Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 
Victor Wembanyama of Metropolitans 92 blocks a shot by Scoot Henderson of G League Ignite during their exhibition game at The Dollar Loan Center on Oct. 04, 2022 in Henderson, Nevada. (AFP)
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Updated 07 October 2022

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 
  • The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety

HENDERSON, Nevada: Victor Wembanyama blocked a shot Thursday afternoon, ran to the other end of the court, went airborne from just inside the foul line, corralled an alley-oop pass with one hand and slammed home a dunk.

The entire sequence lasted eight seconds.

It may have been the signature moment — and there were a lot of candidates — from Wembanyama’s two-game trip to the US, which ended Thursday with the French phenom’s Metropolitans 92 team rallying from 16 points down to top the G League Ignite 112-106. He led the way, of course, with 36 points and 11 rebounds.

“As a first impression of the American game, that was really great,” Wembanyama said.

So was he.

His final numbers from two exhibitions: 73 points on 22-for-44 shooting, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots. He flies back to France on Saturday, and the next time he plays in the US there likely will be an NBA logo on his jersey, presumably after he becomes the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

“It’s very, very special for France,” Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet said. “Not only for France. He has huge potential. He’s a huge talent.”

The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety. The best of the bunch may have come from Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who suggested that calling Wembanyama a unicorn might not fully indicate how unique he is.

Instead, James went with an out-of-this-world comparison.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien,” James said. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor ... He’s, for sure, a generational talent.”

Added Golden State guard Stephen Curry: “He’s like the (NBA) 2K create-a-player, every point guard that wants to be 7-foot. Cheat-code type vibes, man. He’s a solid talent. It’s great to watch.”

Sure enough, when Wembanyama’s around, a viral moment can happen at any time. It might be a dunk. It might be a block. It might be a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner while his momentum has him drifting toward the baseline. It might be a 28-foot 3-pointer from the wing. It might be him kicking a ball into a monitor and narrowly missing fellow French center Rudy Gobert.

Yes, all those things happened.

The scene: Gobert and fellow Minnesota Timberwolves standout D’Angelo Russell, in town to play the Lakers in a preseason game later Thursday, decided to postpone their afternoon nap — a staple of the NBA gameday routine — and make the 20-minute ride from Las Vegas to watch the game, arriving at halftime.

Gobert made a quick appearance on the game’s televised broadcast. Wembanyama, standing nearby, stuck one of his massive feet into the path of a pass by Ignite center Eric Mika. The ball ricocheted into the monitor near Gobert’s seat, knocking it over.

Gobert laughed. Wembanyama raised his hand to apologize.

“Hey, he played soccer too,” Gobert said.

Gobert raves about Wembanyama, who almost certainly will be the first top-five draft pick from France. And he doesn’t think there’s any real comparison: Gobert said Wembanyama’s defensive instincts remind him of himself, while his ballhandling and shooting remind him of Kevin Durant.

“What strikes me the most about him is his maturity,” Gobert said. “Obviously, he’s a very unique talent and he has a very unique physique. But his maturity and his confidence ... he’s very unique.”

Thursday’s game had a bit of a scare, and the other top NBA draft headliner in this showcase got the worst of that moment.

Scoot Henderson, the guard whose 28 points led the Ignite to a 122-115 victory on Tuesday night in the exhibition opener, left Thursday’s game after less than five minutes. The reason: He banged knees with Wembanyama.

Henderson switched onto Wembanyama, who was dribbling on the wing. Wembanyama made a move, collided into Henderson and tumbled to the court, looking initially like he got the worst of that exchange. But Henderson, who was called for a foul on the play, wound up limping off for evaluation and the Ignite quickly said he wouldn’t be returning.

“Scoot’s fine,” G League coach Jason Hart said. “It was precautionary.”

There are 31 games left on Metropolitans’ 34-game schedule in the French league, and the plan — as of now — is for Wembanyama to finish his season, which is slated to go through mid-May. The NBA Draft is June 22.

Bouna Ndiaye, one of Wembanyama’s agents, said some NBA teams might not understand why he’s playing. The reason, he says, is because nobody can get Wembanyama out of the gym.

“He wants to live on the court,” Ndiaye said.

What these two games showed, in many ways, was just that the tapes of Wembanyama that have been coming out of Europe over the last few years weren’t lying. He needs to get stronger. There’s much he can still polish. He is, by all accounts, exceptional already.

“Just before we came in last Saturday, we had a meeting with our doctor and we are going to prepare to plan the next two months to increase what he is doing, besides the court, to strengthen the body,” Collet said. “We’re always careful also with how much time he is practicing, not to go too far. ... We plan so that we limit the risk.”

When Thursday was over, when the comeback was complete, Wembanyama briefly lifted his arms skyward in celebration, then shook a lot of hands, partook in a lot of hugs and posed for a lot of pictures.

With that, the draft hype continued on.

“I’m still excited and so happy about it,” Wembanyama said. “I know I’m so lucky to have this chance.”


Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup
Updated 58 min 48 sec ago

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup
  • Vinícius Júnior arrived in Qatar without knowing if he was going to get a chance to start for Brazil
  • He said Ancelotti was one of the people who gave him guidance ahead of soccer’s biggest tournament

DOHA: Brazil forward Vinícius Júnior praised Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti for his success at the World Cup.
Vinícius Júnior arrived in Qatar without knowing if he was going to get a chance to start for Brazil, but heading into Friday’s quarterfinal match against Croatia, no one questions his spot in the lineup or his importance for the team.
He said Ancelotti was one of the people who gave him guidance ahead of soccer’s biggest tournament.
“I talked with Ancelotti and he gave me a lot of advice to help me become a starter with Brazil. He gave me a lot of confidence,” the 22-year-old Vinícius Júnior said Wednesday. “He was always was tough with me when he needed to be. He is like a father to me.”
Vinícius Júnior was often questioned at Madrid while Zinedine Zidane was the coach, but quickly established himself as a starter with Ancelotti in command. The Brazil forward said the Italian coach is always sending him messages.
“He is good not only with the technical aspects of the game, but also with how he deals with his players,” Vinícius Júnior said. “I have been improving a lot and Ancelotti has helped me with that. He and (Brazil coach) Tite are very similar and they talk to each other a lot.”
Vinícius Júnior, who has a goal and two assists in the three World Cup games, said he also learned from Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who will be one of his opponents on Friday at Education City Stadium.
Vinícius Júnior said the pass he gave for Lucas Paquetá’s goal in the round of 16 against South Korea, using the outside of his foot, was something he learned from Modric at Madrid.
“He is always teaching me things, on and off the field,” Vinícius Júnior said. “He helps me every day, making sure I’m always improving. He is a reference to me, playing at a high level at 37 years old, that is something rare. I’m happy that I’ll be playing against him, and let the best team win.”
Within Brazil’s national team, Vinícius Júnior said he also gets advice from Neymar.
“He told me how the World Cup is different than anything else,” Vinícius Júnior said. “He told me that, and I always remember it. And when the national anthem played, I realized what it all meant.”
Vinícius Júnior was among the Brazilian players criticized for their dance celebrations at the World Cup. He had already been targeted because of that while with Madrid. But he promised even more dancing if Brazil keeps succeeding in Qatar.
“The goal is the most important moment in soccer, not only for those who score them but for the entire country,” he said. “We still have many celebrations left, and hopefully we can keep scoring and dancing like this until the final.”


Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop
Updated 07 December 2022

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop
  • Flick was under pressure going into Wednesday’s meeting with Neuendorf and federation vice president Hans-Joachim Watzke
  • “We as a team can achieve much more than we showed in Qatar,” Flick said in the statement

BERLIN: The German soccer federation maintained its trust in Hansi Flick as national team coach on Wednesday despite the disappointing World Cup performance.
Federation president Bernd Neuendorf said the body has “full confidence” in Flick to lead the team through the 2024 European Championship, which Germany is scheduled to host and which Neuendorf described as a “great opportunity” for the future of soccer in the country.
Flick was under pressure going into Wednesday’s meeting with Neuendorf and federation vice president Hans-Joachim Watzke following Germany’s early World Cup exit, their third straight disappointing performance at a major tournament.
Flick left the meeting without a word, but was quoted in a statement from the federation.
“We as a team can achieve much more than we showed in Qatar,” Flick said in the statement. “We missed a big opportunity there. We’ll learn our lessons from it.”
Flick said he was optimistic about Euro 2024 and that he has confidence in the path Neuendorf and Watzke agreed to.
“We want all of Germany to rally behind the national team again at the 2024 European Championship at home,” said Flick, who faced criticism for his team selection and tactics against group rivals Japan, Spain and Costa Rica in Qatar.
Mistakes in defense, where Flick was unable to settle on his preferred back four, and an inability to put away chances cost Germany a place in the knockout round.
Germany’s record under Flick was also poor before the tournament. The former Bayern Munich coach took over from Joachim Löw last year after Germany’s second-round exit from the European Championship and has a contract through Euro 2024.
The federation still needs a replacement for Oliver Bierhoff, who ended an 18-year stint Monday when he agreed to resign as managing director of Germany’s national soccer teams and academy.
Bierhoff is the only casualty so far from Germany’s group-stage exit from the World Cup in Qatar, the team’s second straight embarrassing failure in soccer’s biggest tournament. Germany also was eliminated from the same stage at the 2018 World Cup as defending champion.
Hertha Berlin general manager Fredi Bobic is a reported candidate to take over from Bierhoff, though he said Wednesday he was “very comfortable at Hertha.” Bobic, who has a contract through 2024 with the Berlin club, did not rule himself out, however.
Flick appeared to criticize the federation for Bierhoff’s exit on Tuesday, when he said both he and his coaching staff “are having a hard time imagining how the gap left by Oliver’s departure can be closed.”
The German soccer league was to meet separately later Wednesday when the future of chief executive Donata Hopfen was to be discussed.
Confirmation of Hopfen’s departure after less than a year in charge was expected amid simmering issues of discontent among Bundesliga clubs and teams from the second division.
Hopfen took over from Christian Seifert in January as the first female chief executive of Germany’s top two soccer divisions but has struggled to impose her vision or resolve long-standing questions on issues such as the league’s 50+1 rule limiting the role of outside investors, marketing at home and abroad, and the sale of media rights.
Hopfen’s contract runs through 2024. Asked in October how much support she was getting from league members, she told Kicker magazine, “there’s always room for more.”


Newcastle United hold international fan event during stay in Riyadh

Newcastle United hold international fan event during stay in Riyadh
Updated 42 min 13 sec ago

Newcastle United hold international fan event during stay in Riyadh

Newcastle United hold international fan event during stay in Riyadh
  • More than 100 supporters spend time with club’s management, coach Eddie Howe, players
  • Newcastle United fan Mark Allison: They (the owners) wanted to hear our opinions; they wanted to know what they could do for international fans

RIYADH: Newcastle United’s first international fan event in Saudi Arabia brought together supporters of the club from several continents and countries.

About 100 fans from across the Gulf region and beyond converged on the Hyatt Regency Riyadh Olaya Hotel to hear talks from PCP Capital Partners’ Amanda Staveley, RB Sports & Media’s Jamie Reuben, United head coach Eddie Howe, Magpies’ CEO Darren Eales, and a selection of players and other club representatives.

It was the first time United have ever taken part in a fan engagement exercise of this nature, and a first for the Saudi capital.

Staveley and Reuben posed for photographs with supporters, signed flags and discussed the future direction of the club.

Kuwaiti Bader Marafi, a United fan since 1996, told Arab News: “It is a dream come true.

“This is the first time I have been close to the Newcastle hierarchy and the players.

“I have been able to talk to them, exchange ideas. We (need to) thank the club, the staff, the players and everybody for giving us this glorious opportunity.”

His sentiments were echoed by Mark Allison, who made the trip of more than 3,000 miles to be at the event.

He said: “It was great engagement, great interaction.

“Everything felt so welcoming. They (the owners) wanted to hear our opinions. They wanted to know what they could do for international fans.”

For Neil Mitchell, a former fan representative with the NUFC Supporters Trust and a long-term friend of co-owners Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, it was an emotional moment following his trip from Dubai.

He said: “For her to come over and speak to me and my friend Steve (Hastie) was touching. I was really delighted.

“In this region people will follow the lead of Saudi Arabia: it is the big brother of the region.

“Everyone wants success and that’s why there is every confidence this club’s profile will continue to grow in the Middle East.

“It will also spread far beyond that. The potential for growth of this club is exponential.”

Joe Moore, the former head of protest group Toon For Change, was bowled over by the welcome after traveling from Tyneside for the event.

He said: “It has been amazing. The people keep stopping me when I am walking in my Newcastle shirt and they want to talk about the club.

“I wanted to come and experience this country for myself, and it has been amazing.

“I can’t speak highly enough of it. I would definitely look to come back here in the future.”

Popular YouTuber Adam Pearson was similarly impressed by the welcome.

He said: “Everyone is really friendly. It is crazy how friendly people are.

“I will tell other fans that a trip here is worth it.”

Riyadh resident Abdullah Alqashami says that although Newcastle are not yet a huge name in the Kingdom, their popularity is growing.

He added: “Newcastle is not just a team to support, it is a way of life: the stadium, the fans.

“Having a chance to speak to people at the club is very special to me.

“People believe in the vision. Saudis love their country and they will support Newcastle.”


Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’
Updated 07 December 2022

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’

Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan tells players: ‘We want more, we’re very ambitious’
  • Al-Rumayyan hosted the first team squad at his residence this week during their mid-season training camp in Riyadh
  • Head coach Eddie Howe said that Al-Rumayyan took the opportunity to discuss the team’s current form and plans for the club’s future

RIYADH: Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the chairman of Newcastle United, delivered a rallying cry to the Champions League-chasing players and coaching staff this week during their mid-season trip to Saudi Arabia.

The 28-man Magpies squad were guests of honor at his Riyadh residence on Monday evening. Head coach Eddie Howe said that Al-Rumayyan, who is also governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, took the opportunity to discuss the team’s current form and plans for future developments at the club.

“It was a really, really special moment for the chairman to welcome us to his home,” said Howe, whose side sit third in the Premier League after 15 top-flight games. “It wasn’t underestimated by us; it was a really nice gesture. It’s not every day that you have that invitation, so we were humbled to accept it.

“He was really, really good with us, communicated his thoughts and visions on the future. I really enjoyed spending time with him and his family. He was very welcoming and open and I’m sure the players feel the same way. He was very good with them. He interacts and talks with them in a really good way.”

Howe, who in November 2021 was the first major appointment of the Saudi era at the club, has transformed United from a team that was battling relegation at the start of this year to one that is now fighting it out at the top with the Premier League’s traditional “big six.”

A lot of what he has built and achieved has come as a result of hard work and building a strong team spirit, and this was something that Al-Rumayyan reiterated to the squad, Howe said.

“I think he’s very much for the team,” the coach added. “He wants to acknowledge that and bring everyone together. He speaks really well and honestly, and I’m sure the players appreciated his words.

“It was, ‘Well done but we want more, we’re very ambitious.’ I think that’s what the players want to hear. He just (wants us) to continue to work as hard as (we) are and stick together as a team. He’s been really pleased watching the team, how it’s fought for everything.

“They were team messages but very effective messages. I think it was an acknowledgment from him to the staff as well. I think it was just nice for everyone to share that moment.”

When asked what the chairman’s home was like, Howe was diplomatically coy.

“Quite small, actually,” he said in jest. “It was an amazing place but he’s earned his success through hard work and it was a real privilege to be there.”

One thing on the minds of many monitoring developments at Newcastle is what lies ahead in the January transfer window. This was not a topic of conversation with Al-Rumayyan, Howe said.

“I didn’t think it was the right time, with his wife and children there,” he joked.

But he added that he has since met co-owners Jamie Reuben, Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi to discuss budgets.

The training camp in Saudi Arabia is Newcastle’s second trip to the Kingdom this year. They will take on Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal in a friendly at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium at 8pm on Thursday.


British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban
Updated 07 December 2022

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban

British tennis chiefs slam ATP over $1m fine for Russia player ban
  • The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban
  • The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, also barred them from competing at this year's edition of tennis' oldest Slam

LONDON: British tennis chiefs said Wednesday they were “disappointed” at being fined $1 million by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for banning Russian and Belarusian players from its events.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came under pressure from the British government to impose a ban.
The LTA stages five events — Queen’s Club in London, Eastbourne, Surbiton, Nottingham and Ilkley — in the calendar of the ATP, which runs the men’s professional tennis tour outside of the four Grand Slams.
Russian and Belarusian players were barred from all five tournaments.
The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, also barred them from competing at this year’s edition of tennis’ oldest Slam.
Both the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association stripped Wimbledon of its ranking points in protest at a ban labelled “crazy” by Novak Djokovic.
The Women’s Tennis Association had also previously issued a fine of $1 million to British tennis authorities, split between $750,000 to the LTA and $250,000 to the All England Club.
It is also understood the LTA has been threatened with expulsion from the ATP Tour if it repeats the ban.
The LTA, responding Wednesday to the latest sanction, accused the ATP of a “lack of empathy” over the situation in Ukraine, saying in a statement: “The LTA is deeply disappointed with this outcome.
“The ATP, in its finding, has shown no recognition of the exceptional circumstances created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the international sporting community and UK Government’s response to that invasion.
“The ATP appear to regard this matter as a straightforward breach of their rules — with a surprising lack of empathy shown for the situation in Ukraine, and a clear lack of understanding of the unique circumstances the LTA faced.”
The statement said the fines would have a financial impact on the LTA’s ability to “develop and host” tennis in Britain.
It added: “We will carefully consider our response and we await the outcome of our appeal against the WTA’s decision and sanction.”
Michelle Donelan, the British government’s Culture Secretary, also urged the ATP and WTA to reconsider their punishments.
“We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimize this deadly invasion, and that athletes representing the Russian or Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries,” she said.
“Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result.
“This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends, and to reconsider.”
Speaking after an executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, IOC president Thomas Bach also took aim at the British government for politicizing participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Despite ice hockey players from the two countries playing in the NHL, Bach said, “on the other hand we had Wimbledon, the British Government interfering and forcing the Wimbledon organizers to exclude Russian and Belarusian players.”
“Governments should not decide on political grounds who is participating in which sports events.
“The qualification for sports events must be on sporting merits and not on political interference.”
Bach accused the British government, and others, of going against the Olympic Charter — guarantor of the IOC’s political neutrality.
“To take a decision, a political decision, on a sports competition is clearly not in line with these resolutions and with these commitments and is not in line with the mission of international sports,” he said.