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Colts took LB knowing about sex assault claim

Published in Breaking News
Wednesday, 05 June 2019 11:57

INDIANAPOLIS -- Colts general manager Chris Ballard says he knew Stanford's Bobby Okereke had been accused of sexual assault in 2015 when he drafted the linebacker in April.

"When we looked at it and talked about it and talking to the young man, an incident from four years ago, no discipline by the university [and] he was never charged with a crime," Ballard said Wednesday. "And then you look at his track record from that point to now. Team captain. Lott Trophy quarterfinalist. He graduated with a degree in management and engineering. He's working on his master's. From 2015 to 2019, from everything we gathered and high recommendations that we got, it felt appropriate to take him."

Okereke was forthcoming about what occurred in 2015 when he met with the Colts at the Senior Bowl in January, Ballard said. The general manager said the team investigated the situation, including reviewing the documents from the ensuing Title IX case, and felt comfortable selecting the linebacker in the third round.

According to a New York Times story in December 2016, an unnamed Stanford football player was not disciplined by the school or football team after an in-house disciplinary board made up of five panelists did not get the necessary four votes to say they believed he sexually assaulted the accuser. Three of five did believe the accuser, according to the newspaper. Ballard said Okereke told the team that he was the player in the article when he was asked at the Senior Bowl if the Colts should be aware of any issues in his past.

"[These things are] very difficult," Ballard said. "Not only from our perspective from trying to get the information, but from the university perspective. You have a he-said, she-said incident. I don't want to sit here and act like we don't have sensitivity for both sides of it. But as I've kind of said, it happened four years ago and because there were no charges or disciplinary actions by the university and then his track record from everything we know to this point has been good."

The general manager acknowledged Wednesday that the team did not talk to the accuser or her lawyer due to the fact that there were no charges or discipline handed down by Stanford officials.

Ballard, who has put a premium on character inside the locker room as he continues reshaping the organization, was asked why he did not reveal the information about Okereke sooner.

"I didn't see it [as] appropriate considering he had never been charged or disciplined by the university. That's the reason why we did not give you that information," Ballard said.

Ronaldo rape lawsuit moved to federal court

Published in Breaking News
Wednesday, 05 June 2019 11:38

The woman accusing Cristiano Ronaldo of raping her has shifted the venue for her legal charges against the football superstar, dropping her case in Nevada state court but filing identical charges against Ronaldo in federal court, according to her attorney.

Several news media outlets reported early Wednesday that the charges filed by Kathryn Mayorga, who alleges that Ronaldo raped her in 2009, had been "quietly dropped," implying that the case was over.

But Larissa Drohobyczer, who is one of Mayorga's attorneys, told ESPN that the change of venue was simply a response to the difficulty that the lawyers have had in serving Ronaldo, who lives in Italy, with notice of the state lawsuit.

"The charges were not dropped," Drohobyczer told ESPN. "The state case was dismissed by us because we filed the identical claims in federal court due to federal court's rules on serving foreigners. We basically just switched venues, but the claims remain."

A source said that Ronaldo's agency, Gestifute, was not aware that the state case was dropped.

Mayorga says that Ronaldo raped her during an encounter in a hotel penthouse suite, then paid her $375,000 to keep quiet about it. Last year, Mayorga filed a lawsuit saying the previous settlement was invalid and that Ronaldo violated its terms anyway. Ronaldo's Las Vegas-based lawyer, Peter Christiansen, did not return a message seeking comment on Wednesday. Ronaldo has previously denied the allegations against him.

The Las Vegas police are also investigating potential criminal charges against Ronaldo, and that investigation remains open.

It has been two years since striker Ada Hegerberg, 23, informed the Norwegian soccer federation that she would not play for her national team until she saw more tangible progress toward equal working conditions and overall support for the women's program. She has never wavered in that decision, despite some initiatives by Norwegian officials, and will watch the 2019 Women's World Cup from home this summer.

But it won't be a vacation, as she told ESPN.com senior writer Bonnie D. Ford earlier this year. Hegerberg's incandescent talent -- honed by her five seasons with superclub Olympique Lyonnais and her solo workouts during breaks for international play -- have lifted her to the top of the game, embodied when she hoisted the inaugural women's Ballon d'Or trophy last year. That was before she scored a hat trick within 17 minutes in May to secure Lyon's fourth consecutive Champions League title.

ESPN: Given that there isn't salary parity between men and women, what are the most important details here [in Lyon] that make you feel as if you're being treated equally?

HEGERBERG: It's the amount of respect and the fact that we're equal in terms of conditions, the pitches we have, eating in the same canteen and really taking a part in the club together with the men's team. People stay here a long time because they love it, they actually have a comfortable life here, and they can live from football and compete at the highest level.

There are some countries with very strong clubs, such as France, that have not succeeded in the World Cup. The United States? Total opposite: great success in the World Cup, and our club system has struggled. Why do you think there's that disconnect?

In the U.S., they have spent so much more time together in the national team rather than the club. Here it's different. You have your everyday life in the club, and then you go to the national team maybe once every second month. I've heard a lot of people talking about how big the World Cup is going to be, and I really hope that happens. But we forget the fact that you have all the interest in a big tournament, then suddenly, bam! You go back to your club, and you have, like, 200 people watching your games. So bringing the buzz from big tournaments into your everyday club life, getting people to show up at your games, that's important. For example, when we played the final of the 2013 Euros [in Sweden], we played in front of 40,000 people, and some players from Norway were playing in league games the weekend after in front of, like, 200 people. It was a shock -- for everyone.

What gave you the mental and emotional strength to make the decision to not play with Norway?

I'm in a club that has standards, and I'm used to that. My family, we're all about quality, so I put the bar quite high. I demand a lot of things from myself, but then I also demand that everything should be in place around me so that we can succeed.

I was trying to make an impact [on Norway] for a lot of years, and I could see that in this system, in the federation, it didn't fit me at all. I feel like I was placed in a system where I didn't have a voice. I felt this weight on my shoulders more and more: This isn't working. When you're quite sure about yourself and the values and where you want to go, it's easy to make difficult choices. For me at that point, being able not to lose myself and not to lose what I believe in, I had to take that choice. I couldn't go any other way. And as soon as I did it, it was like [exhales], I could be myself again. I could perform on the highest level again.

But those weeks in front of that decision were almost like a depression. It was such a hard thing to do. It can't be easy when a woman stands and tries to be critical in a positive way. For me, it was really important that [the federation] knew what I was talking about, point by point. When the media asked me what I told the federation, I said, that's between me and them so they can work on it. But it doesn't seem like they took it in the way they should have. Ever since, I just put that behind me and try to perform at the highest level with Lyon.

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Then in a cosmic coincidence, Norway winds up in the same group as France. Do you think you'll follow it closely?

I'm going to watch the World Cup, no doubt. I've got a lot of teammates playing. But there's no emotional connection. I'm totally confident with my decision since day one. It took me to the highest levels, the Ballon d'Or.

I saw the Ballon d'Or trophy downstairs in the club museum. Was it hard for you to give it up?

I was just so afraid of keeping it at my place. I'm going to let it stay here for some time, and one day I'll bring it home when I get a proper alarm.

How do you view what the U.S. players are doing, suing their federation for equal pay?

They've got the guts, and they're together about it. That's the next thing. Women need to back women in cases like this, even more than we do today. If each woman stands up and uses her voice, imagine how many voices would be together and how strong a mass that would be. And I feel that responsibility myself as well. Even though sometimes I would be like, [sighs] "Am I really going to take on that fight?" I would always think, but what will it bring for the future, for others? That's in the back in my head, behind every decision I make. I got this question from a journalist as well: Do you consider yourself a football player or a feminist?

Why do you have to choose?

Yeah! It's impossible to play football in a world among men and not fight for equality. We're all feminists. Playing football can be damn harsh, but every day is a fight for equality. That's a fact. We've made it here [in Lyon] because you've got one man at the top believing in us. But it's still a long, long way to go, and you can see it in small examples every day.

We're still in a time when an insult to a woman can gain more attention than an accomplishment. There's the question [about twerking] you were asked at the Ballon d'Or presentation.

I didn't take it as sexist. I just thought it was a really stupid question at a really stupid time. If he'd asked M'bappe that question, they would be like, what is he doing?

It put you in an impossible situation. If you don't say anything, you're not strong enough, and if you react strongly, you're too strong.

Exactly. You can't say anything without getting consequences. But I always have humor for it as well. You should have balance between humor and what's not acceptable.

It's tiring, right?

Sometimes I would call my mom, and I would be so angry. That doesn't happen that often, but sometimes you see stuff even outside football, and it just goes into me at a certain moment, and it's like, why? Where is this going to end? Is there a better future? But then I get a grip, and it's like [exhales], let's go again.

You have a lot of years ahead. It's not like it's the end of your career -- knock on wood.

Yeah. [Laughs] But seriously, I want to show what I'm good at, on the pitch and outside the pitch. I never considered myself less worthy than a man in football. Never. Never, never, never. It's all about changing attitudes.

I understand you like biographies. What's the last one you read?

It was about Muhammad Ali.

What did you get from that book?

He was a hard-working man. I try to read a lot of women's biographies as well because I think there are a lot more women out there who are like Alis.

What keeps you hungry?

Improving. And winning. The way I work, I always ask myself: What did go well this year, and what do we need to work on? I always have a plan in my head. I do it with my crew at home, my family and my fiancé, a physical coach, a mental coach. It's demanding sometimes, even when it goes well. So when the Ballon d'Or came, it was like "Hallelujah!" That was the timing I needed.

The joy of repeating is quite different from the joy of doing something for the first time.

My motivation is staying at the top as long as possible. I know that I'm capable of it. I've had some years at the top now, but I know I can continue if I do things right.


In the four years since the last Women's World Cup in Canada, the competition and talent among female footballers has gotten stronger -- and more global. The stage will be as big as ever when this year's tournament kicks off June 7 in Paris.

In our latest ESPN FC Rank, we polled our experts to gauge which players will stand out in France.

Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

25. Shanice van de Sanden

NED Olympique Lyon ST

Another from the Lyon dynasty, Shanice van de Sanden is best known for two things: her blazing speed and her trademark bright red lipstick. One of the fastest players in the women's game, Van de Sanden is an absolute handful to deal with on the right wing for opposing full-backs due to her pace and skill. A player who debuted for the Oranje at just 16, she was a key member of the Netherlands' victorious European Championship side in 2017 and will be appearing in her second World Cup this summer. Van de Sanden, now 26, has 15 goals in 63 caps for the Netherlands, but it is her ability to get in behind and create goals for others with crosses from the end line that makes her such a dangerous weapon.

VI Images via Getty Images

24. Danielle van de Donk

NED Arsenal MF

Often overshadowed by national team teammates Lieke Martens and Vivianne Miedema, Danielle van de Donk is one of the Netherlands' most important players, as she provides balance to the midfield and does a lot of tireless work in terms of pressing. A complete midfielder, Van de Donk is just as adept at stealing or winning the ball back as she is at going forward and creating or scoring goals. The 27-year-old chipped in 11 goals and six assists this season at club level to help lead Arsenal to the FA Women's Super League title.

Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

23. Becky Sauerbrunn

USA Utah Royals FC CB

The defender has been part of the NWSL's "Best XI" team each season since the league's inception, first with FC Kansas City and now with the Utah Royals. At 34 years old when the World Cup begins, she remains the steady, quiet cornerstone of the U.S. back line. In fact, she will likely be the only holdover in the starting lineup among the group of defenders and goalkeeper who played so well in the 2015 World Cup. A second title would cement her place alongside the best the U.S. has ever produced at the position.

Christopher Lee - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

22. Nilla Fischer

SWE VFL Wolfsburg CB

This will be the Sweden defender's fourth World Cup, and she will bring her 153 caps' worth of experience to the tournament. This impressive feat is on her remarkable domestic CV along with a Champions League title, three German titles, thanks to her spell at VfL Wolfsburg, and two Swedish league titles. Then there's her World Cup bronze and Olympic silver. Phew. Enjoy watching her while you can. Fischer is now 34, and this will be her final World Cup, but she's still hopeful of adding a fourth Olympics appearance next year.

Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

21. Caroline Graham Hansen

NOR FC Barcelona RW

Hansen, 24, made her debut for Norway's national team at age 16 and scored her first international goal the next summer. Since then, she has steadily climbed the world rankings, and she has the potential to be a top-10 player. Hansen led the Bundesliga in assists in five seasons playing club ball in Germany and recently signed a two-year deal with FC Barcelona. Although she missed the 2015 World Cup with a knee injury, Hansen is hungry to help Norway (the 1995 champs) this time.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

20. Alexandra Popp

GER VFL Wolfsburg ST

A striker known for her physicality and versatility, Popp, 28, has been a top international player since 2014, when she won the first of her two German Footballer of the Year titles. A member of the 2016 Olympic gold-medal squad, Popp, who plays for VfL Wolfsburg in the UEFA Champions League, has her sights set on leading Germany to its first Women's World Cup title. "If I win the World Cup, it would be the jewel in the crown," she said earlier this year.

Danny Lawson/PA Images/Getty Images

19. Kim Little

SCO Arsenal MF

Arsenal playmaker Kim Little is Scotland's heartbeat. She is widely regarded as one of the world's finest players and has overcome her fair share of adversity to be in France, having battled back from a yearlong absence caused by an ACL injury and a fractured fibula at the end of last year. She was voted MVP in the National Women's Soccer League awards back in 2014, when she was at Seattle Reign FC, and she has the ability to turn matches on their head. Alongside Erin Cuthbert and Caroline Weir, Little, 28, and her Scotland teammates will ensure they make a splash in their first World Cup.

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

18. Crystal Dunn

USA North Carolina Courage W/WB

The only question is the context in which she is ranked. Is she evaluated as an attacking player, the role in which she excelled while scoring 12 goals and totaling eight assists since the start of last season as the Courage ran roughshod over the NWSL? Or is it as an outside back, the role she has filled for the U.S. for more than a year? Perhaps the point is that one of the world's most versatile players, Dunn, 26, needs to be ranked on her ability to do all of those things.

AP Photo/Eugenio Savio

17. Amel Majri

FRA Olympique Lyon MF/LB

Majri, who was named Player of the Year by France's UNFP back in 2016, has been eager to reclaim that form on the global stage since she missed the 2017 European Championship due to injury. The 26-year-old notched 10 goals and nine assists in the 2018-19 Division 1 Féminine season, each the most among defenders. Going back to 2015, Majri and Lyon have won four consecutive trebles, and in her nine seasons as an integral part of a fearsome Lyon back line, Les Lyonnaises have allowed more than six goals in league play only once. In 198 league matches, Majri's Lyon have gone 187-9-2, scoring 1,010 goals and conceding only 53 -- almost 20 scored for each allowed. If Majri and host France can yield even a fraction of that untold dominance this summer, their first World Cup title is nigh.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

16. Saki Kumagai

JPN Olympique Lyon MF/D

Japan's captain, Saki Kumagai, 28, spends her time in the gray area between defence and midfield but is one of the most accomplished and talented defensive midfielders in the game. She finished 12th in the 2018 Ballon D'Or and is part of the dominant Lyon side that won the past four Champions League titles. Her 103 caps will prove vital if an inexperienced Japan squad is to reach the final for the third World Cup running.

Brad Smith/isiphotos/Getty Images

15. Tobin Heath

USA Portland Thorns MF

She's the only player on the U.S. roster who has won World Cup, Olympic, NCAA and NWSL titles, and the 31-year-old Heath might only now be playing the best soccer of her career. In addition to eight goals a year ago for Portland in the NWSL, she has 10 goals and seven assists in 15 games with the national team since the start of 2018. Still the best one-on-one take-on player on the U.S. roster, she has never been more efficient in turning that artistry into production.

Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

14. Vivianne Miedema

NED Arsenal ST

How prolific a goal scorer is Miedema? Well, she needs just three goals to become the Netherlands' record scorer with 60 goals. Did I mention she is only 22 years old? The Netherlands No. 9, who already ranks among the most feared strikers in the world, has such a bright future and could be a real contender for the Golden Boot in 2019. Miedema won the Silver Boot back at the 2017 Euros and this season took home the PFA Players' Player of the Year and FA WSL's scoring title with Arsenal. Miedema has a 0.77 goals-per-game ratio (57 goals in 74 games) for the national team, so defenders will be keeping a very close eye on her in France.

VI Images/ Getty Images

13. Christine Sinclair

CAN Portland Thorns F

Sinclair's pursuit of the international goal-scoring record doesn't feel like a race against time. Whether or not the World Cup is where the 35-year-old gets the four goals she needs to break Abby Wambach's record, Sinclair is playing at a level that suggests she'll push the new record well out of reach. The goals overshadow her excellence as a facilitator, not just with a loaded Thorns roster but also for emerging talents such as Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince and Jordyn Huitema for Canada.

Chelsea Football Club/Getty Images

12. Fran Kirby

ENG Chelsea F

Kirby announced herself at the last World Cup, leading then-England manager Mark Sampson to nickname her "mini Messi." Kirby, 25, hated that nickname at the time. But over the past four years, she has grown in self-belief and is now one of the world's most lethal forwards. She scooped up a haul of personal awards last year, and though her 2019 has been interrupted by injury, she is one of England's key players.

Harry How/Getty Images

11. Lindsey Horan

USA Portland Thorns FW

She had quadriceps and hip issues this spring and has yet to play 90 minutes for the U.S. in 2019. But at 25, the reigning NWSL MVP is poised for a breakout World Cup if she's at full strength. Introduced to many when she bypassed a college scholarship to sign with Paris Saint-Germain out of high school, Horan has matured into a sophisticated box-to-box player whose game reflects seven years in pro environments. Only Sam Kerr scored more NWSL goals in 2018, and only Megan Rapinoe had more USWNT assists.

CJ GUNTHER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

10. Megan Rapinoe

USA Reign FC MF

It's difficult to believe that Rapinoe is a year younger entering this World Cup than Abby Wambach was entering the 2015 tournament. Far from a veteran in her twilight, Rapinoe, 33, remains arguably the most important player in the U.S. lineup. A commitment to conditioning in her 30s makes her a presence not just when the U.S. has the ball but also in winning it back. She has 13 goals and 17 assists for the U.S. since 2017 and 19 goals for Reign FC in that span.

Joern Pollex/FIFA/Getty Images

9. Marta

BRA Orlando Pride F

The most famous women's player of all time, Marta is a single-name soccer icon, a six-time FIFA Women's Player of the Year award winner and the Women's World Cup all-time scoring leader, with 15 goals in five appearances. Now 33, Marta is likely making her final World Cup stand in France (she has said she'll play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo before retiring), so every international match she suits up for is must-see TV. The only accolades missing from Marta's résumé: World Cup and Olympic titles.

Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

8. Wendie Renard

FRA Olympique Lyon D

Renard hails from the French island of Martinique, but she's the bona fide Swiss army knife of Les Bleus. In the most recent EURO, Olympics and previous two World Cups, Renard is third in touches, aerial percentage and clearances, second in duel percentage and interceptions, and eighth in passing and tackling percentages among outfield players (min. 10 GP). Translation: There are few, if any, better two-way defenders alive. Just shy of 29, the two-time FIFA FIFPro World XI member and Lyon mainstay -- with 13 straight Division 1 Féminine and six UEFA Women's Champions League titles to her credit -- has long been heralded as such. But with fourth-place finishes at the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics, major international success has proven elusive. A World Cup triumph on home soil would be an immortalizing clarion call for Renard.

Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

7. Eugenie Le Sommer

FRA Olympique Lyon MF

One of the world's most prolific goal scorers, the 30-year-old Le Sommer has amassed a club-record 257 goals for four-time reigning Champions League winners Lyon and another 74 at the international level for France. A big-game player and serial winner at club level, Les Bleues' No. 9 would rise to national hero status if she were able to deliver host France its first major title.

Naomi Baker/Getty Images

6. Lucy Bronze

ENG Olympique Lyon MF/D

Bronze finished sixth in the 2018 Ballon D'Or and is arguably the world's finest right back. She is a key cog in the astonishing Olympique Lyonnais team, having joined them in 2017 from Manchester City, and with the semifinals and final being played in Lyon, Bronze, 27, will be hoping that her local knowledge is required if England makes it to the final stages. England might also utilize her versatility during the tournament, as she can play in virtually every position.

Soccrates/Getty Images

5. Lieke Martens

NED | FC Barcelona | MF/F

The scorer of the Netherlands' first World Cup goal in 2015, Martens, like her country, has taken massive strides forward over the past four years. The 2017 FIFA Women's Player of the Year, Martens, 26, has led the Netherlands to European Championship and Algarve Cup titles the past two years and heads to France as the focal point of the tournament's biggest potential dark horse. Martens bagged 14 goals and added nine assists this past season in leading Barcelona to the Champions League final and has already tallied 42 goals for the Oranje at the ripe old age of 26.

Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

4. Amandine Henry

FRA Olympique Lyon MF

Henry's goal and assist numbers will never jump off the page, but watch her closely during a match, and it quickly becomes clear why she is counted among the best players in the world. A midfielder with the versatility to play in either the defensive or attacking midfield role, Henry is adept at winning the ball back, is extremely composed on it and boasts an impressive range of passing. After winning the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the 2015 Women's World Cup, Henry, 29, is hungry for more and remains a central figure for France in 2019.

Alex Grimm/Getty Images

3. Dzsenifer Marozsan

GER Olympique Lyon MF

Twice voted German Footballer of the Year, the 27-year-old Marozsan led Olympique Lyon to a Champions League title, was a 2018 finalist for Best FIFA Women's Player (she finished second behind Marta) and captained Germany to the 2019 Women's World Cup. But it was at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that the midfielder truly made her mark, scoring the deciding goal in the final and lifting Germany to its first women's soccer Olympic gold.

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

2. Alex Morgan

USA Orlando Pride ST

After an injury-riddled stretch of her 20s, including a 2015 World Cup in which she was less than full strength, Morgan is in the midst of a renaissance as her 30th birthday approaches. She's still the fleet-footed striker who is dangerous running onto balls in open space, but she has grown into an all-around forward who can hold the ball up, play out wide and act as the tip of the spear for U.S. pressure defensively.

Matt King/Getty Images

1. Sam Kerr

AUS Chicago Red Stars ST

Kerr is the most prolific goal scorer in the women's game. The career scoring leader in the NWSL (in which she plays for the Chicago Red Stars) and Australia's W-League (in which she captains the Perth Glory), as well as for the Matildas, the 25-year-old is shattering barriers and popularizing the women's game in Australia like never before. Hers is the top-selling jersey -- men's or women's -- in the country, and images of her exuberant roundoff backflip goal celebrations are plastered on billboards around Oz.

Sources: Lillard, Beal part of USA Hoops camp

Published in Basketball
Wednesday, 05 June 2019 11:46

USA Basketball is finalizing a training camp roster for the FIBA World Cup in China that includes Portland's Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Washington's Bradley Beal and Cleveland's Kevin Love, league sources told ESPN.

USA Basketball will conduct an August minicamp in Las Vegas ahead of the September tournament in China that will include an 18-man camp roster for coach Gregg Popovich's eventual 12-man American team.

Among other players planning to attend the camp with intentions to play in China: New Orleans' Anthony Davis, Houston guards James Harden and Eric Gordon, Boston's Jayson Tatum, Utah's Donovan Mitchell, Milwaukee's Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, and the Lakers' Kyle Kuzma, league sources told ESPN.

Houston's P.J. Tucker told ESPN's Tim McMahon that he will be a part of the training camp, and another tough-minded veteran, Denver's Paul Millsap, is also a possibility, league sources told ESPN.

USA Basketball will hold the training camp Aug. 5-8 in Las Vegas and compete Aug. 21-Sept. 15 in China. Team USA will also play an exhibition schedule that includes stops in California and Australia.

Team USA will compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with a roster that is expected to include more All-NBA level players.

Lowry vows to be more aggressive in Game 3

Published in Basketball
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 18:07

OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the NBA Finals shift west beginning with Game 3 at Oracle Arena between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, plenty of attention will be paid to Kyle Lowry.

Toronto's All-Star point guard has struggled with his shot during the first two games of this series, going 6-for-20 from the field and 4-for-12 from 3-point range. He struggled in Game 2, finishing with 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting to go with two assists and two turnovers before fouling out with 3:52 remaining in a game the Raptors went on to lose.

As the Raptors prepare for Game 3, their floor general says to expect him to be more aggressive when he takes the floor Wednesday night, in an attempt to both jump-start his own offense and try to get Toronto back in front in this best-of-seven affair.

"To play," Lowry told ESPN with a grin when asked what he expected from himself in Game 3. "To do whatever I need to do to help my team win. Being on the road, I may be more looking for my shot, being more aggressive.

"I play better on the road, and I always have. That's how I've always been. The road is where it's supposed to be the toughest, and I love the road."

The Raptors will be hoping Lowry is right, as they could use a renaissance performance from him in Game 3. While the Warriors are the walking wounded right now -- with Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney already ruled out, Klay Thompson questionable to play and Andre Iguodala limping around but declared ready to go -- they still are the two-time defending champions, and winners of three of the past four NBA titles and in their fifth straight trip to the league's championship round.

That championship DNA shone through in Game 2, when Golden State's mantra of "Strength In Numbers" helped carry the Warriors to a desperately needed win.

Given the hostile environment Oracle Arena presents for any opponent -- especially on this kind of stage -- it would be the perfect time, from the Raptors' perspective, for Lowry to step up and have a performance like he did in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, when he poured in 30 points on the road (though Toronto also lost the game).

"I'm always playing with a chip on my shoulder, and especially here," Lowry told ESPN. "It's going to be loud. It's going to be a jam-packed house. They're going to be excited to be here. I haven't been aggressive."

But while Lowry wasn't aggressive offensively in Game 1, it didn't matter because the Raptors got huge games from both Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol.

In Game 2, though, Lowry wasn't aggressive, in part, because he let the referees get in his head. He got in foul trouble early in the game -- something he said he has to avoid in Game 3 -- and then committed a terrible foul, his sixth, when he slapped DeMarcus Cousins on the arm in a poor attempt to get a steal 92 feet from Golden State's basket with 3:52 remaining.

"The last foul was a frustration foul," Lowry told ESPN. "I had a couple I felt like I was in the right spot, and didn't get it, for sure. [But] that was a frustration foul. That was a stupid foul. That was my fault."

The Raptors, like Lowry does personally, expect to bounce back in Game 3. But one thing that shouldn't be expected to be a big part of their game plan -- whether Thompson plays or not -- is the much-discussed box-and-one defense Toronto employed over the final few minutes of Game 2.

It was a hot topic of conversation throughout Tuesday's media availability for both teams -- mainly because, at this level, few people had seen it used before.

"Yeah, I know, everybody's making fun of me for it," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said with a smile.

He then went on to explain how the decision came about in the first place.

"Well, in all those things ... first of all, your players have to have some faith in it," he said. "I got a sense from them that they were good with it in the timeout.

"I was like, 'Hey, I'm thinking about going box-and-one; what do you guys think?' And they were like, 'Well, what does that look like? I drew the box up and who would be where.

"Kyle was kind of the one that said, 'Yeah, man, that will work, let's go.' That kind of lets you, I don't know, share the responsibility a little bit. We all are on the same page and we leave the huddle and we're all good with it. So that helps."

Lowry described it another way.

"Never practiced that ever," Lowry said with a smile. "I don't think I've ever run a box-and-one in my life, I'm going to be honest with you.

"I didn't look at it as anything but what Coach said to do. I don't know if it worked or not. I don't know the numbers or whatever it was. But it was pretty innovative. The first time a team has probably ever played box-and-one in the NBA ever. So you give Nick Nurse credit for that."

Andre Iguodala's left calf is aching.

The 35-year-old swingman, who has been dealing with the injury throughout most of the Golden State Warriors' postseason run, spends the moments following Game 2 of the NBA Finals limping through the locker room inside Scotiabank Arena. Iguodala peels off his jersey and tells the assembled media what continues to motivate him to play through injuries at the tail end of a 15-year career.

"I like Steph," Iguodala says. "He's a good dude, good guy to be around. That's really the only reason why I like playing basketball."

In this moment, Iguodala's motive is far deeper than the joy he gets from playing alongside Stephen Curry; he is also determined to bolster Curry's individual résumé. Coincidentally, that means getting Curry something Iguodala already has: an NBA Finals MVP award.

"I've never seen a person, such a good person, ever get some backlash, whatever, from his peers," Iguodala said. "Because they're so jealous of what he has. ... So whatever it takes to protect his legacy, I'm all for it."

Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77, Curry is part of a small group of players who have won both a regular-season MVP award and a title but not claimed Finals MVP. Like Curry has the past two years, David Robinson and Julius Erving played alongside another MVP (Tim Duncan and Moses Malone, respectively) when they won their titles, while Kevin Garnett was four years removed from his MVP season -- and on a different team -- when he won his lone championship.

Getting Curry off that list is on the Warriors' to-do list, not because Curry wants them to -- as Andrew Bogut put it, "It would help him solidify his place in history, but I don't think that's going to matter too much to him" -- but because he's so beloved by his teammates.

"He's been a great teammate for eight years," fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson said before Game 2. "Even a better friend. You root for guys like Steph because he doesn't take any shortcuts. He works extremely hard. He's a family man. He's just a prime example of what you want your leader to be."

Iguodala echoed those sentiments, saying, "He's not arrogant. He doesn't go about life like a superstar. DeMarcus [Cousins] said it one day -- he was like, 'He's the most normal superstar I've ever seen.' He's like, 'This is unreal.' But it's just talk about culture. People don't understand how important that is."

Curry has played well on the game's biggest stage. He was the team's leading scorer in the 2015 Finals, averaging nearly 10 points per game more than Iguodala, who won Finals MVP. He led the Warriors in scoring again in 2016, when they lost in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers -- a setback Curry blames himself for.

Kevin Durant arrived that summer, and took the Finals scoring lead from Curry en route to winning each of the past two Finals MVPs. Still, Curry averaged 27.1 points per game over those two series, an increase over the 25.7 PPG he put up in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 regular seasons.

"I think if you ask him he'll take that championship and everyone being healthy," said Bogut, who was part of the Warriors' title team in 2015 and, after stints with Cleveland, Dallas and the Lakers over the past two seasons, rejoined Golden State earlier this season. "In my opinion, I don't think [winning Finals MVP] changes the direction of his career, but I guess for the media people that are out there criticizing him for not having that, it might silence them a little bit, for at least a year -- until they find something else to criticize him for."

Curry backed up Bogut's sentiments, downplaying the importance of the individual honor when compared to winning a third consecutive title.

"In the positions that we are in, that's just nitpicking at the end of the day, if I really want to cause a hissy fit about not winning the Finals MVP with all that we've experienced and all the highs that we've been to," he said. "When [Durant] won the last two, he deserved both of them. He played amazing, such consistent basketball at a high level.

"Do I feel like we win a championship without myself or with what Draymond [Green] did or Andre did? No. Everybody has a part in what we do, and whoever wins it this year, it's the same vibe."

With Durant sidelined with a strained calf, Curry entered the series as the betting favorite to win his first Finals MVP. He heads into Game 3 (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET on ABC/WatchESPN) as the team's leading scorer with 57 points, tied with Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard for the most in the series. He has also added nine assists, eight rebounds and a series-high four steals.

And while Curry's Warriors teammates would like him to eventually take home the one major award he has yet to win, they aren't going to risk losing the series by force-feeding Curry.

To wit, his usage rate through two games in 2019 (27.1%) is actually down from the 2018 Finals (32.3%), when he was playing alongside a healthy Durant. And when the Raptors went to a box-and-one zone defense designed to slow down Curry in Game 1, he didn't attempt a single shot, choosing to trust his teammates rather than force the issue.

"Don't get me wrong, I play to play my best and to do what I need to do to help my team win, and that's never going to change," Curry said before the series. "Got to win and then let the rest take care of itself."

Curry is now facing the prospect of playing Game 3 without both Durant and Thompson, with the latter listed as questionable after straining his hamstring late in Game 2.

Add in Iguodala's various ailments, Cousins still being less than 100 percent after his surprising return from the torn quadriceps he suffered in the first round, and backup center Kevon Looney likely being out for the rest of the series, and this is probably as thin a squad as Curry has had around him at any point in this five-year playoff run.

Without Durant, the Warriors have become the first team since the 1991 Lakers to play a Finals game without their leading scorer from the regular season. Losing Thompson, should he be unable to play Game 3, would leave Golden State without its third-leading scorer as well. Durant and Thompson combined to score 3,707 points in the regular season. No other player on the Warriors' roster aside from Curry scored even 600 points this season.

With a less-accomplished player, questions might surface as to whether he could carry such a banged-up team. However, those closest to him know that Curry is at his best when people doubt his greatness. He acknowledged as much following a poor performance in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, when he scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 after being shut out in the first half.

"I've heard a lot of noise this series, for sure," Curry said. "I'll just leave it at that. Whether it's positive, negative, whatever the case is -- I know what I'm capable of."

Curry's ability to use the criticism as fuel while simultaneously not becoming a distraction for the rest of the group is something that Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his staff have long admired about the 31-year-old superstar.

"Steph's just unselfish and all about the team," Kerr said just before the start of the Finals. "And I'm sure he would love to win Finals MVP, but he's much more about the team than he is about the individual. He's proven that over and over again. And he's been amazing throughout the playoffs and we'll just keep counting on him and relying on him and we're lucky to be able to do so."

Kerr won five championships in his playing career, and each time there was no question as to who was going to win Finals MVP. Michael Jordan won it for each of Kerr's titles with the Chicago Bulls (the last three of Jordan's six Finals MVPs overall), and Duncan took home the honors for the two titles Kerr won with the San Antonio Spurs.

Jordan is in the Hall of Fame. Duncan will almost certainly join him next year, as will Curry three years after he retires, whether he wins Finals MVP or not. But Warriors guard Shaun Livingston would like to see Curry in the company of those two, and the other legends of the game, sooner rather than later.

"It would be the pinnacle, I think," he said of Curry winning the award this year. "The ultimate kind of reward in a sense of things going full circle, if you think about it. All of his sacrifices, from his contracts, to his play with Kevin [Durant] getting here and just everything."

And while the Warriors want the award for Curry, he isn't campaigning for votes.

"Honestly, I don't need anybody's validation or praise or them to hype me up as other people in the league know who I am," Curry said. "So whatever comes with that territory, that doesn't really bother me."

ESPN's Tim Bontemps contributed to this story

Frazier: No regrets ducking media after miscues

Published in Baseball
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 18:49

TORONTO -- Two days after he declined to speak to reporters immediately following what he called the "most difficult game of my professional career in the outfield," New York Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier doubled down Tuesday, saying he had no regrets about avoiding the cameras and ducking questions about the series of defensive miscues he had Sunday night.

"No, I don't regret it. And to be fair, I don't think I owe anyone an explanation, because it's not a rule that I have to speak," Frazier said, meandering his way through a number of different topics while addressing reporters just before the Yankees' series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Section 7 of the collectively bargained Major League Baseball Players Association's regular-season media guidelines says, "It is very important to our game that ALL players are available to the media for reasonable periods and it is the player's responsibility to cooperate."

Frazier's reluctance to be interviewed came after the Yankees' 8-5 loss at home to the Boston Red Sox.

Nearly an hour after that game ended, and mere minutes before the Yankees' scheduled 11:30 p.m. ET bus departure from Yankee Stadium for a flight to Toronto, a team spokesman announced to waiting reporters that Frazier was not going to speak.

Often affable and regularly available on nights when he delivers big base hits or clutch home runs, Frazier felt embarrassed by his performance in the field Sunday. He lamented hearing for the first time heckling from fans in Yankee Stadium's bleacher seats who were angered by his defensive woes.

Those miscues included being charged with an error when a ground ball got past him and rolled to the right-field wall, plating a Red Sox run. He also had trouble tracking a fly ball hit near him, prompting him to dive -- unsuccessfully -- for it at the last second. Another fly ball he likely should have caught fell along the right-field line and resulted in a triple.

"The plays were what they were. I sucked," Frazier said Tuesday, before crushing a fourth-inning, two-run homer that put the Yankees in front of the Blue Jays early. "I lost us the game. Everyone knew what I did wrong, and that's what it came down to."

The Yankees also ended up losing Tuesday, 4-3. Available after this latest loss, Frazier addressed reporters for 31 seconds. He answered two questions, then ended the session after a long, awkward pause that came after the second question.

Among the only two queries he took, Frazier was asked if he felt vindicated by the homer, given the drama that has swirled around him the past two days.

He smiled and said succinctly: "It felt good."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said the home run was a good indication of Frazier's approach despite all he already has experienced this week.

"It was good to see him with all that's been out the last couple of days to have a focus, and to go up there and really focus on having good at-bats, which he did," Boone said.

Although he declined to talk to the collective of reporters in the clubhouse Sunday night, Frazier did speak exclusively to ESPN a couple of hours after the Yankees' stadium departure.

"I've been working really hard every day with [outfield coach] Reggie [Willits] before batting practice starts, and despite what has been happening during the game, I'm still confident in myself to be able to turn this around soon," Frazier told ESPN. "It's tough to cost the team runs and a potential win, especially when playing at home against Boston. Things keep happening that shouldn't, and I'm acknowledging all that with all of the early work I'm doing before games."

Reaction to that comment was mostly mixed from Yankees fans on social media. Some were glad he finally, albeit a couple of hours later, spoke about his desire to address his gaffes. Others thought it was too little, too late.

Boone, among many other coaches, team advisers and teammates, has spoken privately with Frazier about both his play and skipping out on the media.

"We talked a little bit [Tuesday] about certain things and expectations and things like that, but I'll keep it at that," Boone said.

As Frazier stated on Tuesday, "I knew the people that I should have spoken to, I did, and that's where I went. I didn't feel like I needed to stand in front of everyone and explain myself."

Still, his manager believes that facing reporters, after both good and bad times, is of paramount importance for his players.

"Part of being a big league player, and certainly part of playing here," Boone said. "We want our guys to always respond when you play a specific role in a ballgame. That's part of being a pro, and being a big league ballplayer and being a New York Yankee.

"Those are the things that are part of the growing process that we go through with a lot of our guys."

In addition to speaking about turning down Sunday's mass media interview opportunity -- and his poor defensive play that prompted it -- Frazier also apologized for hanging his teammates out to dry that night. While he remained away from the portion of the clubhouse reporters are permitted to occupy, his teammates were asked to discuss his play.

"There's going to be days where things kind of seem like they're not going your way. It just always seems like the ball is being hit to you," center fielder Aaron Hicks said. "That's just a time where you learn over time that you've got to slow the game down. Know the situations going into it, what might happen before the play even starts."

Frazier was remorseful Tuesday about putting his teammates in such an uncomfortable position.

"I don't want them to have to speak for me, but I also want to be on the same page as everyone in there," Frazier said. "I should have been standing in front of my locker."

Unprompted, the 24-year-old outfielder -- who has made as many headlines for his daily choice of footwear as he has for his 11 home runs this season -- also said he felt the coverage around him has been somewhat sensationalized.

Specifically, Frazier cited problems he had with stories that were written in past seasons about his hair being too long and not up to Yankees code. He also referenced questions he heard from broadcasters last season who wondered about the length of time he spent away from playing after suffering a concussion during spring training.

"Since I got traded over here, it's been some stories that came out that shouldn't have came out," Frazier said. "And it's difficult, because the way that I'm perceived by people is not how I think that I really am. I don't feel like it's been fair at times, and I don't owe an apology for not talking.

"I know I don't fit the mold of what some of the past and current Yankees are like, and that may be why it's a little bit harder for me to navigate every day, and I'm trying to be myself in here. And sometimes it feels like people have an issue with me just being myself. It's been difficult; it's been hard. My entire life, I've always kind of been different and struggled to fit in because people perceive me a certain way. It was, whenever I was younger, the only thing that I felt like kept me relevant was baseball."

Bochy gets 1,000th win with Giants, joins McGraw

Published in Baseball
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 22:53

NEW YORK -- Bruce Bochy, reeking of beer after his players doused him during a postgame celebration, sat in the visiting manager's office at Citi FIeld, a can of Bud Light behind his desk along with bottles of Woodford Reserve double oaked bourbon and 2014 Origines Coudrat from Bordeaux.

"You would think I have a problem, because I look around and there's always liquor around," he said with a smile and a laugh.

Bochy joined John McGraw as the only Giants managers to win 1,000 regular-season games when San Francisco beat the New York Mets 9-3 Tuesday night behind Stephen Vogt's tiebreaking, two-run double in a six-run 10th inning.

San Francisco tied the score against Seth Lugo in the seventh inning, after Mets manager Mickey Callaway removed a furious Noah Syndergaard.

Callaway later apologized to his team for a move that backfired.

"That's one I'd like to have back, maybe let him face one more hitter," Callaway said.

No such angst in the Giants clubhouse. Players toasted Bochy, then the staff gathered in the manager's officer for a second round of tributes. The 64-year-old, who managed the Giants to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014, said during spring training he would retire after this season.

"This is a year I said I'm going to savor," Bochy explained. "As you see things coming to an end, your gratitude meter it does get dialed way up."

Bochy has 1,003 losses during 13 seasons managing San Francisco, and he is 1,951-1,978 during a 25-year career as a major league manager that started with a dozen years for the San Diego Padres. McGraw led the New York Giants to 2,583 wins from 1902 to 1932.

Bochy made his big league debut as a player just a few hundred feet away at Shea Stadium for the Houston Astros on July 19, 1978 -- a date he instantly recalled.

"On my ride to the ballpark today, I thought about that," said Bochy, who also played for the Mets, in 1982. "This is special place with special memories. For this milestone to happen here, no question that's pretty special for me."

On a night that began as a rematch between Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner of their duel in the 2016 National League wild-card game, Syndergaard allowed RBI singles in the fourth to Kevin Pillar and Steven Duggar.

Bumgarner, whose four-hit shutout won that wild-card game, had given up three earned runs in 51 career innings at Citi Field, before rookie Pete Alonso homered to lead off the sixth for his 20th long shot of the season. Wilson Ramos then hit a go-ahead, two-run drive.

Syndergaard was removed after 103 pitches, with a runner on first and two outs in the seventh. He muttered to himself, then went to the dugout and stared at the field.

"In the heat of competition and just the will to get out there and complete the inning, I got a little fired up out there and a little frustrated," Syndergaard said. "But that subsided."

Evan Longoria singled off Lugo, and Brandon Belt had a tying double that hit the right-field wall on a hop. A second run nearly scored, but Longoria was thrown out at the plate.

"As a whole after the game, as a team, Mickey pulled us all together and was kind of remorseful of that decision," Syndergaard said. "If anything, a man that is knowledgeable about the mistakes he makes is something that gets much more respect in our eyes."

Robert Gsellman (1-1) floundered in the 10th when he pitched for the fifth time in an eight-day span. Pinch hitter Tyler Austin singled, Belt walked and Gsellman bounced a wild pitch. Vogt lined a changeup over a leaping Michael Conforto and off the right-field fence.

Duggar got an RBI double on a comebacker that Gsellman tried to grab with his glove behind his back, but it rebounded toward shortstop. Pablo Sandoval added a two-run double off Hector Santiago, and Mike Yastrzemski contributed an RBI single.

Alonso's home run was lost in the tumult. Only Darryl Strawberry hit more among Mets rookies with 26 in 1983.

"Noah pitched his heart out there today," Alonso said. "I thought that was a really classy thing by Mickey. He apologized, and now we move forward."

While Alonso spoke, Bumgarner praised Bochy.

"He is the ultra-competitor for a manager," Bumgarner said. "He wants to win every game. It don't matter what the circumstances are, I know he's never taken an inning off, a game off, a pitch off, nothing. He's in it to win every time."

WINNER

Mark Melancon (2-0) pitched a perfect ninth.

BACK IN THE BOOTH

Former Mets star pitcher Ron Darling returned to the SNY broadcast booth for the first time since April 13, following surgery to treat thyroid cancer. "I feel great," he said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Giants: C Buster Posey missed his third straight game since hurting his right hamstring on Saturday and had an MRI that showed a mild strain. ... RHP Trevor Gott, who hasn't pitched since May 24 because of a strained right forearm, remained on the injured list, a decision tied to Posey's injury.

Mets: 2B Robinson Cano, out since straining his left quadriceps on May 22, said Sunday he would be activated for the homestand opener, but he was not. ... McNeil, sidelined since May 21 by a left hamstring injury, was activated from the IL, and RHP Tyler Bashlor was optioned to Syracuse (IL). ... INF Dominic Smith missed his second straight start after spraining his right thumb during a swing Saturday but flied out as a pinch hitter. ... INF Jed Lowrie, out since spring training with a sprained left knee, is "a ways away," according to Callaway.

UP NEXT

RHP Tyler Beede (0-1, 7.82) starts for the Giants on Tuesday and LHP Jason Vargas (1-3, 4.46) for the Mets.

Manfred: Don't expect in-season netting changes

Published in Baseball
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 19:39

SEATTLE -- Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says he does not expect teams to make changes to the protective netting around ballparks during the season, although he expects conversations to continue about whether netting should be extended.

Manfred's comments Tuesday came less than a week after a young child was struck by a foul ball and hospitalized in Houston. Manfred said structural issues in each individual stadium would make it difficult to mandate changes during the season, but the incident at Minute Maid Park will lead to conversations into the offseason.

Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. hit a line drive in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game into the field-level stands down the third-base line, where it hit a young girl. Manfred said communication with the family of the young girl has primarily been done by the Astros, who have then updated the commissioner.

"Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety," Manfred said. "If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with 'beyond the dugout,' I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don't want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward."

Following recommendations from MLB, by the start of the 2018 season all 30 teams had expanded their protective netting to at least the far ends of the dugouts after several fans were injured by foul balls in 2017. The latest injury has sparked renewed debate about whether protections should go down the foul lines.

"It's very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year, because they really are structural issues," Manfred said. "But because safety is so important, I'm sure that conversation will begin and continue into the offseason."

Manfred was in Seattle as part of a West Coast business trip and to meet with Mariners owner John Stanton, who has taken over as the chair of the competition committee with owners meetings coming up in a few weeks in New York.

Among the other topics Manfred addressed:

• Manfred said he has been kept abreast of the attempts at stadium development in Portland, Oregon, but he reiterated that any consideration for expansion won't come until stadium situations are resolved for the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays. Manfred sounded hopeful about the progress in Oakland and described Tampa Bay's headway as being behind that of Oakland in the development process.

• Manfred expects any rule changes to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations that will ramp up next year. The current CBA expires after the 2021 season.

"I think given the way that the players' association has reacted to various rule changes that have been put forward and given that a year from now we'll be in that final year of an agreement and we'll be having conversations, I think those rules changes are probably going to be part of that bigger negotiation," he said.

• Manfred described Seattle as being in consideration for a future All-Star Game, assuming the Mariners submit a bid. Seattle last hosted the game in 2001 and would like to again, but Manfred said the team has not submitted a bid for any future openings. The All-Star Game is scheduled out through 2021, with the 2026 game already slated for Philadelphia.

"Let me pick a random number, but once you are in the 18-plus-year category since you've had a game, when the club comes forward to make a bid, they would be in the category that gets active consideration," he said. "Obviously, we don't like to [go to] markets too close together because we have 30 that we are trying to serve. But like I said, once it's been 18 years or so, it's time for that consideration to be active."

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