably not leaving the basement anytime soon. They could use a corner outfielder. Just watch out for Tal's Hill during pregame warmups, too. You might hurt that knee. But hey, they're not the only choice .

? Toronto Blue Jays: Here's where the Dodgers could get a little nasty. Not because the Jays will have a hard upward climb toward contention in the AL East. But because they play their games on artificial turf. Oh, your knee hurts, 'Dre? Try playing on fake grass. This could also apply to the Tampa Bay Rays.

? Chicago Cubs: They have a need for a right fielder on the North Side of Chicago. And with a new GM to come, the Cubs' roster will probably get an overhaul. But the payroll is stuck with a couple of albatross contracts that might handcuff the GM's ability to make the necessary changes. And strange things seem to happen to players' careers once they come to the Cubs. Bad things. Unexplainable things.

? Baltimore Orioles: If Ethier is having problems playing for Mattingly in L.A., how would he get along with Buck Showalter? But he could put up some big numbers trying to compensate for a young pitching staff that took a major step back this year.

? Oakland Athletics: Ethier doesn't like playing in front of small crowds at Dodger Stadium? Get a load of the Coliseum! (Small crowds could also apply to the Florida Marlins.) Even if a decent crowd shows up, how could you tell? Ethier was in the A's system until he was traded for Milton Bradley. Can you go home again, 'Dre?

Follow Ian on Twitter ?�@iancass ? and engage�The Stew on Facebook


Jered Weaver John Buck Victor Martinez Paul Konerko

Power Rankings: Busch solidifies his hold on No. 1

Time for our latest round of Power Rankings. Each week throughout the season, we'll size up who's rising and who's falling, based on current standings, behind-the-scenes changes, expected staying power, recent history and general gut feelings. And what's up with all these first-time winners mucking up our rankings, huh?

Kyle Busch1. Kyle Busch. Busch has now won four times this season, the first driver to do that. He's clinched at least one of the wild cards. Which means that if I were him, I'd go head off to Barbados for three weeks and come on back at Chicagoland. But his sponsors wouldn't like that much, I'm guessing, so we'll probably still see him hanging around. Oh, and there's that "win Bristol with his eyes closed" thing, too. Last week's ranking: 1.

Jimmie Johnson2. Jimmie Johnson. Everybody, ourselves included, is more than happy to start shoveling dirt onto the Chase chances of Jimmie Johnson. But that's wishful thinking more than anything else. Dude got a second-place finish Sunday at a track that's not historically one of his best. The only guy to outrun him is the top driver in NASCAR this year. That, forty-haters, should give you pause. You need 15 guys who can outrun Jimmie, not just one. � Last week's ranking: 5.

Brad Keselowski3. Brad Keselowski. Keselowski has finishes of 1, 2 and 3 over the last three weeks. Continue that trend out and he'll finish 16th at Homestead. So where are we with Keselowski? Some are considering him already a championship contender. I'm not there yet; it's not that I don't trust the guy, I just�need more than a few weeks of stats for verification. Still, if he finishes the season inside, say, the top 8, this'd have to be one of the best non-Cup-win stories of the last few years.� Last week's ranking: 3.

Carl Edwards4. Carl Edwards. This is the first time Edwards hasn't been ranked first or second since, I dunno, April or something. And Cousin Carl deserves to lose that lofty ranking, because his recent runs haven't exactly been championship caliber. Again, it's not to say he can't turn it around and make a charge, but as so many drivers have shown, looking pretty in the regular season isn't the same as looking pretty in the Chase. It's like coming from a small town and suddenly going to college: the attractive people there have a hotness to them you couldn't even imagine. Carl Edwards and hotness? Time to kill this metaphor. Last week's ranking: 2.

Jeff Gordon5. Jeff Gordon. Yes, it's a little unfair to drop Gordon despite a sixth-place finish, but hey, them's the breaks. He's continuing to prove that he's legit; this Chase season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, if not ever, because there are so many compelling stories and so many guys whom you'd be OK with winning if it wasn't your guy. Gordon fits into that category; anybody still carrying around an Earnhardt-inspired grudge against him probably needs to look into this new thing called "e-mail."� Last week's ranking: 4.

Matt Kenseth6. Matt Kenseth. Say this for Kenseth: the dude's not afraid to run a splashy paint scheme. The mysterious yellow-and-blue-flame Kroger car he drove at Michigan Sunday was ... well, let's not say "crime against nature," but when he pulled into the pits and his crew, still in the Crown Royal purple duds, jumped over the wall, it looked, as one of our chatters put it, "like a rainbow threw up in the 17 pit stall." Perfect.� Last week's ranking: 8.

Kevin Harvick7. Kevin Harvick. We haven't heard a whole lot out of Harvick the last few weeks, and that's probably a good thing: Harvick spent so much time obsessing over how to get back at Kyle Busch that his own results seemed to suffer. It's a psychological mind-screw, like Harvick was chasing the Great Yellow #18 Whale. (NASCAR sponsorship would make most classic literature better, by the way.) Did somebody talk to him and set him straight? If so, I've got a pretty good idea who it was.� Last week's ranking: 6.

Ryan Newman8. Ryan Newman. Combine Newman's near-silent top-5 finish Sunday, which you heard almost nothing about, with Kurt Busch's flameout, and Rocket Man has pretty much locked down a Chase spot. Impressive work, and emblematic of the strong season Newman has constructed right from Daytona. He's exactly where he ought to be, and a break or two and he could start throwing some real scares into people.� Last week's ranking: 9.

Kurt Busch9. Kurt Busch. Busch's season has been the equivalent of online dating: when everything clicks properly, it's absolutely magical and gives you faith in humanity; when it falls apart, you end up stuck with someone who's got hair in all the wrong places. Sunday at Michigan was undoubtedly one of those hairy days. � Last week's ranking: 7.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. We got grief here last week for saying Junior's 15th-place finish was "solid." He finished 14th this week. Is that "solid+"? For a guy who lurked in the 20s for most of the last couple years, sure, a finish in the teens is solid. Junior ought to make the Chase, which is an indisputable success, but he probably ought to back that up with a win.� Last week's ranking: 10.

Clint Bowyer11. Clint Bowyer. Bowyer has a habit of making the last few weeks of the regular season interesting, either because he barely makes it or he barely misses. That's gotta be stressful around the ol' Bowyer motorhome. Everybody probably lets him win at cards, cornhole and "pull my finger" for the months of July and August, just to give him some small victories to build on. Last week's ranking: NR.

Tony Stewart12. Tony Stewart. Can't imagine that Stewart has ever regretted anything he's ever done in his life, but if he did, he'd probably start with wanting to play NASCAR deputy at Sonoma. That was the point where he started losing focus on the track and started focusing on the people around him, which is a sure sign that you're in line for trouble. And now he is.� Last week's ranking: 12.

Dropping out of the rankings: Denny Hamlin, who's got a lot of work to do to stay in the Chase.

Lucky Dog: Marcos Ambrose, the road-course expert who finally won a road-course race! We'd also add Greg Biffle to that list, because I think Boris Said would win against him in a rout, road course ringer or no.

DNF: Greg Biffle, who was in line for a win and a temporary spot in the Chase before fading late. He may have seen his last, best chance vanish, but the fact that he's in the mix at all is testament to the wild card's vitality.

Charging upward: Mark Martin and AJ Allmendinger, who join Bowyer and Biffle as "win and they're in" candidates. It's a long shot, sure, but it's a shot.

Next up: Bristol. A calm tour around Thunder Valley! Send comments to us via Twitter at @jaybusbee, email by clicking here, and via Facebook at The Marbles page.


Mark McGwire Mark Spitz Martina Navratilova Maurice Richard

Dwight Howard turns to a free-throw maestro to help his stroke

With his free-throw percentages hardly improving seven seasons into what should be a Hall of Fame career, Dwight Howard has turned to a self-styled guru for help with a touch gone wrong.

The Orlando Magic center is a nice guy, a willing learner, a dominant force defensively and a terrible free-throw shooter. That last aspect isn't exactly his Achilles' heel -- the All-Star's dodgy teammates are the biggest reason the NBA's best center has made it out of his conference's bracket only once in his career -- but it would certainly help both Howard and his team if he could make, say, three-quarters of his gimmie attempts.

He's stuck at just below 58 percent from the stripe on his career, with a low of 52 percent and a high of 62 percent. Which is tough, because Howard has shown that he can stick a good elbow under the ball and showcase a good stroke.

This is where Ed Palubinskas comes in. The Aussie swears he can turn Howard from the last Shaquille O'Neal (who Palubinskas once worked with) into, at the very least, the next Patrick Ewing (who Howard once worked with). To say nothing of the next Jack Sikma.

This is what he offered to the Orlando Sentinel, recently. Here's Palubinskas, in an email to the Sentinel (before Howard hired him) from 2009:

"I will completely change his numbers in less than one week and you won't recognize him."

Well all right!

And this is what Palubinskas told the Orlando Sentinel during a 2009 Finals showing that saw Howard miss 15 of 37 charity attempts:

"Here we are with multimillion-dollar, superb, phenomenal athletes, and millions of people are watching [the Finals] and saying, 'I don't believe it.' I believe it because their mechanics are so flawed."

Howard's mechanics are flawed. His shooting elbow sticks way out too often, he doesn't utilize the same routine consistently, and he can use some help with his knee-bend bounce before he shoots. Take it from your "humble" free-throw guru/author, who converts about as many free throws as Howard does, without the pressure of 20,000 fans bearing down.

It's still a smart move for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. More makes turn to more scores which leads to more respect from the refs which leads to less angry outbursts on the defensive end about what happened on the offensive end, which allows an already-dominant defensive player to perhaps play free and easy (read: scary) on the defensive end from the first quarter to the fourth. Whew. It's a long way of saying that a more serene turn at the free-throw line is good for everyone involved. Even, sometimes, the opposition.

Also, it could run Howard's scoring average up past 25 a game. If he develops the stroke, the game's best center could become even scarier.

Look out.


Joakim Soria Rafael Soriano Matt Thornton Jose Valverde

Cedric Benson is going to do some time, likely miss no games

The starting running back for the Cincinnati Bengals has settled a couple of outstanding misdemeanor cases, agreeing to do 20 days in the pokey.

Benson, proving to be more elusive in the legal system than on the field, probably won't miss any game time. He's agreed to return to Austin, Texas, and turn himself in on Oct. 17, which just happens to coincide with the Bengals' Week 7 bye. Benson's sentence is 20 days, and the gap between games is 14 days, but he probably won't serve the whole thing.

Via Joe Reedy at

Assistant Travis County Prosecuting Attorney Corby Holcomb told The Austin American-Statesman that with credit for good behavior, Benson would serve about a week in jail. If the normal schedule applies, Benson would only miss one or two practices and should be back in Cincinnati by Oct. 26, which would be the first major practice in preparation for the Oct. 30 game at Seattle.

You may see that as an unethical application of the law, with Cedric maybe getting the special pro athlete discount. Maybe that's not fair. Not every criminal gets to choose to report to jail when it's most convenient for them.

The other side of the argument, though, is that these are misdemeanors and any jail time at all could be seen as excessive. Cedric Benson might also disagree with the notion that the Austin legal system has ever done him any favors.

Anyway, it's resolved. You no longer have to worry about missing a week of production if Cedric Benson is on your fantasy team (my apologies to Arian Foster).


E.J. Henderson Jamaal Charles Jerod Mayo Jon Beason

Long Beach State aims to parlay tough schedule into at-large bid

Few Big West coaches have the audacity to suggest their teams can contend for an at-large NCAA tournament berth since the league has gone six years without winning a first-round game or producing multiple March Madness entrants.

Consider Long Beach State's Dan Monson the exception to that rule.

Hoping to give his senior-laden team an opportunity to spring some marquee upsets and push its way into at-large contention next season, Monson has assembled a non-league schedule that is demanding even by his standards. Among the high-profile opponents the 49ers will face before Christmas are Pittsburgh, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier, all of whom are fixtures in most preseason Top 25 polls.

There may not be a team in the nation that could emerge from that gauntlet of road games unscathed, but Monson is optimistic his team can topple a giant or two. Point guard Casper Ware and wing Larry Anderson are among the four starters the 49ers return from a team that won the Big West by four games a year ago yet had to settle for an NIT berth after falling to UC Santa Barbara in the conference tournament title game.

"We haven't mentioned at-large bids in years past because we just haven't felt it was realistic, but this year we're going to challenge them with that," Monson said. "I don't think there's any way we can get around the fact that if we don't make the NCAA tournament, it's going to be a very disappointing year for us. And this preseason schedule gives them a chance to control their own destiny right off the bat."

Playing the role of giant killer should be nothing new for Long Beach State's upperclassmen because Monson has employed the same scheduling philosophy since he took over the program four years ago.

The 2009-10 schedule included trips to Texas, Kentucky, Duke and Notre Dame and neutral-court matchups with UCLA, West Virginia and Clemson. Then last season, Long Beach State traveled to North Carolina, Washington and Utah State and played Saint Mary's, Clemson and Iowa on a neutral floor.

Monson's eagerness to play as many elite programs as possible is a product of the success he had building Gonzaga into an unlikely national power by utilizing the same philosophy. Not only has Monson found that recruits relish the chance to annually compete against college basketball's perennial powers, he also believes Long Beach State's best chance to elevate itself in the sport is by pulling upsets big enough to generate headlines.

"When you're trying to put your place on the map, you've got to play high-profile schools," Monson said. "It's something I did in the past and I was comfortable with, so when I came here I wanted to do the same thing. If we were going to get this program to a national level and increase its profile, we had to do that with marquee games and we're not going to get those games unless we play in a tournament or go to their place."

All Long Beach State has to show for that strategy so far are victories over UCLA in 2009 and Iowa last season, but Monson vehemently disagrees with critics who suggest he has over-scheduled.

When preseason Big West favorite Long Beach State began the 2009-10 conference season with losses in four of its first five games, many wondered if enduring the nation's toughest pre-January 1 schedule might have worn the 49ers down. Monson admits the schedule backfired, but he argues it's not for the reason most believe.

"As funny as it sounds, I really think we went into league overconfident," Monson said. "I think the schedule hurt us because they really thought it was going to be easy once they got to league. They were tied with Kentucky with 12 minutes to go, they had a chance to beat Notre Dame, they had beaten UCLA and they played right down to the end against Clemson. Everyone was telling them how great they were doing, but they weren't ready to understand that anytime you hit league, it's a whole different game."

It will take two or more shock-the-world upsets and then a near-spotless league campaign to propel Long Beach State into at-large contention next season, but Monson doesn't view that goal as unrealistic.

Ware returns for his senior season after averaging 17.2 points and 4.4 assists as a junior and earning the MVP of the Drew League in Los Angeles this summer. Complementing him are a pair of fellow seniors: the high-scoring 6-foot-5 Anderson, who averaged 14.3 points and shot 52 percent from the field last season and 6-foot-8 T.J. Robinson, who averaged 13.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.

That's enough talent to make Long Beach State an early Big West favorite despite plenty of talented transfers and returners at both UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton. It's also enough experience for Monson to be confident his team won't be intimidated playing at the Dean Dome or Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

"What we don't have in the talent against a team like Kansas, we do have in experience," Monson said. "We do have that advantage early in the season against a team you know is going to be there in the end because they're going to be a little inexperienced in November. For us to get recognition and get in the at-large conversation, we've got to take advantage of that because that's the strength we have."


Red Grange Roberto Clemente Rocky Marciano Rod Laver

Turkish coaches sacrifice goats, apparently

As NBA players look into the possibility of playing overseas, they're starting to learn more about foreign cultures. Playing in Turkey or Greece may seem nice when they field salary offers, but the reality could be less pleasant. For instance, did you know that satyrs and centaurs no longer roam around Greece? You learn new things about foreign lands every day!

Sometimes, though, the weirdness of an unknown country goes well beyond new food and confusing exchange rates. Because apparently coaches in Turkey sacrifice goats. From Rick Reilly on (via PBT):

It was about when one of his coaches chopped the head off a young goat for good luck that Jimmy Baron realized pro basketball in Turkey was unlike any hoops he'd ever played.

He was playing for Mercin of the Turkish Basketball League, the same league superstar NBA guard Deron Williams has agreed to play in during the lockout. They'd lost their first four games of the season and rumor was, if things didn't get better soon, heads were going to roll.

"The coach didn't speak any English," says Baron, a 3-point specialist from the University of Rhode Island. "But he motioned me to come out in front of the arena with the whole team. He put us in a circle and there's this goat standing there. All of a sudden one of the assistant coaches gets out this huge machete. And then -- whack! -- he cuts the goat's head off!"

The Turkish players immediately stuck their fingers in the blood of the neck and wiped it on their foreheads.

"Then they started motioning for me to do it," Baron remembers. "I'm like, 'You gotta be crazy!' And I got the heck out of there."

This story only sounds weird if you didn't know that Steve Smith once sacrificed a chicken in the Portland Trail Blazers locker room in 2000. Don't worry, he's not a pagan. He just wanted to fit in with his teammates.

In truth, Baron's tale is not especially representative of Turkey -- former UCLA star Josh Shipp later says that he was pelted with batteries after a game-winning shot, and that seems more accurate than daily blood sacrifices. But vaguely xenophobic stories can still be instructive, and Baron's encounter with a machete can be used for good. There really is a lot that players have to learn about foreign countries before they play for them. And while Deron Williams won't be treated the same as a role player like Baron, he's still going to run into some bizarre stuff every so often. He'll gladly take a paycheck, but it may not be the most comfortable experience of his life.

Or, who knows, maybe Deron's really into this sort of thing. We've never heard much about his personal life, have we?


Rogers Hornsby Sam Snead Sammy Baugh Sandy Koufax

Man City officially counting goals scored in video games now

From the same official club website that brought you their guide to pretending how to be a Man City fan and the bold claim that they beat Man United in the Community Shield comes yet another first. The site reveals that on the same day City finalized the signing of Samir Nasri, the former Arsenal player scored his first goal for the a video game that isn't even finished yet.

Yes, under the headline of "Samir Nasri scores first City goal" is a picture of the virtual player in his new kit kicking the ball towards what we can only assume is an out-of-frame goal against the only other club that exists in City's eyes -- Manchester United. Have a look...

According to the posting, the image was created using "an early version of the upcoming FIFA12 game." But as Deadspin and the Guardian point out, the real City won't play Man United at home until April 28th, so Nasri will have to wait a while to recreate his first goal for the club in real life.

Anyway, now that we're counting goals scored in FIFA games, none of you can ever call Fernando Torres a bust again because he's scored many, many times for Chelsea on my console.


Edwin Moses Elgin Baylor Emil Zatopek Eric Heiden

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Andre Drummond?s change of heart lifts UConn into title picture

Two weeks after he announced he would be attending a Massachusetts prep school next year rather than playing college basketball, the class of 2011's top big man apparently has experienced a sudden change of heart.

Connecticut native Andre Drummond revealed via Twitter on Friday night that he intends to enroll at UConn immediately and play for the home state Huskies during the 2011-12 season.

The arrival of Drummond elevates UConn from a Big East contender into the forefront of the 2012 national title picture. With Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier back from last year's championship run and newcomers Drummond, forward DeAndre Daniels and guard Ryan Boatright ready to contribute, it's difficult to envision the Huskies lower than third behind North Carolina and Kentucky in most preseason polls.

The most likely starting lineup for the Huskies would be a backcourt of Napier and Lamb and a frontcourt of Roscoe Smith, Oriakhi and Drummond. The 6-foot-10 freshman enables Oriakhi and Smith to slide down to the power forward and small forward positions and gives coach Jim Calhoun far greater roster flexibility than he would have had otherwise.

Maybe the only mystery still left regarding Drummond is how UConn will make room for him since the Huskies are short on scholarships as a result of APR and NCAA penalties. The obvious solution would be for Calhoun to send one of his bench players packing, but reports that Drummond may walk on and pay his own way next year, adding to suspicion that he's likely to be one-and-done.

When Drummond announced earlier this month that he would attend prep school at little-known Wilbraham & Monson, the suspicion was that he was going somewhere with minimal competition in order to preserve his high 2012 draft stock. The risk of going to UConn next season is that he'll have to play like a lottery pick to remain one, but the for both Drummond and the Huskies, the reward could be a championship ring.


Nadia Comaneci Nolan Ryan O Oscar Robertson

Five NBA players who should take their acts overseas

There's a good chance the NBA will not play a single game in the 2011-12 season. There's a more than solid chance�the current lockout that 30 NBA teams enforced in July could last deep into fall of 2012. There's also a better chance that this lockout could worm its way into the snowier winter months of the impending winter, and that the players and the owners could come to an agreement in January, as was the case during the 1998 stalemate that came to a close during the first week of January in 1999.

Until then, as was the case 13 years ago, NBA players are attempting to field and/or sign deals with international teams in hopes of both earning income during this lockout and staying in game-ready shape. There aren't that many spots open, much less teams open to signing NBA players, despite the advantage that NBA-level players would have against international counterparts. And myriad complications would get in the way of both NBA-types agreeing to an overseas deal and international teams taking on NBA-types for either a full or truncated contract.

[Related: Chinese team willing to pay Kobe just to warm up with team]

With that in place, there are five NBA veterans who we think would be expertly suited for a stint overseas. And by "expertly suited," we mean "in bad, bad need" -- whether this current lockout costs the NBA one or 82 games.

This list follows the jump.

Jamal Crawford, free agent

He's worked with enough teams, so the sample size is large enough. Ask any beat writer, in any format: Jamal Crawford is the nicest guy you'll ever meet. Which pains us to point out that his deserved free-agent payday -- which should have seen some middling team massively overpay him during some Wednesday last month -- has likely been shot to hell by the current lockout.

Jamal is 31, now, and every team thinks they need a scoring hybrid guard who can't dribble to come off the bench and drop 12 in a quarter that they'll notice without realizing that he shot 1 for 12 in the four fourth quarters that preceded that quarter. I say this again, as someone who likes Jamal Crawford a lot. He's the streakiest guy in the NBA, and more than deserving of an average contract. He probably won't get one, though, when the new collective bargaining agreement reveals itself.

[Related: Only free agents eligible to play in China]

He also shot 43 percent from the field and 34 percent (the league average is a tick below 36 percent) from long range last season. His career mark from the 3-point line is 35 percent, but it hardly matters. Have you ever seen Jamal Crawford shoot a free throw? Seriously? Ask your younger brother. Ask your former roommate who used to live in New York. Name one guy that can emulate Jamal Crawford's stroke from the free-throw line. I dare thee. Name one point in your life that you can recall seeing Jamal Crawford set up for a free throw. This isn't a good thing, mind you.

Again, we love Jamal. Which is why we think that he's best served working overseas. Not because his isolation-heavy ways will in any way fit in with any sort of international league. No, it's because he's the sort of "we have $7 million open this summer, let's give it all to him and toss him 120 percent raises over the course of a five-year deal" signee that has gotten teams in trouble for over a decade.

Nothing against Jamal; he's more or less worked the same routine since 2000. He just happened to end his run at the worst possible time. The NBA's old financial landscape died a death on July 1, and while it won't affect the league's stars or its minimum players, potentially overpaid average blokes like Jamal will feel the biggest hit.

So go east, (NBA-level) middle-aged man. Or west. Go west to go east. Either way, the Wizards aren't calling anytime soon.

Perhaps Greece?

Andris Biedrins, Golden State Warriors

Andris Biedrins needs saving. You know this.

If you're reading an NBA blog in August of an offseason, lockout or otherwise, you're probably the sort who watched Biedrins destroy teams on your satellite hookup during inconsequential early spring games over the last few years. His massive hops and 6-foot-11ish frame made it so the Warriors were more than happy with signing the lefty to a six-year, $54 million contract during the summer of 2008.

Of course, this 2008 deal was heavily dependent on a then-22-year-old acting as if he was into basketball, into improving upon his basketball craft and into the idea of his coach actually utilizing a defensive-minded big man who could move his feet, block shots, rebound on the defensive end and help to eliminate the endless mistakes made by a tiny and offensive-minded lineup. Also, Don Nelson was coaching. If you made it past this paragraph without wheezing, you're aware that there are many caveats with this cat.

Biedrins actually enjoyed a career year in 2008-09 following his contract extension, averaging about 12 points and 11 boards with two assists (!) and a block and a half in 30 minutes per game. Confidence, minutes, free-throw percentage and production have fallen off significantly in the two seasons since. No matter whose fault it is, this is clearly a talented player in need of a re-start.

So, with four years and $36 million left on his deal, it would seem that Andris would keep the re-starts in-house, as he gets frustrated with Bowser and re-starts his Nintendo before striking it up again. After all, Super Mario Brothers isn't going to finish itself. Still, why can't he try another kind of re-start away from Golden State?

Rumors abound that the 25-year-old Biedrins could work for a Latvian team during the lockout, and that can't be anything but good news for this guy. He has to get away from the NBA grind, the Don Nelson-inspired millstone of roster mates and develop some sort of confidence away from this mess of a league that we might not see until November 2012.

Biedrins, of the major hops and middling basketball skill, has long been regarded as the perfect sort of international center to try and ply his trade at the NBA level. He isn't a shooter, he likes banging, and he can't be pushed around. Andrea Bargnani, Biedrins ain't. Still, for whatever reasons, it hasn't worked for Andris at the NBA level.

Though insurance issues might get in the way ($36 million, even if the U.S. doesn't exist in four years, is nothing to sneeze at), this is a prime example of someone who should make the jump. This is especially the sort of player who needs a new outlook.

Confidence, reps, minutes played, actual defensive rotations and competent teammates? These are things that have been in short supply during Biedrins' time with three different coaches in Golden State. Andris has been at fault for slipping in terms of his development and effort, but an actual role and inherent responsibility might be the best thing for him at this point.

Patrick Patterson, Houston Rockets

Patterson's NBA resume isn't much to warm yourself with. He started six games in his rookie year last season, but he played a total of only 868 minutes.

Worse, the 6-9 (yeah, right) big forward fits squarely in an NBA world that hasn't existed for two decades. The Kentucky product can spin and square away and either hook or fall into point after point after point in the low post, but what's the point in a 2011-era NBA that won't allow any sort of post play that doesn't involve 12 double-teams and 13 NFL-level defensive sets meant to turn the next Elvin Hayes into the next Brad Sellers?

This is where Patterson can learn.

International hoops? It's even tougher in the low block. There really isn't a low block, if we're honest, which is what would serve Patterson so well. Even in limited minutes, the big forward with touch managed a 16.7 PER, but a spell (if only, hopefully, for a week or so) spent in a quick-moving international league could do wonders for his anticipation, his hands, his footwork and his aptitude down "low." Even if there isn't much "low" down low in international hoops.

For scoring big men, international hoops can feel like an incessant game of Whack-a-Mole worked with two hands tied behind their back, with four fouls already on the scoreboard.

Seems perfect enough for Patterson, who seems more than willing and able to make this happen. It isn't as if he'd be a big man working amongst the giants. He'd actually be according to scale. But they aren't obsessed with block and charge calls over there, Patrick. Seek it out, my man.

Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons

As is the case with Biedrins, insurance issues may get in the way of an NBA player who makes around eight figures a year plying his trade away from the league that pays his significant rent. We cannot blame cats like these for deciding to keep things local, while staying in shape and saving himself from a potentially career-altering knee injury. Even if, in the case of Biedrins and Gordon, "local" is a fluid term. After all, both Biedrins and Ben were born outside the United States.

Ben Gordon needs a re-start, though.

Ben Gordon was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2004, and spent the next five years playing in some of the worst offenses we've ever seen. The defense was sound, through no fault of Ben's (read: ZING), but at times B.G. was the crux of those teams' offenses. The spacing was poor, the big men offered no relief, and Gordon was left time and time again to bail his teammates out with a miserable long-range attempt. Usually with a hand in his face. Disproportionate blame and iffy shooting percentages resulted.

Even with those mitigating factors, Gordon somewhat thrived. He shot over 40 percent from behind the arc in each of his five seasons with Chicago. Taking to the Pistons as the cap-conscious Bulls declined to re-sign him in 2009, Gordon fell off significantly. He managed just 32 percent from long range in 2009-10, and while he rebounded to above 40 percent in 2010-11, my League Pass-heavy and first-hand accounts left him looking as dispassionate in Detroit as he did potent in Chicago. Ben, in front of those 10,000 fans (announced, at least) at night, just didn't seem to care.

With that Pistons roster, we couldn't blame him.

Which is why a bit of international burn could do him good. As is the case with Crawford, Ben's screen-roll and/or isolation game could be a disservice in international play, but a new jersey and shooting guards his size (Gordon is a relatively diminutive 6-3) could do wonders for our man's wonderfully arching jump shot.

Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Nothing is going wrong with Mike Conley at this point. His jump shot may have deserted him during his team's inspiring playoff run last spring, but beyond that, the Grizzlies' point guard more than overwhelmed the jerks among us (including I, King Jerk) that assumed him unworthy of his massive contract extension that set to paper nine months ago.

He's still not worth it; a smaller-market team like the Grizzlies should have waited until the summer (or whenever the "offseason" starts) to see what contract it had to match for his services -- and it's dubious to assume that his on-court improvements came only because Conley felt like he had to live up to his unexpected deal.

The guy still played his tail off in 2010-11. And this is the sort of guy you want to see keep improving. After all, sound and smart point guards are rare in the NBA realm and relative overseas. Ball-dominating lead guards don't work in international play, and Conley has no incentive to try and ape his NBA act with any other team during the lockout because of his big contract extension, but he'd be a mensch if he tried.

Of course, the NBA and its players would be complete and total menschs if they attempted to settle this stalemate like sound-thinking compatriots.

Instead, they're acting like ? well, something that rhymes with the latter half of the word "compatriots."

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Hello (again), Cleveland! Twins send Jim Thome back to Indians

Slugger Jim Thome is taking his taters back to Cleveland, where his major league career began 20 years ago.

Thome gave a thumb's up Thursday and waived his no-trade clause, which allowed the Minnesota Twins to send him to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later.

The Indians had claimed Thome off waivers on Wednesday from the Twins, who fell out of playoff contention, oh, back in April.

"There's no question it's a bittersweet deal," Twins GM Bill Smith said. "But there's also no question this is the right thing to do for Jim Thome."

If only the Twins were sending Thome to a team still in contention for the World Series.

Following a fantastic start under manager Manny Acta that put them seven games up in the division on May 23, the Tribe has played 17 games under .500, as Jayson Stark of ESPN noted. They're 63-64 overall and five games back of the Detroit Tigers in the loss column. With 35 games to go in the regular season, that's barely a playoff contender in a weak AL Central, much less World Series material.

If the Twins really wanted to do right by Thome, they would have released him and encouraged him to finagle his way onto a different former club of his: The Philadelphia Phillies. It would have been a bit devious, but Thome could have made it happen.

In the hours before Thome announced he would accept a trade, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports painted a scenario that would have made Thome a free agent.

The only way for Thome to get to the Phillies would be if the Twins pulled him off trade waivers and placed him on release waivers. Thome could then reject every team that claims him but the Phillies.

Such a ploy, however, would require Thome to forfeit the rest of his salary, about $500,000. It also would require the cooperation of the Twins, who would receive nothing in return for their popular slugger.

Rival clubs almost certainly would protest such a manipulation of the waiver process.

Let 'em protest. Rosenthal goes on to say that, by trying such an angle, Thome might have taken a hit to his gleaming reputation for being a swell guy ? and he's probably right. But at this point in Thome's career, why shouldn't he try? If there's a loophole through which Thome can pick his own employer ? one that stands a good chance of winning a championship ? then he ought to do it. For him, winning is all that remains.

Thome does fill a dire need in Cleveland, where DH Travis Hafner might be out for the rest of the season with a foot injury. He'll play a lot there. Fans at Progressive Jake Field, who mostly have been cold to Thome since he left via free agency nine years ago, will get a chance to reconnect and get some positive closure with a prodigal son. He used to be quite popular there.

Sounds like a feel-good story, doesn't it? A kindly but aging slugger, who recently surpassed 600 home runs but still is chasing an elusive World Series ring, returns to his first team. One that's much closer to first place. One for which he still holds the career home run mark.

But they're not going to win. The Phillies, on the other hand, have the best record in the league.

Not only does Thome have a good history with the Phillies, but he's also a lifetime apprentice to manager Charlie Manuel. It's true Thome would have been just a pinch hitter for Philly (and he was terrible at pinch hitting for the Dodgers two years ago), but that's not the point. Winning is. The Phillies are going to the playoffs, and they have as good of a chance as anyone, probably better, to win the World Series.

The Twins could have traded Thome weeks ago, before the waivers interference ? and they probably would have ? but they wanted him to hit his 600th home run while wearing their uniform. You can't blame them. Also, by doing it this way, they'll at least get a warm body in a trade. If they're lucky, the player to be named will play in Minneapolis someday. A release is what it is: You get nothing but memories.

Even though he's out the door, the Twins will profit at least one more time because of Thome. They're having a promotion at Target Field on Friday night: The first 10,000 fans get a Jim Thome wind-up walker toy. I'm not even kidding. Will it look like this?:

Only kidding, Jim Jam. Best of luck in Cleveland. At least Indians fans can take solace in Philly not getting him again. And maybe the Indians will prove me wrong and win their first World Series since 1948.

Now that would be a feel-good story.

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Is the newest major champion also Player of the Year?

We are nearing the end of the golf season, and while we still have the FedEx Cup ahead of us, there aren't a lot of chances left to make a case for Player of the Year. So who is it if the trophy was handed out today? This is our list of the top-five players.

5. Mark Wilson -- The 36-year-old Wilson snagged two early season victories and was the first to land multiple wins in 2011, but his play hasn't completely fallen off as the season progressed. Wilson has top-10s at both the Arnold Palmer and the Memorial, and finished just outside the top-25 at last week's PGA Championship.

4. Bubba Watson -- Two wins this year for the long-hitting lefty, and he made the cut in all four majors, but Watson hasn't finished in the top-20 at an event since his win in May at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

3. Steve Stricker -- Stricker would have wrapped this award up if he could have kept his play going after the first round at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and while he didn't win, the 44-year-old still has two wins this year and 13 top-25s out of 15 events played.

2. Nick Watney -- Watney started the year with five straight top-10s, including a win at the Cadillac Championship, and he followed that up with a win at the AT&T National, and while he's still one of the best in the world at playing consistent golf, he missed the cuts in both Opens over the summer.

1. Keegan Bradley -- Crazy to think that this rookie could become Player of the Year, but the fact is, �he's the only multiple winner on the PGA Tour this year with a major. He has 10 top-25s, and four top-10s, including both playoff wins, and he has the Wanamaker Trophy, which always tips the scale in your favor. The Player of the Year almost always has to have a major that season, and Bradley is the only one on this list with that on his resume.


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Rua or Griffin? Evans says Forrest, video experts like ?Shogun?

The most intriguing fight at UFC 134 might be Mauricio "Rua" Shogun against Forrest Griffin. Griffin manhandled Rua at UFC 76. Yet he's a huge underdog heading to the fight in Rio De Janeiro. Remember this is also the same Rua who was destroyed by Jon Jones back in March. So who wins? Fellow UFC light heavyweight star Rashad Evans sees a repeat of the first meeting.

"There's something that happens in a fight sometimes, and the way Forrest beat him the first time, he took a piece of him with him. And when you take a piece of somebody with you?well, Shogun recognizes that. I think they might pick up right where they left off, because there's no fear. That's gone. You know, Forrest is going to go in there, and Forrest is going to push the pace. Let's be honest here. Shogun does not have the best conditioning. I think that was a problem in their first fight, and I think it's going to be a problem in this second fight." panelists Damon Martin ( and Larry Pepe ( don't agree with Evans. They're both worried about Griffin's passion for the fight game.

You can watch UFC 134 right here on Yahoo! Sports


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FOX deal with the UFC announced tomorrow? Report says GSP, Evans and Edgar all headed to L.A.

All signs point to something big going down in Los Angeles tomorrow. FOX has announced a major press conference set for 1 p.m. PT in Los Angeles. Is FOX revealing a new deal with the UFC?

Sports Business Journal broke a story on Tuesday stating FOX� won the sweepstakes to lock up the UFC for the next 7-8 years.

UFC president Dana White is already in Los Angeles and MMAWeekly reports that some of the promotion's biggest stars are heading to the Golden State as well:

[...] names including UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and current top light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans.

If you're a longtime fan of mixed martial arts, the potential deal that would place the UFC on several FOX-owned channels, has to get the juices flowing. The sport has come a long way.

Bloody Elbow is covering the potential deal from every angle.-

- Will the UFC's decision-making be altered?

- What could FOX deal do for the future of MMA?


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Florida, Kentucky will appear on Super Tuesday four times apiece

Even though the SEC decided to scrap its two-division format for basketball beginning next season, it's clear TV executives still believe the conference's strength lies in the teams who formerly made up the SEC East.

Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia will make a combined 12 appearances on ESPN's Super Tuesday next season compared to just four appearances from teams previously in the SEC West. Additionally, ESPN announced earlier this month that the Wildcats and Commodores will meet in the lone GameDay telecast awarded to the conference next season.

The choices from ESPN reflect the projected strength of Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida next season as well as the dominance of SEC East schools in recent years. Five of the six SEC East teams made the NCAA tournament last season, whereas SEC West champ Alabama's 12-4 conference record only sent the Tide to the NIT.

If there are any schools with reason to complain about not receiving enough exposure, it's probably Alabama and Mississippi State, both of whom will make just one Super Tuesday appearance next season.

The Tide return the core of last season's vastly improved team that likely was one of the final teams left out of the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs should be one of the league's most intriguing teams with UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie eligible, mercurial big man Renardo Sidney slimming down and senior Dee Bost finally able to play for a full season.

Of the five SEC programs who don't appear at all on Super Tuesday next season, the most surprising is probably Tennessee. Sure, the Vols figure to be down as a result of personnel losses and the transition from coach Bruce Pearl to Cuonzo Martin, but it's still a slap in the face for a program that has been an NCAA tournament fixture recently and came within a point of the Final Four in 2010.


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Willis McGahee?s Porsche pays for Kyle Orton?s inaccuracy

What does it say about your team when even your best, most accurate quarterback can't keep his passes from breaking windshields in the parking lot?

Here's the sad, sad story of Willis McGahee's Porsche, as told on Twitter by Lindsay Jones, Broncos beat writer for the Denver Post.

Inc pass into the end zone just cracked windshield on Porshe in players parking lot. Whoops.

Orton. Came in fast + hard. Off the bounce. RT @Jeff_Thornton: @PostBroncos Wasn't a Tebow pass, was it?

For what its worth, only about 10 yards from back of end zone to the players' parking lot. No fence. Not some crazy errant pass here.

Mystery solved: The Porsche belongs to Willis McGahee.

As of yet, no one has tweeted a picture of the busted windshield, but let's cross our fingers that that's coming soon.

[Fantasy Football: Sign up and play]

It's good to hear that it wasn't a crazy errant pass, either. Orton's an accurate thrower. If he's launching balls into players' windshields, Tim Tebow has probably totaled seven or eight cars during training camp.

Orton should go ahead and use it as a motivational tool, too. A lineman misses a block, he's going to need to pick up a Ding King on the way home. Someone drops a pass, the next one results in a call to The Auto Glass Guys.

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Updating the epic battle between Ryan Grant and James Starks

Yeah, OK. This Ryan Grant vs. James Starks thing has been a dud of a position battle so far, but that doesn't mean we can simply ignore it. Dorsey Levens ain't walkin' through that door.

Grant appears to be healthy at the moment, 11 months removed from ankle surgery. He gained 18 yards on four touches in Green Bay's preseason opener, while Starks carried twice for 14 yards. Both players worked with the first-team. You'd probably call that a push, were it not for the fact that Starks tweaked an ankle in the game and hasn't practiced this week.

Earlier in camp, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had indicated that Grant and Starks might share carries this season...

When asked Saturday night if he hopes to use a tandem backfield, McCarthy replied: "I hope so. It's a long season, 16 games, carrying the ball 20 to 25 times a game, that's a lot for one individual to go through. I hope to be spreading the ball around at every position, that's my goal."

...but he didn't give us much insight into the nature of the workload split, if he seriously intends to have one.

Everyone no doubt recalls the excellent four-game performance by Starks in the playoffs, from Wild Card to Super Bowl, when he carried 81 times for 315 yards and one TD. (If the stats don't seem overly impressive, note that the final two games were against the NFL's best run defenses, Chicago and Pittsburgh). He reportedly altered his diet in the off-season, adding bulk in preparation for a significant role. But it's not like Grant was an unproductive back prior to the injury in 2010; he gave the fantasy community two-and-a-half solid years, topping the 1,200-yard mark twice. Grant finished as the No. 8 scorer at his position in '09.

Both of these players have actually been bargains in early Yahoo! drafts, as Grant's ADP is 90.9, while Starks' is 116.8.* It's tough to argue that Grant doesn't have the safer fantasy floor, assuming good health. It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which he doesn't receive at least 10-12 carries per game ? and if he's rolling early, then he's looking at significantly more. With Starks, there's a wider range of possible outcomes. He's a handcuff with benefits, a guy who belongs in a special pre-draft circle of fantasy hell tier with Rashad Jennings, Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, et al.

*There's a much wider ADP split at Mock Draft Central, where Grant checks in at 54.5. He actually hasn't been taken later than Pick No. 87 in any recent MDC draft. Starks is selected in the same neighborhood that we see in Yahoo! leagues (113.0). I think you're seeing the impact of autopick logic in our ADP numbers. In a competitive live draft, it's reasonable to expect Grant to go off the board in the 50-60 range.

John Kuhn is going to see plenty of action on passing downs ? not because Starks can't catch, but for protection/blitz pick-up reasons ? and rookie third-rounder Alex Green lurks on the depth chart, too. Green doesn't project to have a significant early-season role in the ground game, though you'll want to know the name for dynasty purposes. (His numbers at Hawaii were crazy last year, but individual stats from that offense cannot be trusted. If they could, then Davone Bess would be Marvin Harrison).

Bottom line: Grant looks like a particularly nice value play at the moment. He's tied to an elite offense, yet there's a decent discount here, related to workload uncertainty. We know he can deliver RB1-level performance because he's done it recently. There's not much risk associated with Starks at his current price, either. Call him a handcuff, call him a sleeper, or call him free cheese. The term isn't important. Nice player, great offense.

If you're a Vick-in-the-first-round/Megatron-in-the-second sort of fantasy owner, then this is the sort of running game you'll need to target. Get a collection of Ingrams and Grants, Beanies and Felixes.


Photo via US Presswire


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