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Rodgers wins MVP, Watt unanimous top AP defensive player

PHOENIX (AP) Just living the dream. And looking for more. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers won his second MVP award Saturday night, and J.J. Watt swept away the voters the way he sweeps quarterbacks off their feet to take top defensive honors. Rodgers, also the 2011 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award winner, took this one in somewhat surprisingly easy fashion over Watt. The Packers quarterback received 31 votes for the 2014 award from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Houston's Watt, seeking to become the first defensive player to win MVP since 1986, got 13 votes. Rodgers threw for 38 touchdowns and a league-low five interceptions; he has thrown 512 passes at home without a pick. He led the Packers to two victories at season's end despite playing with a severe calf injury. "I feel so fortunate to live out my dreams, year after year," Rodgers said Saturday night. " "It can't help but sink in when you play for the Packers. When you live in Green Bay you know about the Lombardi years, Bart Starr and all the guys who made those teams special. You like to be part of something special yourself." Watt, the ultra-energetic and versatile Texans end, is the first unanimous choice for an AP award since Tom Brady won Most Valuable Player in 2007, and the first for top defensive player under the current voting setup. "I'm always trying to raise the bar," he said. "The moment you get complacent is the moment you begin your decline. When you start to feel like you've made it, when you feel like you're doing pretty good, that's when you start to fall back." NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray of Dallas won Offensive Player, while the Arizona Cardinals swept coaching honors. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski took the Comeback Player award, but was not on hand because, well, New England has a rather important date with Seattle on Sunday in the Super Bowl. Murray, who ran away with the rushing title with 1,845 yards - nearly 500 more than any other player - also topped the NFL with 2,261 yards from scrimmage. He scored 13 touchdowns in helping the Cowboys win the NFC East. That overwhelming performance earned him 26 votes as Murray easily outdistanced Rodgers (15 votes). "I want to say thank you to the Jones family for taking a chance on me four years ago out of Oklahoma," Murray said. "It's been a privilege to play there. Hopefully we can continue that." Murray's contract is up. "I don't think it's any surprise or any secret where I want to play next year," he said. Arians took his second Coach of the Year award in three seasons after leading his injury-ravaged Cardinals to an 11-5 record and a wild-card playoff berth. He was the top coach in 2012 as an interim, stepping in for the ill Chuck Pagano and leading the Colts to the postseason. His defensive coordinator in Arizona, Todd Bowles, won the first Assistant Coach of the Year award. Bowles has parlayed his work with the Cardinals into a head coaching job with the Jets. "I wouldn't be head coach of the year if it wasn't for him and the job he did," Arians said. "I'm so happy that we started that award and he got it for the first time. Now he's going to do a great job for the Jets." Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who made the play of the year against the Cowboys with a one-handed snag of a touchdown pass while falling backward, was voted top offensive rookie. Beckham tied Michael Irvin's NFL mark with nine consecutive games of 90 yards receiving and finished with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs. "This is a great class that I came in," Beckham said. "Part of the reason that I wanted to come out (early from LSU) was to be included in this class." Rams tackle Aaron Donald won top defensive rookie honors. A force against the run and the pass, Donald had 37 tackles, nine assists, and led all rookies with nine sacks. He was one of three rookies initially selected for the Pro Bowl. "Hard work pays off," Donald explained. In his fourth pro season, Watt earned his second such honor with 20 1-2 sacks, 78 tackles - 29 for losses - 50 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and 10 blocked passes. He is the first NFL player with multiple 20-sack seasons. Watt also had 20 1-2 sacks in 2012, his other top defensive player season. The AP awards were given out during the "NFL Honors" TV program. Also during the show, Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. "This award means a great deal to me, as it symbolizes the valued work that the NFL, its players, and its 32 teams do in the community," said Davis, a 10-year veteran. Bears defensive end Jared Allen won the Salute to Service Award. USAA will contribute $25,000 in Allen's honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Sun, 01 Feb 2015 04:01:00 +0000
Sons represent late Junior Seau at Hall of Fame announcement

PHOENIX (AP) One by one, the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame stepped onto the stage as their names were called. When the eighth man elected Saturday, the late Junior Seau, was announced, his two sons stood with the group. "I wish," 25-year-old Tyler Seau said later, "he was here in person with us." A field-covering, hard-hitting linebacker, the charismatic Seau, who committed suicide at age 43 in 2012, was the only first-time eligible candidate in the Hall's class of 2015. Also getting in Saturday, a day before the Super Bowl, were modern-day players Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley and Will Shields, contributors Bill Polian and Ron Wolf, and senior selection Mick Tingelhoff. "It's hard when you come into a group of men that have done what they've done, at their caliber, and they're sharing stories and memories that they had together and playing against each other," Tyler Seau said. "It makes you emotional." Researchers who studied Junior Seau's brain said it showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease connected to repeated head injuries, including concussions. His death, less than 2 1/2 years after the end of his playing career, resonated among players in the league, raising worry about the physical and emotional toll the sport takes. Junior Seau played in the NFL for 20 seasons, the first 13 with the San Diego Chargers, followed by three with Miami and four with New England. He was Defensive Player of the Year for San Diego in 1992, made six All-Pro teams, and was a member of the league's All-Decade team of the 1990s. "He never really needed an award to solidify how good he was. This kind of stuff was more for his family, for his mom, his dad, his brothers. Just to make them proud, make his family proud," Tyler Seau said. "For him, he knew what work he put in. So he knew where he was and where he stood amongst these men. And he's rightfully in." Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week he "loved" having Seau on his roster. "I can't imagine having a Professional Football Hall of Fame without Junior Seau in it," said Belichick, whose team plays the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's Super Bowl. "I'd say the one word that comes to me when I think about Junior and football is `passion."' Bettis was a burly running back nicknamed The Bus who began a 13-season career by earning Rookie of the Year honors for the Rams. He capped it by winning the 2006 Super Bowl with the Steelers in a game played in his hometown of Detroit. His 13,662 yards rushing rank fifth in history. "To think a little fat kid who had never played football until high school," Bettis said, "to think I can ascend to this level, this is something I never thought of, never dreamed of." When Brown retired after the 2004 season, he ranked No. 2 in NFL history with 14,934 yards receiving, No. 3 with 1,094 catches, and No. 3 with 100 touchdown catches. This was his sixth year of eligibility. "You know you have to wait your turn," the 1987 Heisman Trophy winner said. "I came in this year hoping for better things." Haley, a defensive end and linebacker, needed to wait 11 years to get in after becoming the first player in NFL history to play on five Super Bowl-winning teams. He called the late 49ers coach Bill Walsh "a father figure to me." Shields was a guard for Kansas City from 1993-2006, never missing a game in his 14 seasons. He was a first-team All-Pro three times, a second-team All-Pro four times, and was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s. Polian and Wolf were general managers who built Super Bowl champions. Tingelhoff retired in 1978 after starting all 240 games of his career as the center for the Minnesota Vikings. Five nominees were eliminated in Saturday's final vote: Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner. Earlier in the day, the 46 members on the selection committee reduced the list of 15 modern-day finalists by cutting players Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis and John Lynch, and coaches Don Coryell and Jimmy Johnson. A candidate needs 80 percent of the vote to get in. The induction ceremony is in August at Canton, Ohio. --- AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this story. --- Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich --- Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Sun, 01 Feb 2015 03:57:00 +0000
Late rally lifts No. 4 Duke past No. 2 Virginia, 69-63

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Tyus Jones scored 17 points and hit a clinching 3-pointer with about 10 seconds remaining Saturday night as No. 4 Duke ended No. 2 Virginia's 21-game home winning streak, 69-63. Jones' 3-pointer was the fourth in the last four minutes for the Blue Devils (18-3, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who had missed 11 of 13 before hitting the critical long-range shots they needed. Virginia (19-1, 7-1) started the second half with a 16-4 burst and led by 11 with just under 11 minutes to play before some ill-advised shots, turnovers and Duke's blistering shooting turned the tables. Malcolm Brogdon led Virginia with 17 points and Justin Anderson had 11. Quinn Cook, who scored 15, hit three 3-pointers in the last 4:38, including the one to give Duke the lead at 66-63 with 1:16 remaining. After Mike Tobey missed a free throw for Virginia, Tyus Jones hit the finisher with 9.9 seconds left, capping a game-ending 16-5 run for the Blue Devils. Duke finished 28 for 55 (50.9 percent) and became the first team to shot above 50 percent against the Cavaliers this season. Justise Winslow also scored 15 and Jahlil Okafor had 10 points and nine rebounds. Duke twice had to close big margins in the closing minutes. The Blue Devils pulled within 49-47 after getting two baskets by Okafor and an assist by the big man for a layup by Matt Jones, but then saw Virginia score the next points to go back ahead 56-47. A three-point play by Tyus Jones ended the Cavaliers' run, and after a layup by London Perrantes for Virginia, the Blue Devils started connecting from the outside and the Cavaliers' lead evaporated. The meeting was the first of teams in the top five in Charlottesville since No. 3 Virginia beat No. 2 North Carolina 74-58 at University Hall on Feb. 3, 1982, and brought out lots of Virginia royalty like Ralph Sampson and Sean Singletary. They saw a packed house, a big lead, and then were left wanting by the Blue Devils' strong finish. Winslow had seven points in an 11-2 run for the Blue Devils that game them a 22-13 lead with 6 1/2 minutes to go, but Virginia closed the half on a 12-4 burst to trail 26-25 at the intermission. Okafor had more turnovers, three, than points, two, at the half, although Winslow had 11 by halftime. Cavaliers scoring leaders Anderson, Brogdon and Anthony Gill combined for just nine points in the first half, but Atkins had nine by himself and Mike Tobey had four - a putback and a basket over Okafor. TIP INS: Duke: The Blue Devils were 6 for 17 on 3-pointers and made five in the last 4:38. Virginia: Virginia was outscored 14-0 on fast break points. UP NEXT: Duke is at home against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. Virginia plays at No. 13 North Carolina on Monday night. --- Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr

Sun, 01 Feb 2015 02:22:00 +0000
Williams beats Sharapova again, wins 19th Grand Slam title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams stuck out a fist in mock triumph and mouthed "C'mon," careful not to push her point too far. The 33-year-old Williams was closing in on her 19th Grand Slam singles title, her 16th straight win over Maria Sharapova and her sixth Australian Open championship when she was docked a point by the chair umpire for hindrance - for yelling in celebration too early when she thought she'd hit a service winner. She didn't let that, or another early celebration on match point, or a hacking cough that made her sick, become distractions. Instead, Williams maintained her composure to beat Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 (5) on Saturday night to continue her 100 percent record in finals at Melbourne Park and move closer to Steffi Graf's record of 22 major titles in the Open era. "I got too excited and I hit a great serve ... I didn't expect her to get it back," Williams explained of the hindrance call in the seventh game of the second set. "I said, `C'mon', a little too soon. I guess there's a rule that you can't do it. So I'm fine with it. I moved on very fast to the next point; just tried to stay as focused as I could." The muted fist pump, she said, was just for fun. "I'm like, `C'mon.' It just goes to show you I have more fun on the court. I would have never done that three years ago, four years ago," said Williams, who has let similar calls upset her in the past. "So I just kind of made a little sarcasm after that." On her third match point, she let her racket go before hearing a let call to what she thought was an ace. "I thought, `Wow this is it, I did it,' only to hear let. I was like, `OK Serena!"' she said. So she fell back on her biggest weapon, firing another ace - her 15th of the set and 18th of the match. This time, after checking it was official, she bounced around like a little child and the celebration was real. "I'm so honored to be here and to hold this 19th trophy," Williams said. "I didn't think it would happen this fast, to be honest, but it feels really good." Williams, at 33 years and 127 days, became the oldest winner of the Australian women's title in the Open era and moved into outright second place on the list of major winners in the Open era, moving clear of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on 18. No. 20 is her next objective, and her next chance is at the French Open. "When I think about Paris, I don't think about 20. I just think about winning there," said Williams, who didn't reach a quarterfinal in a Grand Slam between her wins at the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Opens. Still affected by a recent cold, Williams controlled the first set around a rain delay when play was stopped for 13 minutes during the sixth game for the roof on Rod Laver Arena to be closed. Williams came back on court momentarily, but returned to the locker room. "I had a really bad cough, I ended up throwing up," Williams said. "I think in a way that just helped me - I felt better after that." She returned to court and fired an ace to start a run of six straight points to take the set away from Sharapova. Williams won the first six points of the second set, too, before Sharapova started hitting out. The five-time major winner had 18 of her 21 winners in the second set, and fended off four break points. No. 2-ranked Sharapova saved two match points, including one in the 10th game when she hit a forehand winner down the line, and she calmly held serve twice to stay in the match. In the end, though, it wasn't enough to end a decade-long losing streak to Williams. "I haven't beaten her in a long time but I love every time I step on the court with her," said Sharapova, who trails 17-2 in career head-to-heads against Williams and hasn't beaten the American since 2004. "I've had some of the best memories of my career on this court and also some of my toughest losses, but that's the life of a tennis player." On the men's side, Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli became the first all-Italian team to capture a Grand Slam men's doubles title in more than 50 years after beating French pair Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 6-4. Novak Djokovic has won all four times he's reached the Australian Open final and is aiming to maintain his 100 percent record when he takes on Andy Murray in Sunday's singles final.

Sat, 31 Jan 2015 16:17:00 +0000
Cubs legend Ernie Banks remembered for unwavering optimism

CHICAGO (AP) Fans and friends paid tribute to legendary Chicago Cubs slugger Ernie Banks on Saturday, recalling how he helped break baseball's color barrier during a Hall of Fame career in which he won over teammates and an entire city with the unwavering optimism he brought to the game and life. At a memorial service in a Chicago church, the buoyant man known as "Mr. Cub" was remembered for his character as much as his accomplishments on the ballfield, including his 512 career home runs. Speaker after speaker recalled Banks' unflagging spirit and good cheer - he enthusiastically predicted each spring that his team would win the pennant - as well as his humility and care for others. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Banks "disarmed adversaries with optimism" and "branded goodwill." Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Banks was a "humble hero" who taught younger generations "how to play the game of life." Fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins said the unassuming, joyful Banks strove to be a good teammate, not a star. Billy Williams, another Hall of Famer, recalled animated conversations that he and Banks would have while driving to Wrigley Field on game days. "I never did see him read a book, but he knew about everything," Williams marveled. Saturday would have been Banks' 84th birthday, and several speakers called on the crowd to celebrate his life, not mourn his passing. Banks, a two-time MVP, military veteran and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died Jan. 23 of a heart attack. His coffin, which was in front of the altar, was draped in a banner emblazoned with his jersey number, 14. A choir performed a rousing version of "This Little Light of Mine." Jackson, exhorting everyone to stand, led a thunderous round of applause to celebrate Banks' birthday. In the hush that followed, the civil rights leader noted it was also the 150th anniversary of Congress passing the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. "Smiling faces can sometimes conceal what's deep within," Jackson said, describing Banks' cheerfulness as a thermostat that "helped control the temperature" of his times. The work of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. was possible because of Banks, Jackson said. "We rode on Ernie's shoulders." Banks was the Cubs' first black player when he joined the team in 1953, six years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Emanuel noted that in Banks' early years with the Cubs, he couldn't stay at some of the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as his white teammates because of segregation. He suffered the same racial taunts and indignities as other black players of his time, but if he ever got angry, he never seemed to show it. In a 19-year career full of amazing statistics, one of the most remarkable was that he was never ejected from a game. Roosevelt Johnson, 45, arrived at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church at 5:30 a.m. and was first in line. "I wanted to pay my respects to a true icon of the sport," said Johnson, of Zion. Chicago native Estelle Martin, 56, said she loved to play baseball as a girl and collect baseball cards. "I was a tomboy. Ernie Banks was my favorite. He was everybody's favorite," she said. Banks' connection to the city was evident inside the church, where the pews were filled with mourners of all ages. There were young fans who knew him only from grainy video clips and from his appearances at the ballpark after he retired, always with a smile, always chatting with fans. But there were also older men, particularly older black men who remembered the days when Banks and others made history. While he wasn't the first African American to play in the majors, Banks was the first with the Cubs in what was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Banks was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues when the Cubs purchased his contract for $10,000. He made his major league debut at shortstop and three days later hit his first home run. With his play, particularly in the first chapters of his career when he was hitting home runs at a clip that no shortstop had ever hit them before, he simply won over a city. After Saturday's service, many other Chicagoans got the chance to say farewell. They doffed their hats in respect as a procession carried "Mr. Cub" past his statue at Daley Plaza downtown. It then made its way up Lake Shore Drive to Wrigley Field, where Banks so often called out what became his signature phrase, "Let's play two!" --- Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report. --- Carla K. Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson

Sat, 31 Jan 2015 20:33:00 +0000
Judge: Jury can watch Super Bowl unless Hernandez mentioned

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) The 18 New England residents sitting on the jury in the murder trial of former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez will be allowed to watch the home team play in Sunday's Super Bowl, but the judge overseeing the case says they must leave the room if his name is mentioned. Hernandez caught quarterback Tom Brady's last Super Bowl touchdown pass in the Patriots' 2012 loss to the New York Giants. Now he is on trial for murder, charged with the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancee's sister. The trial is playing out just as Hernandez's old team is preparing to take on the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL championship game. Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh closed the second day of testimony Friday by telling jurors they may watch the game if it is important to them, but they must be vigilant for mention of the case or Hernandez. "You hear that word, you've got to walk out of the room," Garsh said. "Distance yourself." The judge previously told jurors that they are not allowed to discuss the case with anyone, even to tell their families or employers that they are sitting on the jury for Hernandez. During jury selection, jurors were asked if they were Patriots fans, but that did not mean they were automatically disqualified from being selected. Hernandez had a $40 million contract with the Patriots when he was arrested. Earlier Friday, Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward, was overcome with emotion and had to leave the courtroom as a prosecutor showed graphic photos of her son's body at the industrial park where he was found. The 27-year-old Lloyd was shown lying on his back with his left fist curled in a ball over the gunshot wounds to his chest. It was the second straight day she left the courtroom in tears. Lloyd's body was found riddled with bullets in an industrial park near Hernandez's North Attleborough home, not far from Gillette Stadium. On Friday, two men who worked at a business in the industrial park described a teenage jogger coming to their office early on the evening of June 17, 2013, then leading them down to an empty lot. One of the men, David Swithers, said he stopped about 20 feet away and saw a man on his back. The judge had cautioned jurors that the images would be graphic and that they shouldn't let their emotions sway them in the case. "He was stiff and motionless. There were flies flying in and out of his nostrils," he said. "I called 911." Also testifying Friday was Shaneah Jenkins, 23, who was dating Lloyd. Her sister, Shayanna, 25, is Hernandez's fiancee and the mother of his 2-year-old child. The sisters sit on opposite sides of the courtroom, Shaneah with Lloyd's mother and Shayanna with Hernandez's family. Shayanna Jenkins was not in court Friday. Shaneah Jenkins testified that she introduced Lloyd to Hernandez and that although they had a cordial relationship, they were not close. She said the two men would hang out in the basement or smoke marijuana together when they came to visit, but that, apart from the weekend Lloyd was killed, the two men did not spend time together without her there. Hernandez's lawyer, Michael Fee, told jurors in his opening statement that Hernandez and Lloyd were friends and that Hernandez had no reason to kill him. He said they could have some day been brothers-in-law. Shaneah Jenkins is expected to resume testimony the next day court is in session. That could be Monday, though the judge told jurors a snowstorm forecast for then could delay that. In a separate murder case that has yet to go to trial, Hernandez was charged last year in Boston with killing two men in 2012 after someone spilled a drink on him at a nightclub. The judge has ruled that prosecutors in the Lloyd case cannot tell the jury about those slayings. --- Follow Michelle R. Smith at: http://www.twitter.com/MRSmithAP

Sat, 31 Jan 2015 03:52:00 +0000
Browns receiver Josh Gordon says he was caught drinking

CLEVELAND (AP) Browns receiver Josh Gordon said on Thursday that his latest trouble with the NFL results from having a few drinks with teammates. Gordon said in an open letter on Medium that he accepts responsibility for a failed alcohol test that could bring another suspension from the league. The 23-year-old receiver said he had two beers and two other drinks with teammates on a flight to Las Vegas on Jan. 2, after Cleveland's season ended. The former Pro Bowler was suspended for last season after testing positive for marijuana, but the penalty was reduced to 10 games. Gordon said that as part of the reduction, he agreed not to drink alcohol. He said he was tested for it when he got off the plane in Las Vegas. "As a strict condition to my reinstatement in Week 12, I had to agree not only to abstain from drinking for the rest of the season, but also to submit to an alcohol screen as part of my in-season drug testing under the league's substance-abuse protocol," Gordon said. The receiver said he thought the requirement no longer applied when the season ended, but he was mistaken. The Browns missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record, finishing last in the AFC North. "It doesn't matter if I thought that the league-imposed restriction on drinking had expired at the end of the regular season; what matters is that I didn't confirm whether or not that was the case," Gordon said. "Now, that oversight has further jeopardized my relationship with my team and our fans, my reputation, and maybe even my career." Gordon rejected criticism from media commentators, saying they don't know him well enough to form opinions about him. Gordon's absence was noticeable on a team that struggled on offense last year. Cleveland hired Joker Phillips as wide receivers coach on Thursday, Phillips' first full-time NFL coaching job. Phillips was most recently in college football as a wide receivers coach for Florida in 2012-2013. Gordon led the league with 1,646 yards receiving in 2013. The following May, it was revealed that he failed another test for marijuana. His representatives unsuccessfully argued to an arbitrator that his failed drug test was the result of second-hand marijuana smoke. The one-year suspension was shortened as part of the NFL's overhaul of its disciplinary system. The NFL has not yet announced punishment for the failed alcohol test. Gordon also was arrested for drunken driving in North Carolina last July.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 23:40:00 +0000
Kobe Bryant has surgery, expected to be out for 9 months

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Kobe Bryant is officially done for the season after having surgery to repair his torn right rotator cuff Wednesday. The Los Angeles Lakers also made it official that their superstar doesn't believe his career is finished. Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury. If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season - and the Lakers expect to see him in purple and gold again. Neal ElAttrache and Steve Lombardo performed the two-hour surgery at the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. "I expect Kobe to make a full recovery, and if all goes as expected, he should be ready for the start of the season," ElAttrache said in a statement provided by the Lakers. The Lakers formally declared Bryant out for the year by acknowledging the expected recovery time from his injury, but also effectively confirmed he won't retire and will attempt to play his 20th season in the fall. Bryant, who will be 37 years old this summer, is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season, and he is under contract for $25 million next year. "In my mind right now, he's coming back next year, unless he tells me something different," coach Byron Scott said at practice Wednesday. Scott already had acknowledged Bryant was highly unlikely to play again this season for the flailing Lakers (12-34), who will match their franchise record for futility if they lose their 10th consecutive game when the Chicago Bulls visit Thursday. But if Los Angeles finishes with a top-five draft pick, the club won't have to give its first-round choice to Phoenix until next year to complete its brutal trade for Steve Nash in 2012. Bryant hurt his right shoulder while dunking last week in New Orleans, deciding on surgery shortly afterward. He is the third-leading scorer in league history and a five-time NBA champion. Bryant averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games, but made a career-worst 37.3 percent of his shots in a wildly inconsistent 19th season. He also passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA's career scoring list, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Bryant's popularity hasn't waned during his injury-plagued stretch. He was voted to the All-Star game for the 17th time this month, and he is still the Lakers' public face despite his recent prolonged absences from the court. Bryant missed the 2013 playoffs after tearing his Achilles tendon late in the regular season, and he played in just six games last season before breaking a bone near his left knee. Although he has played through innumerable injuries in the past, the accumulated wear from nearly two decades in the NBA has caught up to him. Bryant sat out eight games to rest in the past month, and he played under a strict minutes limit. It wasn't enough to protect him from another major injury. Bryant joins Nash, first-round pick Julius Randle and swingman Xavier Henry with season-ending injuries already for the Lakers.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:16:00 +0000
Brodeur to retire, join St. Louis Blues front office

ST. LOUIS (AP) Martin Brodeur is retiring to take a front office job with the St. Louis Blues. The New Jersey Devils have a spot waiting for one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history whenever he is ready to come back home. "Absolutely. He is aware of that and has always been aware of that," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday. "He could have come back even now if he wanted to." The 10-time All-Star and four-time Vezina Trophy winner finished his career with St. Louis after a standout, two-decade run with New Jersey. A news conference was set for Thursday morning before the Blues return from the All-Star break to play Nashville. "It's kind of sad to see a guy like him hang `em up," said Brian Elliott, the Blues' All-Star goalie. "I'm sure it's a tough decision, but I was grateful to be on the same team with him if only for a little bit." The 42-year-old Brodeur wrapped up his 22-year career with St. Louis after signing as a free agent on Dec. 2. He was 3-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average and in his final victory became the fifth-oldest goalie to post a shutout in a 3-0 win over Colorado on Dec. 29. He last played on Jan. 2 in a loss at Anaheim and had not returned since being granted a one-week leave of absence on Jan. 14. Brodeur had dropped to third on the depth chart after Elliott returned from a knee injury, with 24-year-old Jake Allen sharing the position, but teammates are happy he'll still be around to help. "It's an extremely smart move," forward Alexander Steen said. "All the experience and all that stuff is so valuable to have in an organization. That stuff spreads." Lamoriello said he's been talking with the Brodeur the last several weeks, so the announcement was not a surprise. Lamoriello said it won't be long before the Devils retire his No. 30 and that there are no hard feelings Brodeur is sticking with St. Louis for now. "It's something that he feels he would like to try and see," Lamoriello said. "He might even find out whether he likes this business or not. Who knows? There is no issue whatsoever." Brodeur played his first 21 seasons with the Devils, who did not re-sign him after committing to Cory Schneider as the No. 1 goalie. Schneider said he was a little surprised about the announcement, calling it the end of an iconic career. "Those kinds of players, like Marty and Jaromir (Jagr), they only come along so often," Schneider said. "The things that Marty did, I don't know if we will ever see again or it probably won't be for a long, long time." The Montreal native was 691-397-176 with a 2.24 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and 125 shutouts in 1,266 career appearances. He holds regular-season NHL records for wins, games and minutes. "I don't think he has to worry about losing those anytime soon," Elliott said. "It's just awesome to be able to stand on the same ice as a guy like that, especially when you look at the record books probably 50 years from now and you can be like, `I played with that guy,' so it's cool." Brodeur also holds postseason records for starts (204) and shutouts (24), and is second in wins (113). He appeared in 70 or more games in 10 consecutive seasons from 1997-98 to 2007-08. He won three Stanley Cups with the Devils and was a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010. Devils center Scott Gomez won two Stanley Cups with Brodeur and remembered a player so handy with the stick it prompted an NHL rule change. Jagr said having Brodeur in goal was like having an extra half defenseman who could start breakouts. "So many new goaltenders come in the league and it's kind of incredible for him to adjust and stay in that game for such a long time," Jagr said. "I don't think anybody can do that again, in any sport. Maybe (Peyton) Manning if he keeps playing, because quarterback is that type of position." --- AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 23:58:00 +0000
Jury convicts 2 ex-Vanderbilt players of raping woman

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A jury convicted two ex-Vanderbilt football players on Tuesday of raping a former student, rejecting claims that they were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be blamed for the attack. The jury deliberated for three hours before announcing that Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery. Batey was stoic, staring ahead and Vandenburg shook his head "no," appearing stunned. His father had an outburst and abruptly left the courtroom. The victim, a 21-year-old neuroscience and economics major at the time of the June 2013 attack, cried as each guilty verdict was announced. The men face decades in prison when they are sentenced March 6. The jury heard two weeks of dramatic testimony from a parade of witnesses, including police, former and current Vanderbilt students and the woman, who said she didn't remember what happened that night, only that she woke up in a strange dorm room. They also saw cellphone images from the night of the attack that Vandenburg sent to his friends as it was happening. Despite the photos and video, and witnesses seeing the woman unconscious and at least partially naked in a dorm hallway, no one reported it. The victim said in a statement she was hopeful the publicity from the case would lead to a discussion of how to end sexual violence on college campuses. In Nashville, where the prestigious private university is located, hundreds of college officials from across the state were meeting this week to discuss exactly that. "Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame," she said. Vandenburg and Batey were on trial together, but represented by different attorneys. Attorneys for Vandenburg, who had been seeing the woman, said he did not assault her. Testimony showed Vandenburg passed out condoms to the other players, slapped her buttocks and said he couldn't have sex with the woman because he was high on cocaine. Batey raped the woman and urinated on her, prosecutors said. His attorneys argued the images didn't show that. Defense lawyers argued that Vandenburg and Batey were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be partly to blame. During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told jurors that the college culture argument was a "red herring" and that the athletes thought the law didn't apply to them. "That's the culture that you really saw here," Thurman said. "Their mindset that they can get away with anything." Earlier, one of the defense attorneys conceded that Vandenburg took "deplorable" photos, but shouldn't be convicted of rape because he didn't take part in it. "He took photographs that he never should have taken," attorney Fletcher Long said. Batey, of Nashville, turned 21 on Tuesday. Vandenburg, 21, is from Indio, Calif. Vandenburg's roommate at the time testified that he had been on the top bunk and saw the woman face down on the floor. He said he heard one of the players say he was going to have sex with her, but didn't do anything because he was afraid. Rumors about what happened quickly spread around campus, and the assault might have gone unnoticed had the university not stumbled onto the closed-circuit TV images several days later in an unrelated attempt to learn who damaged a dormitory door. The images showed players carrying an unconscious woman into an elevator and down a hallway, taking compromising pictures of her and then dragging her into the room. School authorities contacted police, who found the digital trail of images. The university said after the verdict that they had kicked the players off the team many months ago, expelled them from school and were confident they acted appropriately. "We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress," the school said in a statement. Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, who is also charged in the case, testified he did not touch the woman himself but also took pictures. No trial date has been set for him and Brandon Banks, the fourth former player accused in the assault. Banks did not testify.

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:59:00 +0000