Kevin Durant gazes into his potential Chase Center future: ‘The possibilities’

[READ ARTICLE IN THE MERCURY NEWS]

Kevin Durant strolled across the dirt floor at Chase Center on Friday afternoon, his rented size-18 work boots slowing to a halt near a spot that approximated mid-court. Then the Warriors’ superstar forward looked toward the rafters, mouth agape, and contemplated his future.

Durant signed a two-year, $61.5 million deal with Golden State this summer, but he carries a player option for the 2019-20 season. That option allows the nine-time All-Star to either move elsewhere or ink another deal with the Warriors.

For now, though, Durant brushed aside questions about his future, instead leaving the phalanx of reporters and team dignitaries encircling him with a cryptic thought as he gazed upward.

“My imagination is going wild right now,” he said. “The possibilities.” Continue reading Kevin Durant gazes into his potential Chase Center future: ‘The possibilities’

This East Bay teenager is headed to Churchill Downs seeking a victory

[READ FEATURE IN THE MERCURY NEWS]

John Del Secco squeezed his brown cowboy boot firmly onto the gas pedal.

The 18-year-old’s Ford F150 — silver and black, the color scheme of his favorite football team — bolted out of Danville’s sleepy suburbs and made a hard turn westward onto Highway 24.

It was 4:15 a.m. on a Saturday, and Del Secco’s mind was already spinning. His horses awaited his care. They required new grain, water, medication; bandages needed changing, legs needed rub-downs, stalls needed mucking.

Then he let his thoughts slip further down the road, to the raucous culmination of so many mornings like this one.

“I’m a small-town boy going to the big city, I guess,” Del Secco said.

He was not referring to Oakland. Continue reading This East Bay teenager is headed to Churchill Downs seeking a victory

Verbal abuse from parents, coaches is causing a referee shortage in youth sports

[READ FEATURE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

Warren Graver raised the whistle to his lips midway through the second half, bracing to shift his focus from the sideline hysterics to the girls’ soccer game at hand three years ago.

And that’s when the veteran youth soccer referee saw two men walking onto the field.

It was a Sunday afternoon at an under-16 tournament in Vienna, and Graver had just ejected an invective-spewing coach. Without warning or permission, two angry parents marched across the field to take the coach’s place on the bench.

Uncertainty gripped Graver. Emotions were running high. There was no field marshal or senior official in the vicinity. It was the only time Graver can remember feeling fear as a referee.

“It could have easily escalated into something physical,” Graver said.

Following a decade as a referee, Graver returned for one more season. But he said that incident in Vienna crystallized a creeping realization: His days in the job were numbered.

“I said, ‘I would rather spend my time on the weekends with my kids and with my wife than stand out here and be abused by these parents,’ ” said Graver, who kept good to his word and hasn’t been a referee in the past two years. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Graver’s experience — or something similar — plays out every weekend across the country.

Administrators contend that escalating verbal abuse is partially to blame for a dwindling referee pool in youth and high school sports. The fallout is crippling officiating bodies mired in a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard. Continue reading Verbal abuse from parents, coaches is causing a referee shortage in youth sports

John Wall makes ailing young Wizards fan’s wish come true

[READ IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

Niyear Perez couldn’t stop smiling. Not only was John Wall’s name gracing the back of the 13-year-old’s brand-new Wizards jersey, his NBA idol was literally at his back, signing that jersey and chatting with the young visitor as part of the Make-a-Wish Mid-Atlantic event before Sunday’s game against the Orlando Magic at Verizon Center.

Niyear had a chronic kidney disease diagnosed in October 2015 and spent the following two months in the intensive care unit at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. He has been in and out of the hospital since then and currently is on a list to receive a renal transplant. While he waits for a new kidney, he endures three-hour dialysis sessions three times per week.

But as Niyear scampered through the player tunnel during Sunday’s starting-lineup introductions, Wizards fans simply saw a normal-looking kid with an extraordinary opportunity.

“He’s going to do anything he has to to be out there with them,” said his grandmother, Virginia Robinson. Continue reading John Wall makes ailing young Wizards fan’s wish come true

Olympic champ Kyle Snyder returns to high school gym to wrestle for Ohio State

[READ IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

Kyle Snyder stood in the corner of Good Counsel High’s gym Sunday afternoon and waited to reacquaint himself with the launchpad of his sparkling wrestling career. The navy-and-gold center mat looked exactly the same as he had left it in 2013, but everything that has happened since — a world championship, an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal — rendered this an entirely different spectacle altogether.

For starters, Snyder was no longer sporting his high school’s colors. The burly 21-year-old donned a black Ohio State warmup pullover as he prepared for a home dual meet roughly 405 miles off campus. The unusual showdown — held just 15 miles from College Park — was the result of a recruiting pitch from Ohio State Coach Tom Ryan, who promised Snyder a home meet at his old high school at some point before he graduated.

Snyder, a junior, paced the warmup mat, but he wasn’t getting loose for his upcoming heavyweight bout just yet. Instead, he was signing hats and T-shirts for giddy children as parents leaned back to take pictures. A sold-out crowd of 1,200 spectators filled the bleachers on either side.

“It’s nuts,” Snyder mumbled as he scrawled his name across another hat’s bill. Continue reading Olympic champ Kyle Snyder returns to high school gym to wrestle for Ohio State

Freshman Mamadi Diakite, No. 8 Virginia take care of Yale, 62-38

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Yale center Sam Downey thought he was about to end the drought. With his team’s deficit ballooning into double digits, Downey rose for a routine layup that would have registered the Bulldogs’ first points in a five-minute span against No. 8 Virginia on Sunday afternoon.

He didn’t see Mamadi Diakite flying across the baseline. Virginia’s spring-loaded freshman soared above the rim to pin Downey’s attempt against the glass and keep Yale’s scoreless misery going for another three minutes midway through the second half.

“The team needed me to step up and block more shots,” said Diakite, who finished with four blocks and five points. “That is what I did.”

The Cavaliers’ eight-minute defensive stand propelled them to a 62-38 victory before 14,242 at John Paul Jones Arena. Eight players filled the scoring column for Virginia (3-0), but it was Diakite’s defensive prowess that brought the crowd to its feet. Continue reading Freshman Mamadi Diakite, No. 8 Virginia take care of Yale, 62-38

Maryland men’s soccer keeps unbeaten streak alive in Big Ten tournament debut

[READ ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST]

Rejuvenated from injuries and illnesses, rested from a much-needed week off, the top-ranked Maryland men’s soccer team hoped Sunday’s game against Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals would play out much differently than last week’s last-gasp struggle against the Wolverines.

It ended up being a near-replica.

Reserve midfielder George Campbell scored just under three minutes into the second sudden-death overtime period to lift Maryland to a 3-2 victory at Ludwig Field. The result extended the top-seeded Terrapins’ winning streak to 13 games and vaulted them into Friday’s semifinal against Michigan State. Continue reading Maryland men’s soccer keeps unbeaten streak alive in Big Ten tournament debut