A look at Group B at Euro 2016

Jun 2, 2016 142
  • FILE – In this Friday, May 27, 2016 file photo, England’s captain Wayne Rooney applaudes to his teammates during the international friendly soccer match between England and Australia at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 file photo, England goalkeeper Joe Hart gestures after Spain scored their second goal during an international friendly soccer match between Spain and England at the Rico Perez Stadium in Alicante, Spain. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Sunday May 22, 2016 file photo, England’s manager Roy Hodgson, right, and Turkey’s manager Fatih Terim watch the international friendly soccer match at the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File) (The Associated Press)

A look at the teams and their key players and coach in Group B at the European Championship:



A perfect 10 wins in qualifying and the emergence of new talent: Since the woeful World Cup in 2014, England seems to be on the up. Roy Hodgson’s team will not, though, be traveling to France in June as a favorite as the national team looks to end its 50-year wait to win a major trophy. Doubts persist over the team’s defense and captain Wayne Rooney’s position in the team, but the presence of in-form strikers Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy is cause for optimism.

WAYNE ROONEY: The striker broke Bobby Charlton’s record England goal haul of 49 in qualifying after assuming the captaincy, but appears a fading force. At 30, Rooney’s influence at Manchester United has been on the wane and he played in central midfield toward the end of the Premier League season. He could play there for England, too, or out wide, with Harry Kane set to start up front and Dele Alli in the No. 10 position.

JOE HART: An assuring presence between the posts at Manchester City, Hart has been England’s first-choice goalkeeper for more than four years now. A superb shot-stopper.

COACH ROY HODGSON: Most coaches would lose their jobs after failing to win a match at a World Cup but Hodgson was allowed to see out his four-year contract. Whether the well-traveled 68-year-old survives in the England dugout after France will depend on the team’s performance.

By Rob Harris



For Russia, it’s all about the home World Cup in 2018, but the European Championship is a great practice run. Russia floundered early in qualifying under Fabio Capello but he was replaced by Leonid Slutsky, who guided the team to an automatic qualifying spot. Some worries persist for Russia, especially regarding its inability to break down determined defenses and resist counterattacks. It’s also an aging team, especially in defense.

IGOR AKINFEEV: The undisputed No. 1 keeper for Russia, Akinfeev knows Slutsky’s approach inside out, having played under him for the last six years at CSKA. However, he is prone to embarrassing errors under pressure, such as letting a shot slip through his fingers against South Korea at the World Cup.

ARTYOM DZYUBA: Dzyuba has blossomed over the last year, pushing veteran forward Alexander Kerzhakov out of the Zenit St. Petersburg and Russia teams and into semi-retirement. He finished with an impressive eight goals from eight games in qualifying.

COACH LEONID SLUTSKY: Slutsky’s appointment in August ended a nine-year run of foreign coaches at the helm of the Russian national team. He still splits his time with club duties at CSKA and faces high expectations from Russian fans, who are looking forward to the World Cup and have fond memories of a run to the 2008 European Championship semifinals under Guus Hiddink.

By James Ellingworth



Slovakia is among five newcomers to the tournament. The team will play in a European Championship for the first time as an independent nation since splitting with Czechoslovakia in 1993. But that doesn’t mean the Slovaks have no experience with major tournaments: At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, they pulled off a major upset by knocking out defending champion Italy. And as part of Czechoslovakia, the Slovaks played a vital role in a team that won the European Championship in 1976.

MAREK HAMSIK: If there’s an international star on the Slovak team, it’s the Napoli playmaker. In Euro 2016 qualifying, he got a new role up front, becoming the team’s best scorer with five goals in the 10 matches in the campaign. The most important two came in the final qualifier against Luxembourg in a 4-2 victory that sent his country to France.

MARTIN SKRTEL: Skrtel remains a defensive cornerstone for Slovakia. The 31-year-old center back was irreplaceable in his nine qualifiers when he captained the Slovaks. With Skrtel on the field, Slovakia lost just one game, 1-0 to Belarus.

COACH JAN KOZAK: Played 55 times for Czechoslovakia, scoring nine goals, and later led Kosice to the Champions League group stage in the 1997-98 season as the first Slovak club in the top European competition. The 62-year-old Kozak is a master of tactics, surprising many by using Hamsik as a forward. Under Kozak, Slovakia has become an organized side with a decent defense and formidable counterattacking force.

By Karel Janicek



Ryan Giggs. Ian Rush. Mark Hughes. Neville Southall. Just some of the Wales greats who never managed to cap their distinguished careers by playing at a major international tournament. Thanks mainly to the stunning form of Gareth Bale, Wales’ current crop will get the chance. The Welsh reached their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup by finishing a comfortable second place in a qualifying campaign in which they only lost once and conceded just four goals. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a nation that was languishing in 117th place in the FIFA rankings in 2011.

GARETH BALE: The world’s most expensive footballer has been Wales’ inspiration, either in the unusual position of lone striker or from a central attacking midfield position. Has ups and downs for Real Madrid but rarely has a bad game in the red of Wales, which will be depending on Bale to advance from its group.

ASHLEY WILLIAMS: One of the most under-rated center backs in the Premier League, probably due to his refusal to leave his beloved Swansea to join a bigger club. Captain and organizer of a defense that conceded just four goals in 10 qualifying games — bettered only by Spain, England and Romania.

COACH CHRIS COLEMAN: Deserves credit for heading up the rebuilding of Welsh football after the death of previous coach Gary Speed in November 2011, stamping his own style on the team when critics were calling for his removal, and then finding a system to get the best of Bale. Coleman has turned Wales into a solid international team that could cause a surprise at the championship.

By Steve Douglas

A look at Group A at Euro 2016

Jun 2, 2016 155
  • FILE – In this Friday, May 20, 2016. file photo, French coach Didier Deschamps, left, laughs with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris during an exhibition training session in Biarritz, southwestern France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Wednesday, May 18, 2016 file photo, Didier Deschamps, coach of the French national soccer team, in action during an exhibition training with children in Biarritz, southwestern France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme, File) (The Associated Press)

  • File – In this Friday, March 25, 2016 file photo, France’s Paul Pogba looks at his teammates during an international friendly soccer match between The Netherlands and France at the ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File) (The Associated Press)

A look at the teams and their key players and coach in Group A at the European Championship:



France’s preparations to win the Euros for the third time have been overshadowed by off-field matters, with top striker Karim Benzema not making the squad due to his involvement in an extortion scam over a sex tape, but its squad is deep and rich with talent. Playing at home will be a huge factor, as has been shown in the past — France won Euro 84 and the 1998 World Cup in front of its own fans.

PAUL POGBA: The Juventus star is one of the most sought-after midfielders in Europe, with his valuation in the 100-million euros bracket. For France, Pogba has yet to justify that reputation but Euro 2016 is his big chance to become France’s new midfield maestro and follow in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini.

HUGO LLORIS: For many years, there were doubts about whether the softly spoken goalkeeper was vocal and commanding enough to be France’s captain. That is no longer up for debate. He has come of age at Tottenham, and is one of Europe’s top goalies with his outstanding reflexes saves and qualities as a backline sweeper.

COACH DIDIER DESCHAMPS: Who better to lead France to glory than the man who captained Les Bleus to success at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000? As a ball-winning midfielder, Deschamps won everything in a glittering career and then coached France to the World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil last year. He has instilled a rigid sense of discipline and pride into a side more prone to inconsistency and histrionics in recent years.

By Jerome Pugmire



For a country that spent nearly half the last century in international isolation, it’s hard to overstate the emotions associated with Albania’s qualification to its first major tournament. Football once offered the tiny Balkan country a rare chance to interact with the outside world, but for 25 years since the fall of communism Albania never got past the qualifiers. Until now.

LORIC CANA: The team’s captain at the heart of the defense. Born in neighboring Kosovo, Cana is Albania’s best-known player after stints at Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille, Sunderland, Galatasaray, Lazio and currently Nantes. Expected to retire from the national team after the finals.

LEDIAN MEMUSHAJ: One of Albania’s hardworking midfielders, tasked with out-running and out-tackling opponents. Memushaj plays in Italy for second-division club Pescara.

COACH GIOVANNI DE BIASI: The Italian coach swiftly ended squabbles in the national team when he took over five years ago, attracting players back and producing a more professional environment. As a player and coach, he was involved at multiple clubs around Italy, but has probably never been more adored than in his adopted home.

By Llazar Semini



Taking advantage of a relatively weak qualifying group, Romania went unbeaten to reach just its second major tournament since Euro 2000 — the swansong for Gheorghe Hagi. A resolute side, which conceded only two goals in qualifying, will arrive at Euro 2016 without a defining star player.

RAZVAN RAT: Now 34, the captain is one of very few squad members with tournament experience at Euro 2008. Rat made his 100th appearance during qualifying.

LUCIAN SANMARTEAN: A player touted as the most talented Romanian since Gheorghe Hagi could finally play in a major tournament at age 36. Like his captain Rat, Sanmartean made his Romania debut in 2002 yet his appearance total stands at only 16.

COACH ANGHEL IORDANESCU: Romania’s revival owes much to a national great in his third stint as coach. Iordanescu’s first time around was with a golden Hagi-led generation at Euro 1996 and the 1998 World Cup, which is the last time Romania qualified. He gave up a political career and seat in the national Senate before returning for his third spell last year after Euro 2016 qualifying started.

By Alison Mutler



Switzerland is looking to break out of its losing tournament habits in France. For the past two decades, Switzerland has failed to advance from any European Championship group in three attempts and routinely exits the World Cup in the first knockout round. This year, a round-of-16 place is the least of the ambitions of a team well established in the top 20 of the FIFA rankings.

XHERDAN SHAQIRI: Shaqiri has already been to two World Cups, played for two of Europe’s biggest clubs (Bayern Munich and Inter Milan) and has a Champions League winner’s medal. Yet there is a nagging sense of unfulfilled potential about the stocky little playmaker.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ: In a talented generation of maturing Swiss players, Rodriguez is perhaps the most wanted by Europe’s leading clubs. He is tall and powerful for a left-back, combining attacking flair with defensive solidity.

COACH VLADIMIR PETKOVIC: Few national team coaches have had a day job outside football like Petkovic. In a long coaching apprenticeship in quiet corners of the Swiss league, Petkovic worked for a religious charity in the Italian-speaking region. The Bosnian-Croat has spent most of his playing and coaching career in Switzerland.

By Graham Dunbar

Watch two major leaguers absolutely abuse their bats in frustrated fits

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May 22, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. (2) reacts during a 16th inning at bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday wasn’t a great day to be a bat.

Let’s begin in Chicago, where Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Enrique Hernandez grounded weakly back to Cubs lefty Jon Lester. Obviously, it was the bat’s fault because Hernandez berated it all the way the first base line.

“What are you DOING?” – @kikehndez, probably. pic.twitter.com/6WkPKvztAV

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) June 2, 2016

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And it got even more violent in San Diego, where Padres left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. snapped his bat across his thigh after one of his three strikeouts against the Mariners. Again, the bat was clearly to blame.

.@MelvinUptonJr 1, Bat 0. pic.twitter.com/ln6EsTfZpd

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) June 2, 2016

Just a guess, but bats probably preferred to be flipped.

Roger Federer scheduled to return in Stuttgart

Jun 2, 2016 58

Organizers say Roger Federer will return from a back injury to play at the grass-court tournament in Stuttgart next week.

Federer was forced to skip the French Open because of a lingering back injury.

Stuttgart tournament director Edwin Weindorfer says Federer is scheduled to practice on Sunday.

The former No. 1 had signed up for the inaugural grass-court edition of the tournament that used to be played on clay. Now, it is a warm-up for Wimbledon.

Federer is a seven-time Wimbledon champion. After Stuttgart, he’s scheduled to play in Halle, another grass-court event he’s won a record eight times.

Young players get a chance to shine at Euro 2016

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  • FILE – In this Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015 filer, Real Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. Many nations are betting on youth at the European Championship, giving promising youngsters a chance to breakthrough in France. Some of the top nations have included up-and-coming players in their squads for this month’s tournament, with some giving up experience to make way for young talent.(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Saturday, March 26, 2016 file photo, England’s Dele Alli plays the ball during a friendly soccer match between Germany and England in Berlin. Many nations are betting on youth at the European Championship, giving promising youngsters a chance to breakthrough in France. Some of the top nations have included up-and-coming players in their squads for this month’s tournament, with some giving up experience to make way for young talent. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 filer, RC Celta’s Sergio Gómez, left, challenges for the ball with Real Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between RC Celta and Real Madrid, at the Balaídos stadium in Vigo, Spain. Many nations are betting on youth at the European Championship, giving promising youngsters a chance to breakthrough in France. Some of the top nations have included up-and-coming players in their squads for this month’s tournament, with some giving up experience to make way for young talent. (AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar, File) (The Associated Press)

Many nations are betting on youth at the European Championship, giving promising youngsters a chance to shine in France.

Some of the top nations have included up-and-coming players in their squads for this month’s tournament, with some giving up experience to make way for young talent.

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque left out of his squad veteran forwards such as Fernando Torres and Diego Costa to open up space for the uncapped Lucas Vazquez. Germany coach Joachim Loew named a few young midfielders as well as exciting attacking playmaker Leroy Sane. England and Portugal are betting on a couple of 18-year-old teenagers — Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and newly signed Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches.

Some of the youngsters will be making the trip to France mainly to gain experience, but many will end up getting a chance to show off their talent and help their teams succeed.

Here are some of the promising stars to watch for at the European championship:



The 20-year-old attacking midfielder returns to the national team after making his debut last year. The agile player had a breakthrough season with Schalke, impressing with his dribbling, as well as his ability to work as a playmaker. Sane attracted headlines when he debuted in the Champions League by scoring a goal against Real Madrid last year. The youngster is the son of former Senegal star Souleyman Sane, who had a distinguished career in Germany, and Olympic rhythmic gymnastics medalist Regina Weber.



After a tremendously fast rise through Manchester United’s youth squads, the 18-year-old established himself as the team’s No. 1 striker, scoring eight goals in 17 appearances. He scored for the club in his debut both in the Premier League and in the Europa League, as well as in his England debut. He made the England squad despite coach Roy Hodgson having plenty of options to choose from in attack, being named the team’s fifth forward for the tournament in France.



The 18-year-old midfielder became Portugal’s youngest ever player to be called up for a major tournament with the senior squad, surpassing the mark previously held by Cristiano Ronaldo. A product of Benfica’s youth teams, he made it to the top squad this season and earned a transfer to Bayern Munich for 35 million euros ($40 million). Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the club had been following Sanches for a long time, calling him a “dynamic and technically skilled midfielder who’ll add even more strength to our team.”



The uncapped Lucas Vazquez was the surprise addition to Spain’s squad, making it to the team instead of veterans Diego Costa and Fernando Torres. The 24-year-old forward impressed with Real Madrid while replacing regular starters when they had to deal with injuries late in the season. The speedy forward showed his cool when he scored one of the penalties in the shootout that gave Real Madrid the Champions League title against Atletico Madrid.



The 22-year-old Federico Bernardeschi had a strong season with Fiorentina, scoring important goals in the Europa league. The playmaker is from Carrara in northwestern Italy, the same hometown as Gianluigi Buffon, who talks highly of the playmaker. The veteran goalkeeper recently said Bernardeschi is one of the “brightest talents” in Italian soccer. The striker also has been complimented for playing well as a winger even though he is more used to playing behind the forwards in front of midfield.



Lyon central defender Samuel Umtiti made the team in part thanks to Raphael Varane’s absence because of a muscle injury. The 22-year-old can also play as a left back, and his versatility helped him earn a spot in the squad even though coach Didier Deschamps called up Sevilla defender Adil Rami to the list of reserves after Varane was injured. The youngster has already been linked to transfers to teams such as Tottenham, AS Roma and Barcelona.



Voted as England’s young player of the year, the 20-year-old Dele Alli made an instant impact in the Premier League, scoring 10 goals and earning 12 assists with Tottenham after being picked up from third-division club MK Dons. He got some unwanted rest at the end of the season after being banned for three matches for punching an opponent. Touted as one of the best up-and-coming players England has seen in a long time, the quick attacking midfielder is expected to add some much-needed excitement to Roy Hodgson’s squad.


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

Wednesday’s Sports in Brief

Jun 2, 2016 160

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) Donald Trump is losing business to Mexico – a prestigious golf tournament at his resort at Doral.

The PGA Tour announced that a World Golf Championship, which attracts the best players in the world and has been at Trump-owned Doral in South Florida since 2007, is relocating to Mexico City next year.

The decision incensed Trump, who suggested in a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, ”I hope they have kidnapping insurance.”

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Cadillac did not renew its title sponsorship of the event, and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said another sponsor that wanted to be at Doral could not be found. The tour signed a seven-year deal with Grupo Salinas, a group of Mexico City companies overseen by chairman Ricardo Salinas.

That means Doral, the longest-running PGA Tour event in Florida dating to 1962, will not have a tournament next year.

Finchem said the move had nothing to do with politics, only finances.


LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) – Olympic leaders took action on two fronts, ramping up efforts to keep drug cheats out of the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and recommending the inclusion of baseball-softball and four other sports for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The IOC executive board agreed to double its budget for pre-games drug testing to $500,000, to target athletes from Russia, Kenya and Mexico, and to extend retesting of stored doping samples to include medal winners from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

”We want to make sure any targeted athletes who have a positive result will be stopped from competing in Rio,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. ”That is for us the No. 1 priority.”

Meantime, the board backed the proposed inclusion of baseball-softball, surfing, karate, sport climbing and skateboarding for Tokyo. Under new IOC rules, local organizers can propose the inclusion of at least one additional sport for their games.

The five sports, which were proposed for inclusion last year by Tokyo organizers, were presented as a package and they will go to a vote of the full IOC at its session in Rio in August on the eve of the games.


PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A federal appeals court in Philadelphia says it won’t reconsider a ruling that upholds the potential $1 billion settlement of NFL concussion claims.

Critics of the plan for retired players had hoped the full court would reconsider the approval granted by a three-judge panel in April. They say the lead players’ lawyers traded away compensation for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, to boost awards for less common problems.

The settlement plan could pay several million dollars to young players with severe neurological diseases, but most ex-players would get far less.

The settlement also offers medical monitoring to more than 20,000 retirees for the next 65 years.

The challengers still could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) – The NFL and the Washington Redskins say there’s no evidence indicating medical records are at risk after an athletic trainer’s laptop was stolen in April.

The Redskins confirmed that someone broke through the window of a trainer’s locked car April 15 in Indianapolis and took a computer. Deadspin reported that the computer included medical records from the past 13 years’ worth of scouting combines.

The Redskins said in a statement that no social security numbers, protected health information under HIPAA laws or financial information was stolen or is ”at risk of exposure.” The laptop was password-protected but not encrypted.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email the league is aware of the situation and there is no evidence that the thief accessed any information on the computer. He said the information on the laptop belonged to the Redskins and the NFL Electronic Medical Records system was not compromised.


WACO, Texas (AP) – Ken Starr resigned as Baylor University’s chancellor a week after the former prosecutor who led the investigation of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal was removed as the school’s president over its handling of sexual assault complaints against football players.

Starr, who will continue to teach at the law school, told ESPN’s ”Outside the Lines” in an interview that he didn’t know about the allegations of sexual assault involving members of Baylor’s vaunted football program until media reports first surfaced in 2015 during a player’s trial.

The school hired Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate allegations surrounding the football team last year. It released its findings last week, determining that under Starr’s leadership, Baylor did little to respond to accusations of sexual assault involving football players over several years.

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) – Jail records show that a second Texas Tech football player who was kicked off the team last month has been charged with burglary.

Records show 18-year-old Trace Keaton Ellison was arrested on a charge of burglary of a habitation, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Jail records don’t list attorney information for Ellison, who was released on $5,000 bond. Details on the allegations weren’t immediately released.

Twenty -year-old Robert James Castaneda was arrested Friday on the same charge. He was released after paying $5,000 bond.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury kicked Castaneda and Ellison off the team on May 5 for ”failure to uphold student-athlete expectations.” Ellison, from Frisco Centennial, would have been a redshirt freshman tackle.

Sophomore linebacker Dakota Allen was also dismissed.


CLEVELAND (AP) – Cleveland Indians outfielder Marlon Byrd has been suspended 162 games for testing positive a second time for a performance-enhancing drug.

MLB officials said that Byrd tested positive for Ipamorelin, a growth hormone releasing peptide.

Byrd was suspended for 50 games in 2012 shortly after he was released by Boston. Major League Baseball increased its penalty for a second offense in 2014 from 100 games to a full season.

Byrd’s lawyer Jay Reisinger said in a statement that the positive test resulted from a tainted supplement. He says Byrd won’t appeal the suspension.

Glory Days: Bay Area plays host to NBA Finals, Stanley Cup

Jun 2, 2016 149

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry and LeBron James dueling on the court in the NBA Finals as the Golden State Warriors look to cap a record-breaking season with a second straight title. Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby matching up on the ice as the San Jose Sharks look to win the Stanley Cup for the first time ever.

The Bay Area that is usually known for high-tech innovations, wine country and spectacular views will be the center of the sports world this weekend when it plays host to both the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Final, as well as the Copa America soccer tournament.

”This is great for sports fans, regardless of if you follow each respective sport all year-round or whatnot, this is a great time to kind of tune in and be a sports fan in the Bay Area,” Curry said. ”Obviously, the world’s eyes are going to be here in Oakland, San Jose, Levi’s Stadium. So it’s fun.”

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Everyone is getting on board, with several players from the area’s other teams frequently attending Warriors and Sharks playoff games. When the Sharks clinched a Stanley Cup berth, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was right next to Sharks counterpart Doug Wilson offering congratulations.

A group of Athletics went over to watch a Warriors shootaround before one of their own games earlier this postseason. Raiders coach and Bay Area native Jack Del Rio has attended both Sharks and Warriors playoff games this spring.

”I think it’s inspiring for sure,” Del Rio said. ”I take great pride in having been from this area. Even when it wasn’t good, Warriors had some lean years, whatever. Different sports teams have lean years, if you’re a true fan, you’re still there. But there’s nothing like it when you get it going and we’re all enjoying it. That’s what’s happening right now with the Warriors and the Sharks, and we’d love to join that.”

The drama started Monday when the Warriors won Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at home, while the Sharks were losing Game 1 of the Cup Final in Pittsburgh.

That was the last overlap game of the season for the two teams, meaning fans can put their remotes aside and focus on only one game each night.

The Warriors will host Cleveland in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday and Sunday nights. The Sharks will host Pittsburgh in Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday and Monday.

”It’s something that you strive toward,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. ”Just to see the city on fire for both teams is pretty sweet.”

For those with more national than local pride, there’s even some big-time soccer in the area as well. The U.S. men’s soccer team opens play in the Copa America tournament in Santa Clara on Friday night against Colombia, while Lionel Messi and Argentina take on Chile on Monday.

This marks the ninth time that one market will host the championships for the NBA and the NHL in the same year, with the Bay Area joining East Rutherford, New Jersey (2003), New York City (1972 and `94), Chicago (1992), Philadelphia (1980) and Boston (1974, `58 and `57).

None of those markets won both titles in the same year, with New York coming closest in 1994 when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup against Vancouver and the Knicks lost the NBA Finals to Houston in seven games.

This is the best run for Bay Area teams since the A’s won three World Series titles from 1972-74, the Warriors won the NBA championship in 1975 and the Raiders won the Super Bowl following the 1976 season.

This current run started in 2010 when the Giants won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco. They followed that up with titles in 2012 and `14 and are currently in first place in the NL West as they hope to extend their streak of even-year championships.

After years of struggles, the Warriors have turned it around under owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. They won their first championship in 40 years last season and followed that up by winning a record 73 games in the regular season and making it back to the Finals.

The Sharks shed 25 years of playoff disappointment this year when they made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time ever.

The 49ers are just over three years removed from a Super Bowl trip and even hosted the big game earlier this year, meaning that three of North America’s Big Four team sports will contest their championships in the Bay Area in a span of less than four months.

Even the Raiders appear to be on the rise after 13 straight seasons without a playoff berth.

”We’ve been blessed with some great sports organizations and success from when I was here, the Niners were so good,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. ”They were going to the championship game every year. They were playing in the Super Bowl. The Giants obviously won in the World Series, and the Raiders make another resurgence, and obviously with the Sharks and the Stanley Cup, it’s really cool.”

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report

Warriors feeling more calm going into second straight Finals

Jun 2, 2016 52

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) There’s a comfort level for MVP Stephen Curry and his teammates this time around on the big stage.

Coach Steve Kerr even senses a calm about the Golden State Warriors as they go into a second straight NBA Finals – a second straight against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, no less.

Everything was new last year. There were some serious nerves. Golden State’s daily schedule and routine got disrupted, which Kerr called ”a bit of a shock to our guys’ system.”

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”I don’t think anyone’s going to be nervous out there like we were last year,” Klay Thompson said.

The 73-win Warriors are fresh off a Game 7 victory against the Oklahoma Thunder that capped a remarkable comeback from a 3-1 deficit, and they hope to roll that momentum right into Game 1 on Thursday night in front of their rockin’ home crowd at Oracle Arena.

”I know we’re a better team than we were last year, just off experience and what we’ve been through in this postseason, better equipped to kind of handle the scene of the Finals and all that’s kind of thrown at you when you get here,” Curry said. ”The first time, it’s a whirlwind.”

Cleveland has its own reasons for these Finals to feel far different from last June. Namely: The Cavs are at full strength as they try again for the franchise’s first championship after losing in six games last year.

Kyrie Irving went down with a devastating knee injury in a Game 1 overtime loss to Golden State last year. He is back for the rematch, and power forward Kevin Love is poised for his Finals debut after he missed last year’s series because of a dislocated left shoulder that required surgery.

Ask folks in Northern Ohio and they’re sure to say things would have turned out differently had those two stars been on the court, and the city’s five-decade championship drought dating to the Browns’ 1964 NFL title already would have ended.

”I don’t really get involved into the whole pressure thing,” James said of bringing a championship home to Ohio.

The healthy Cavs, who also added Channing Frye this season, like their chances with Love in the mix. Coach Tyronn Lue has all the confidence in Love.

”It’s nice not having to sit there and watch. I mentioned last year that it was very bittersweet. Bitter having to sit there and watch not being able to help, but sweet seeing so many guys that are the main reason we are where we are today stepping up and making big plays,” Love said. ”That was the sweet part of now being here and being able to play.”

Even if he now draws menacing defender Draymond Green and those regular, celebratory muscle flexes.

”Them having all their guys is always going to be a challenge,” Green said.

While the Warriors have said all along that this special, record-setting season won’t matter in the end if they don’t hoist another trophy, they know how much Cleveland wants this. Desperately needs this, in fact, for a city starved of major sports triumphs.

”I think we’re stronger at our core, but we’re very similar as a basketball team,” Kerr said. ”They are dramatically different. Obviously they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they’ve changed their style. They tried to grind us to a pulp last year playing big, and they were slowing the ball down, slowing the pace down. … They’ve got shooting all over the place, and they’re playing at a much faster pace. So it’s really a much different team that we’re seeing.”

It’s the 14th time in NBA history that the same teams square off in the Finals in back-to-back seasons. And in the Cavs’ favor? Six of the last seven teams to lose the Finals the previous year won the next facing the same opponent.

The 2015 Finals were crazy for Green, from the level of play on the court to the stresses off it like taking care of family members in town for games.

”Coming in last year, we had no idea what to expect. All this stuff was like, `Whoa.’ Everything was a shocker,” Green said. ”You know how to deal with all that stuff now. I think it’s more the stuff before the game that you deal with better rather than the game. And then on top of that you know the intensity level that it takes to win an NBA Finals.”

Irving and the Cavs understand as well as anyone it takes some luck at this stage after a long season, too.

Something Cleveland didn’t have last year.

”Well, coming into the postseason you actually want to have a great bill of health, and we were just unfortunate of not having that going into the full extent of postseason,” Irving said. ”They won the championship last year, and now we come in, two evenly healthy teams, and No. 1 and No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference, respectively. This is what it’s about.”


AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

Big part of Baylor’s 2016 recruiting class looking for release from scholarships

Jun 2, 2016 189

Nov 14, 2015; Waco, TX, USA; A view of the stadium before the game between the Baylor Bears and the Oklahoma Sooners at McLane Stadium. The Sooners defeat the Bears 44-34. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A chaotic week that saw Baylor not only lose coach Art Briles, but also its AD and president in the wake of a sexual assault scandal, has decimated the Bears’ 2017 recruiting class, and seven freshmen from Baylor’s 2016 class have asked, or plan to ask, for releases from their scholarships, according to an ESPN report.

On Wednesday night FOX Sports spoke to Collis Cobb, the father of one of those seven players, Parrish Cobb, a highly regarded cornerback. The elder Cobb told FOX that they filed to get his son’s release from his LOI on Saturday, two days after Briles was let go, and someone in Baylor’s compliance office told him they weren’t willing to do it. Baylor has a 30-day deadline to respond to each recruit’s request for a release and without that release, the recruit is not allowed to have any contact with another school.

The other Baylor signees requesting their release are J.P. Urquidez, Jared Atkinson, Kameron Martin, Donovan Duvernay and Patrick Hudson, according to the ESPN report, with Devin Duvernay, the top-ranked recruit in Baylor’s class, planning on requesting his release, too.

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On Wednesday Collis Cobb said he got a visit from Jim Grobe, Baylor’s new acting head coach, and three other staffers who visited his home in Waco to try to convince them to stick with Baylor. The elder Cobb said it was a “good visit, but we let them know my son wants to pursue other options. His mind is made up.”

The Cobbs’ biggest concern is the uncertainty around Baylor. “Right now, we don’t know the status of Baylor’s football program,” Collis Cobb said. “We don’t know if (the current coaching staff) is going be there through 2017 or 2018. No one can give us that information.”

Cobb is hoping Baylor understands his son’s situation and lets him out since things have changed dramatically since he signed there in February. His son was supposed to report earlier this week and is now missing out on the first session of summer school, he said. He hopes Parrish will be able to be at his new school in time for the second summer session.

“All I can say is, it’s in Baylor’s hands now,” Collis Cobb said. “I’m hoping they want to do right by these kids.”