Monthly Archives: January 2020

Lakers News: Robert Horry, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels Attend 2020 California Strong Celebrity Softball Game

Fresh off sweeping a two-game road trip, Los Angeles Lakers teammates Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels were on hand at Eddy D. Field Baseball Stadium for the 2020 California Strong Celebrity Softball Game.

So too were former Lakers Matt Barnes and Robert Horry, along with Los Angeles Dodgers All-Stars Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson, among other professional athletes and celebrities. They all made the trip to Pepperdine University in support of California Strong.

It’s the brainchild of Milwaukee Brewers teammates Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun, Cincinnati Reds infielder Mike Moustakas and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff. They were on a group text in 2018 when wildfires set Southern California ablaze.

Their homes were spared, but the group nonetheless was determined to assist those who weren’t as fortunate. The nonprofit organization has raised over $3 million to give back to Californians impacted by wildfires and the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks.

“The community has given so much to the athlete,” Horry told LakersNation.com of the importance for professional athletes to use their platform.

“The community is the one that buys the jerseys, the community is the reason the TV contracts are what they are and the reason the athletes can get paid what they get paid. So if you forget them, they should forget you. You can’t do that.”

Horry had a highlight-worthy catch in center field when he caught a fly ball that deflected off his teammate’s glove. The play supported Horry’s confidence that baseball skills from his childhood days were still present.

Cook and Daniels mingled with fellow participants and signed autographs throughout the day. “I’m thankful for the opportunity,” Cook said of attending. “It’s a great cause they’ve got going on. To have this kind of turnout is amazing.”

When asked which player from the current Lakers roster they would pick to hit a home run, Horry and Cook both unsurprisingly named LeBron James. However, Cook added a second selection in Dwight Howard.

This year’s event didn’t come under the same cloud of disaster just having struck, but those who have been impacted in the past were hardly forgotten. Checks were presented to two families that experienced loss in wildfires, and the owner of Borderline Bar and Grill.

Here’s why George Kittle leads the NFL in pancake blocks and giant grins

From ESPN to FOX to NBC, there’s not a television crew airing NFL games that hasn’t fallen in love with George Kittle.

Each week, the 49ers All-Pro tight end is targeted with cameras that catch him cheering, laughing and smiling from ear-to-ear. It’s rare and even stunning to see a professional football player so relaxed, so at ease and so happy in the midst of an often brutal game, but it doesn’t surprise anyone who knows Kittle. Especially George’s wife, Claire.

“He’s really just a happy-go-lucky guy,” Claire said. “He’s a little kid in a big man’s body playing football, which is something he’s dreamt of doing ever since he was little.”

An energetic, excited Kittle isn’t the only version of George that Claire spends her time with. During the week, the couple uses downtime at home to decompress with their Bernedoodle, Deenie, to talk football — “I feel like I ask generally good questions,” Claire says — and to plan their next outing to a hockey or basketball game.

But on Sundays, Claire is prepared for the intensity meter to spike. Even after George leaves for the stadium.

“When game day rolls around, his dad (Bruce) is singing, trying to get everybody wound up,” Claire said. “We’ve got to get out the door. From the moment he wakes up in the morning, he’s so excited to go and experience this football game.”

Bruce Kittle is the coach who inspired George to play with personality, a point he’s hammered home to George’s peers on various youth sports teams and the football players he eventually coached as an assistant at Oklahoma. A four-year letterman as an offensive tackle under legendary coach Hayden Fry at Iowa, Bruce married Jan Krieger, a member of the Iowa High School Sports Hall of Fame in basketball and softball.

The couple coached every team and every sport George and his sister Emma, a former collegiate volleyball player, played until high school, but as a former offensive lineman, there’s nothing Bruce enjoyed more than teaching George and his friends to run block.

George may have harbored NFL dreams from the time he first wore pads, but even when his son was at Iowa, Bruce thought more about the man in front of George than the road ahead of his son.

“I never really thought about the NFL because I told him the only thing you really need to be able to do is to pancake the guy in front of you, run decent routes to catch the ball and know the offense,” Bruce said.

When TV cameras captured George laughing maniacally as he overpowered Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen with a run block to lead 49ers tailback Raheem Mostert into the end zone on Dec. 15, Bruce wasn’t the only person who appreciated the fun his son was having while he dominated.

The emotion Kittle displayed was all too familiar for Greg Nation, who coached Kittle during his junior and senior seasons at Norman High in Norman, Oklahoma. Nation said the sheer joy Kittle showcased with his block didn’t evoke memories of the lanky wideout on the prep fields, but was instead reminiscent of a game-clinching dunk during his senior season on the basketball court.

“He comes down the middle, they throw it to him and he slammed it,” Nation said. “And all the way down the court, you know that big, loud roar he makes, he’s going down the court and he’s shaking his head, he’s got the biggest smile.”

Nation paints Kittle as a multi-sport standout in high school, but acknowledges he was undersized and lightly recruited as a football player. Thanks to game tape (sent by Bruce) Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe reviewed, head coach Kirk Ferentz gave Kittle the final scholarship in his class on the morning National Letters of Intent were due.

When Kittle’s signed letter arrived via fax in the athletic department offices of Iowa City, Hawkeyes assistant coaches were stunned.

“I was like, ‘Who the heck is George Kittle?’” current Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods said. “No one even knew where he was coming from. We knew the last name. We said, ‘Is that Bruce’s son? Is he coming to Iowa?’”

In the three years between his arrival at Iowa and the day Kittle made his first start in 2015, he met Claire, a Hawkeyes basketball player, who became his closest confidant and an important sounding board when his development hit rough patches. As George struggled to gain weight and found himself buried on the depth chart heading into his redshirt junior season, Claire admits he discussed the possibility of giving up football.

“It was a real conversation,” Claire said.

Woods, who coached tight ends when Kittle played for the Hawkeyes, wasn’t surprised.

“I remember seeing a kid that was down and a kid that was frustrated,” Woods said. “But I don’t know that I ever knew it got to the point where he thought maybe he didn’t want to play anymore.”

Claire, Bruce and George attribute his initial trials at Iowa to size and maturity issues, but after a weeklong period in which he questioned his future, George left his struggles in the dust.

“He was a knucklehead,” Woods said. “But going into his redshirt junior year, he finally decided to buckle down and he came into spring practice looking to dominate guys and no one had really seen that from him leading up to that.”

Three years after San Francisco made Kittle a fifth-round draft pick, he owns the NFL single-season tight end record for receiving yards, was named the highest-graded player by Pro Football Focus in 2019 and is a two-time team captain of the 49ers.

The secret? Kittle returned to his roots and began having fun again.

“Obviously stakes and pressure have increased from high school to college to the NFL, but at the end of it, it’s still a kid’s game and that’s how I attack it every single day,” Kittle said. “I just have fun doing it.”

Kittle’s rise from an afterthought at Iowa to one of the NFL’s most entertaining stars was lightning quick, but those closest to Kittle insist his new status near the top of the league’s hierarchy hasn’t changed him.

For most, the Kittle they see on television each week is the Kittle they’ve always known.

“The kid moves in from Iowa, didn’t know anybody and within two weeks of being at (high) school, he knew everybody on campus and everybody loved him to death,” said Nation.

Following the 49ers’ 26-21 victory in Seattle that clinched the NFC West and No. 1 seed, Kittle ran off the field with the wide grin that fans have come to adore. On his way to the locker room, Kittle spotted Woods, his position coach at Iowa, and Woods’ 13-year-old, son, Mason.

Kittle paused for a photo with Mason, who was involved in his celebration four years earlier when Iowa won a dramatic 40-35 game over Minnesota to improve to 10-0 in 2015.

“George found my son Mason on the field after the game and picked him up from behind and threw him up in the air and onto his shoulders,” Woods said. “That’s one of my favorite pictures of all time. It sits in our family room.”

The impression Kittle has made on Mason Woods is the impression he strives to leave on every young fan.

“He’s in a position to leave a lasting impact for these kids,” Claire said. “If you’re just a real, genuine, normal human being, it’s kind of sad but people think that’s so cool. It should just be like that.”

With the cameras focused on his every move, the world has an open invitation to see the real George Kittle. The kid-in-a-candy-store persona is now so attached to Kittle that his energy and enthusiasm don’t come off as a made-for-TV act, but rather real qualities of a man who realizes his great fortune.

The person who inspired Kittle to be himself, Bruce, remains his son’s most fiercely supportive coach to this day. Bruce sends George handwritten letters in advance of each game and is proud to note that Kittle was elected a captain by his peers after barely surpassing 500 receiving yards as a rookie.

Bruce also believes the world may not know the same George that he does if not for the way his NFL coaches continue to encourage Kittle to be himself.

“I don’t know that you’d see everything that you’re seeing if he was playing under Bill Belichick,” Bruce said. “Shanahan and company embrace people’s personalities and on top of that, he’s in an offense that is almost perfectly designed for him to be successful.”

Bruce admires Belichick’s style and points out the Patriots legendary head coach is close with Ferentz, Kittle’s college head coach, but also views his son’s success as the result of a perfect storm.

“The freedom that George has and the way they run their system, the 49ers have allowed that to blossom in a way that I’m not sure it could have otherwise,” Bruce said.

When the 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings for Saturday’s Divisional Round matchup at Levi’s Stadium, thousands of fans around the Bay Area and beyond will don their No. 85 jerseys. After watching their favorite team finish at .500 or worse in 13 of the previous 16 seasons leading into 2019, the 49ers have finally given their fans a reason to smile again when the team takes the field.

No one, fan or player, will smile bigger or have more fun on Saturday than George Kittle. Well, maybe Bruce will.

“My dad at an early age told me football is easier when you have fun,” Kittle said. “I figured out that it was so that’s what I tried to do. Just enjoy myself and the rest will take care of itself.”

All In: A column dedicated to women and girls in sports

Welcome to All In — a column dedicated to women and girls in sports.

All In will provide a guide to learning about and watching women athletes perform — locally, nationally and internationally — in person, on television and online.

We have a big year ahead on the local and national stage. It’s an Olympic year. In 2020, sports fans will cheer for women wearing Team USA jerseys competing July 24-Aug.9 in Japan. The U.S. women’s softball team will be back competing in the Olympics for the first time since 2008. Golf will be back for the second time in modern history. New Olympic sports — including karate, skateboarding and sports climbing — will show us a new generation of athletes.

Audiences are thrilled watching women during the Olympics. Why doesn’t that carry over in those sports beyond the Olympic years? Could it be because women’s sports receive just 4 percent of all sports media coverage?

Want to watch and cheer our nation’s best in the United States leading up to the Games? Opportunities close to Albany are available. The USA women’s basketball team will play an exhibition game against the UConn women’s basketball team on Monday, Jan 27. It’s a two-hour drive from Albany to the XL Center in Hartford. I’m making the trip — who is with me? Tickets are still available in the 16,000-seat venue.

USA Softball also plans regional events later this year nearby in Massachusetts and Connecticut with the schedule evolving. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s Olympic qualifying events in Texas will be televised in late January and look for a series of friendly matches to follow.

On a local level, the Eastern Synchonized Skating Regional Sectional Championships are coming to Times Union Center on Jan. 15-19. Albany will play host to the Women’s Tennis Association’s pro tennis tour in August. What a thrill that will be during an Olympic year.

The Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan Symetra Tour will return to Capital Hills in Albany for a 17th year this summer thanks to a two-year sponsorship commitment from CDPHP.

It’s essential for a column on women’s sports to cover inequalities that still exist. This column and my blog also will focus on sports being inclusive, hence the name All In. Fifty years ago Billie Jean King was part of the Original 9 who organized what would become the Women’s Tennis Association. This past year, on the heels of an intense and well-publicized effort by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team for equal pay supported by their dedicated fan base and winning ways, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association has been formed. King has been actively involved in promoting women’s hockey and inclusion through a partnership with the NHL and the PWHPA’s “The Dream Gap Tour.” How long have we come in 50 years? Not far enough. We have plenty of work to do.

When I announced plans to write a column on women and sports on social media, a friend said: “There will be no shortage of great athletes for you to write about.”

She’s right. But I need your help. I need your story ideas. I need you to watch and attend games. I need you to support companies that sponsor women in athletics.

I also need you to join in networking events sponsored by the Times Union’s extensive women’s network and magazine, [email protected] We will be including sports-related events this year in conjunction with this column. Join our network.

And finally, buy a subscription to the Times Union for dedicating space to a column focusing on women and girls in sport. Support local journalism.

If you agree that women are worth watching, huddle up and join in to witness an exciting year ahead for women and girls in sports.

Surfing legend Kelly Slater troubled by bushfire ‘fear and devastation’

Surfing legend Kelly Slater has joined the long line of international personalities drawing attention to Australia’s bushfire crisis.

The 47-year-old pro, who has visited the country countless times in his surfing career, took to Instagram to share his shock and sadness the images that have emerged from the ongoing bushfire disaster.

Slater posted an image of a kangaroo joey, which had perished after appearing to become tangled in a wire fence as it attempted to escape the flames.

“I’m not sure a picture could better sum up the fear and devastation more succinctly,” Slater wrote alongside his image.

“I hope there is a silver lining and important lessons learned from the ongoing catastrophes once the dust settles.

“One of my biggest fears as a kid was fires and ironically enough, my mom was a firefighter. Maybe one created the other.

“Hoping for safety and refuge for all my human and animal friends down under.”

Slater also requested followers leave comments on the post with links to donate to firefighting and recovery efforts.

Athletes uniting for fundraising efforts

Nick Kyrgios called on Tennis Australia to dig deep in the nations’s time of need, as bushfires devastate livelihoods and communities around the country.

On Friday, the governing body of Australian Tennis answered the call.

Krygios’ plans for a massive fundraising effort for bushfire victims has resulted in a tennis exhibition match set to feature some of the world’s top players.

The 24-year-old kicked off a flood of donations to the fundraising campaign from sporting names around Australia, including American NBL star LaMelo Ball.

Kyrgios floated the idea of a charity tennis match and Tennis Australia on Friday responded by announcing a “Rally for Relief” exhibition match on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday Jan 15.

Fellow Australian players Alex de Minaur, John Millman, Dylan Alcott and Samantha Stosur, among others, also vowed to donate money from their aces while the ATP Cup also got on board.

Big Bash League captains, Brisbane Heat’s Chris Lynn and Melbourne Stars’ Glenn Maxwell as well as Hurricanes batsman D’Arcy Short, have all pledged $250 for each six they hit in the competition.

As a mark of respect there will be no fireworks at Saturday’s Melbourne BBL derby, where Renegades jerseys will be auctioned off.

Former Australian baseballer Simone Wearne kickstarted a campaign to donate for every home run hit in the Australian softball championships and a number of WNBL players have also got in on the act.

“It is special to see so many athletes from various sports getting in behind the real heroes who are fighting to save lives and properties around our country,” Lynn tweeted.

Winter softball tournaments bring millions in revenue to Myrtle Beach

The Myrtle Beach sports tourism season is starting off 2020 with a home run.

Beginning Friday through late February, the Grand Park Athletic Complex near Market Common will host a series of adult softball tournaments.

Officials and players have said the mild temperatures and the state-of-the-art facilities in Myrtle Beach are what separate the city from other sports tourism destinations.

“Top notch facility,” began player Monte Harris, who traveled from New Jersey to compete in this weekend’s USSSA Winter World Championships. “Definitely top of the line. I’ve been down here a few times, coaching and playing, and it’s certainly the best in the area.”

The USSSA Winter World Championships will bring in 89 teams and close to 1,500 adult softball players, who all need places to eat and stay.

“All these teams this weekend are from out of town. They’ve traveled in and made a weekend of it with their buddies. And from this weekend through February we’ll work with four different affiliations to host their world series. And each one of these weekends in and of its self is a big deal,” said Myrtle Beach Sports Tourism Director Timothy Huber.

Officials estimate that the stretch of tournaments will bring in $2 million in revenue for Myrtle Beach.

Happy New Year from Athletics Director Jeff Long

Happy New Year! Looking back on 2019, we have made progress in our program, however we are never satisfied and look forward to improving and growing our program in ways that will make our fans and supporters even more proud of the University of Kansas Jayhawks! We will continue to strive to improve the student-athlete experience as well as that of our fans at each of our athletic venues. We know that 2020 is going to be another memorable year with many exciting moments for our student-athletes and the entire Jayhawk nation.

As we begin the new year, we are very happy to announce another way to engage our fans and share our storied history across the multiple sports here at KU. The Jayhawker podcast, hosted by Brian Hanni, will provide access to past and present Jayhawks in ways like never before! The Jayhawker will launch on January 9, featuring a former student-athlete you will not want to miss. Subscribe here: Apple or Spotify and follow on Twitter and Instagram.

As we turn the page to 2020, both our men’s and women’s basketball teams are off to tremendous starts as they head into Big 12 conference play this Saturday. The men’s basketball team will host West Virginia at 3 p.m., at Allen Fieldhouse and the 12-0 women’s basketball team will travel to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State at 2 p.m. Coach Self and Coach Schneider have their teams prepared to compete and I look forward to seeing you support our teams as they begin this crucial stretch of the season.

The Kansas men’s and women’s track and field teams continue their indoor season on January 18, when they travel to Wichita, for the KU-KSU-WSU Triangular. The meet will be the sixth installment of the series, where Kansas owns the team series record with three victories. The Jayhawks began their indoor season back on December 6, where they had a number of strong performances. The Jayhawks will return home to Anschutz Pavilion on January 23-24, 2020 when they host the Jayhawk Classic.

The swim & dive team will be back in the water on January 11 in Tempe, Arizona and look to finish strong in the Big 12 Championships in February and NCAA Championships in March.

Our spring sports are quickly approaching and there are a lot of great opportunities to support our student-athletes as they compete.

Baseball

The Jayhawks baseball team concluded the fall slate of games by beating Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Nebraska in Lincoln in exhibition play.
KU returns two of its starting three pitchers from last year’s team as well as saves leader Jonah Ulane. Senior shortstop Benjamin Sems also returns with a team-high .305 average and 39 RBIs from last season.
The 2020 schedule features 24 home games so there are plenty of opportunities to see Coach Price and our Jayhawks in action at Hoglund Ballpark.

Men’s Golf

Our men’s golf team placed in the top 10 as a team in four of its stroke play tournaments during its fall season, and top five in two tournaments.
The team placed second at the Big 12 Match Play Tournament for the second year in a row and will tee it up again in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the TPC Dorado Beach Collegiate February 23-25.

Women’s Golf

Junior Sera Tadokoro won the Cardinal Cup in October and helped the squad to three top-10 finishes in its five fall tournaments.
The spring season will begin in just over a month at the Moon Golf Invitational in Melbourne, Florida from February 17-18, and wrap up at the Big 12 Championships in Dallas, Texas from April 24-26.

Rowing

Led by head coach Carrie Cook-Callen, rowing is celebrating its 25th year as a program at KU.
Kansas will start the season at the Ryder-Den Besten Cup on Sunday, March 22, 2020, at Cooper River Park, New Jersey.
The Jayhawks will face-off against Kansas State in the annual Dillions Sunflower Showdown on Saturday, May 2, 2020, at Wyandotte County Lake in Kansas City, Kansas.

Softball

Now in her second season, head coach Jennifer McFalls is looking to build on their 7-1 record in fall exhibition contests.
The team features seven seniors and will compete in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona to open up the season, February 7-9.
They will be playing 23 games at Arrocha Ballpark inside Rock Chalk Park.

Tennis

As the defending Big 12 Conference champions, three KU tennis players were ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) 2019 Oracle ITA Final Fall Rankings. KU tennis has two singles and one doubles pair in the top-100 between the two lists.
Sonia Smagina was individually ranked as No. 63 while Malkia Ngounoue was listed as No. 93. Smagina paired with freshman Roxana Manu and came in at No. 42 in doubles.
The first match of the 2020 season is January 10-12 in Orlando, Florida. at the Orlando Invitational.

With your support we look forward to helping our nearly 500 student-athletes create new memories in 2020. Have a Happy New Year and Rock Chalk!