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Team USA Exposed, Not Who We Thought They Were

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While there’s been an overwhelming support for Team USA Basketball for the past month from all sorts of media outlets, they remain the favorites to win gold, but not by the margin they had originally thought.

If the exhibition game against Venezuela didn’t raise some red flags, the recent games against Serbia and Australia sure are. The Americans escaped today’s match-up against Serbia with a 94-91 win that came down to a last second missed three-pointer that would have sent the game to overtime.

After getting off to a fast 11-0 start, the U.S. looked stagnant, frazzled and uninspired after a Serbia comeback in the second quarter that cut an 18-point lead to a nine-point differential at the half. The Europeans remained within a few baskets’ reach until the Americans managed to build a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

While Team USA had a vast free-throw differential, the Serbians kept the game close thanks to great inside presence, sharp outside shooting and play-making from point guard Milos Teodosic, who finished with 18 points and six assists.

On Wednesday, the U.S. trailed at halftime for the first time in 12 years since the ominous days where former coach Larry Brown led the stars and stripes to a much obscured bronze medal. Australia shot a whopping 68 percent from the floor in the first half and outscored the U.S. by five.

The Aussies built a solid lead in the second quarter after setting masterful screens and aided by a three-point flurry from San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills, who finished with 30 points. After securing a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter thanks to a much familiar Kyrie Irving three-pointer, the U.S. stretched the lead to 10 due to late game free throws, culminating in a 98-88 win.

While a 80-45 win over Venezuela in the exhibition phase might not have meant much by looking at the score, it was them who laid out the blueprint on how to beat this U.S. team: no breakaway dunks, no easy baskets, contested threes and physical play. While there’s more factors playing into the U.S.’ struggles, it was exactly what Australia and Serbia did to keep the game competitive and give themselves a chance to win.

What ended in a 35-point loss to a team like Venezuela was brought to fruition by bigger, better-structured, more experienced teams like the Serbian and Australian squads.

The Americans are winning on sheer talent and star power, but that won’t be enough when the chips are down and no one is getting a paycheck, no one is motivated by a new contract or another team possibly offering more money for their services, it’s all about their teammates and the pride and love they have for their country. Will they play defense in every possession? will they be willing to take the hits around every screen and withstand the physicality of international play? Because after four games of round robin play, that is not that we’ve seen.

U.S. Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been out-coached and it hasn’t been more obvious than in these past two games where stars are left to their own devices. The U.S. is struggling to score now that opponents have eliminated the fastbreak from their playbook.

With a shallower three-point line, there’s less space to operate and the ball often ends up in the hands of Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant, often resulting in isolation play. There’s minimal movement, back door plays or high-low action in their offensive sets and defensively they seem mesmerized by the way these teams get wide open shots under the basket and can free themselves up for open threes.

“We just have to start getting movement,” said Team USA forward Paul George to NBCSN. “We’re relying on our natural talent so much. It’s so easy to guard us. Teams are just loading up and watching us play one-on-one.”

Mind you, this isn’t all-time international great Oscar Schmidt unloading an array of shots like he did back in the 1987 Pan-Am Games, these are just good basketball teams making good basketball plays and unless Team USA can come up with some of their own, these Rio Olympics are bound to leave a sour taste in the mouths of American fans.



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Bruno Manrique is a sportswriter from San Francisco, California and has worked for Bleacher Report, Dime Magazine, AOL's Patch.com and the San Francisco Examiner. Witty commentary and a deadshot eye for detail are some of his best traits when it comes to writing.You can follow Bruno on Twitter: @thesportslede

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Can Shiffrin 2.0 reclaim the ski spotlight?

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Mikaela Shiffrin – the name conjures up the image of a lithe, blonde facing the weathered ski slopes of the world, taking on all comers and finishing at or near the top of the table. 2017/2018 was the season that she set herself up for greatness by making the podium a whopping 18 times, winning a grand total of 12 World Cup races, covering three of the total four disciplines the sport offers. But that wasn’t enough for Shiffrin, who then went on to South Korea to claim an Olympic gold. Quite an accomplishment for such a young athlete, but the stress and strain of competition has started to tell on her well before she closed her hands over that Olympic gold.

Getting Up After Falling Down

It was in Cortina, Italy, that Shiffrin realized that she wasn’t as much of a super-woman as she had first thought. The grueling week-long exercise would be enough to bring pause to any athlete, especially one that had hopes of medaling in an Olympic event, but she thought she was more than equal to the task. She was wrong. Cortina proved a turning point that she would have to bounce back from to recover as a sportswoman. She podiumed in just one of the three races she attempted at Cortina. The following three World Cup races she ended up in the DNF pile, something she admits she had never done in her career before. However, looking at her recent interactions with fans, she has come back from this setback, better and stronger than before. Cortina could have been her Waterloo, but instead it served to give her a chance to take stock and recover.

An Unassuming Hero

Shiffrin at the tender age of 23 faces the terrifying fear that all other racers face during their career. But combining it with an ineffable ambition she has managed to harness this beast into a measure of success. And ‘measured’ is what a lot of racing fans think about her successes. Her style, quite unlike those of the racers of yesteryear like Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, is calculated and she only takes risks that she knows she has the odds in her favor to overcome. While she may not be the splashiest competitor on the slopes, she is one that works hard for her merits, and it shows. The fire of ambition blazes in her and that drive to compete, to be the best, is no less than any of those great skiers of the past. As she has already shown, she’s not one to shy away from the demands of competitive life.

The Balance of Life

Shiffrin notes that in the recent past she dedicated a lot of her time to her athletics and training in order to stay ahead of the competition. As she grows older though, she realizes that there must be a balance between work and life. Her recent attendance of the Cannes Festival and the Paris Open are good examples of living life as she wants to, while still being aware of the expectations that so many have of her. Her engagement on social media helps to build rapport with her fans, and every Instagram post she makes from Niseko isn’t done by some trained PR company, but rather with her own hands, carefully weeding out the spelling and grammatical errors and composing her posts for her audience. Her sponsors love this of course, good publicity is hard to come by. But as Shiffrin says, many of those sponsors don’t quite grasp what it takes to be a competitive athlete as well as the face of a brand. There are only so many hours in a day, and while she does meet her contractual social media obligations to the brands she represents, she has slowly come to realize that life is more than just the sport she loves.

The Fickle Spotlight

While still the darling of her fans worldwide, Shiffrin has seen mixed success with the press. She holds the record for being the youngest female ski racer ever to win an Olympic gold medal and has equaled the record for the most gold medals won by an American in the discipline of alpine skiing. She makes up an elite group of five Americans who have ever won the World Cup overall, and all of these serves as platforms for the press to celebrate. Even the best athletes have their off days however, and the run-up to the Olympics, including the Cortina debacle, has turned a few of the avid sports reporters against her. Her attempt to become the best seems a bit too measured and calculated for some, especially since we as a country have become used to skiiers like Vonn and Bode standing up and forcing the sport the take notice. Shiffrin’s approach is different, and while some pockets of the press might have cooled on her, it hasn’t dampened her spirit or killed her drive. What she does is not for the benefit of sports writers.

Setting Goals for 2018/2019

Shiffrin sees this year as another challenge, aiming to be more consistent in the giant slalom. She will, of course, be looking at Cortina as her marquee event – to conquer what has defeated her once before is expected for someone of such a disposition. Her focus in this upcoming season is her speed, as she seeks to set records and win races. This year is a year we’re likely to see her name show up a lot more, not just in local sporting news but around the globe as she aims to be a contender in downhill and Super-G races while maintaining her excellence in the slalom and super slalom fields. Whether she reclaims the spotlight this year remains to be seen, but chances are good that we will see a return to form for Shiffrin 2.0.

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Opinion: Curt Schilling 100% Belongs In The MLB Hall Of Fame

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There’s no denying that in the prime of his 20-year Major League career, Curt Schilling was one of the best regular season pitchers that baseball had to offer.

But, when it came to the most important month of all- October- the fierce right-hander took it up a notch to say the very least.

In five postseasons, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 19 games- all starts- with four complete games and two shutouts. His teams went 14-5 in those games overall, as well as a perfect 5-0 when they faced elimination. In those five crucial games, Schilling posted a 1.37 ERA (6 ER, 39 2/3 IP).

It’s this undeniable success- his tendency to elevate his game when it mattered the most- that helped Schilling win three World Series championships; four of those five elimination starts came in years that his teams won it all.

You couldn’t ask for a more clutch performer.

Think about it. Take Schilling’s postseason dominance, then add it on top of his impressive regular season numbers. Let’s recap those for a moment. 216-146 in 569 games (436 starts), 83 complete games, 20 shutouts, a 3.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .243 BAA, and EXCEPTIONAL command. In 3,261 career innings, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 4.36 (3,116 to 711)- which is the second best mark of ALL-TIME.

I could go on and on about how great of a pitcher Schilling was. Instead, I’ll just share this article by Sporting News that further puts Schilling’s accomplishments into perspective backed up by facts and statistics; definitely worth checking out.

So yes, Schilling undoubtedly, 100% belongs in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame due to his accomplishments on the field…

BUT HIS POLITICS!!!!!

Yes, there are folks who don’t believe Schilling, 51, should be inducted because of his highly conservative views. In fact, on last year’s ballot, Schilling lost 19 votes among returning voters, which gave him 53.2% of the votes, well below the required 75% for induction; Schilling didn’t hold back on what he thought about those voters either (quote in link).

Now it’s important to recap why Schilling lost those votes, and there are a few obvious reasons to back this up. To start, he was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump during the election.

Other than being a Trump supporter, in August 2015, ESPN suspended Schilling for a month for tweeting the following image which compared (some) Muslims to Nazis, which he deleted:

He was finally fired from ESPN in April 2016, after posting this meme on Facebook in response to a North Carolina law that was recently passed at the time:

While also leaving his own brutally honest opinion via a comment about the issue:

Then of course there was that time he jokingly called a t-shirt that seemed to support the lynching of journalists as “awesome”, in a tweet from November 2016, which he deleted as well:

These are just a few examples of the controversies that have surrounded Schilling regarding his political views. For more, this article from The Washington Post offers some other examples.

So while Schilling has posted some controversial things, he’s entitled to have those opinions. And they shouldn’t hinder his chances of making the Hall of Fame. Getting inducted is what about you accomplish ON THE FIELD, not about what you post online to your own social media accounts. The lynching thing in my opinion was the dumbest of the three examples provided; but do you actually think he wants journalists to be killed? It was meant as a joke.

If Schilling had done something truly terrible- like raped or killed someone- this would be a totally different story. If that were the case, I wouldn’t want him to get inducted to the Hall. Why give someone like that the spotlight? A REAL monster? Something like that would make sense.

The bottom line is this: Schilling has opinions that are unpopular to many, and he isn’t afraid to share them on his social media platforms, or voice them on his radio show for Breitbart, the far-right news outlet. He hasn’t committed any crimes, he hasn’t hurt anyone- except for the feelings of many liberals- but that’s not his fault.

Yes, Schilling is highly successful. Some may say that because of this, he should just keep his mouth shut and not let his unpopular opinions be known because he knows people who once looked up to him will be offended and not like him anymore. But he chooses to not be silent. He chooses to speak his mind, share his memes, voice his conservative opinions, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Schilling doesn’t care what you think, and he’s certainly not going to stop doing what he’s doing, which shouldn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame. He’s going to get in too; prior to receiving 53.2% of the votes last year, he tallied 39.2% the year before, and 29.2% the year before that. He’s trending upward, despite all the controversy that involved him between the 2015 and 2016 ballots. So even though he lost 19 votes, there were people that were able to look past his political views, simply because of the type of pitcher he was- which is the only thing that should matter, in his case.

Results for the 2018 Hall of Fame class will be announced on January 18, so we’ll see if Schilling gets in. I don’t think this will be his year. Even if it’s not, he’s absolutely deserving, and it’ll only be a matter of time.

The man belongs in the Hall of Fame due to his BASEBALL accomplishments, and it’s really that simple.

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#MeToo Movement Hits Major League Baseball: Twins Slugger Miguel Sano Accused Of Sexual Misconduct

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Ever since the bombshell October report detailing disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein’s disturbing sexual assault allegations, many women (and men) have come forward detailing their experiences of abuse, as the hashtag #MeToo has become a phenomenon on social media.

While Hollywood entertainment and politics have been plagued the most by #MeToo in the Weinstein aftermath, the movement has officially hit Major League Baseball.

The suspect in question? Minnesota Twins slugging third baseman Miguel Sano.

On Thursday, Betsy Bissen- a former photographer for TwinsDaily.com- posted the following message on her then-public Twitter account detailing a 2015 experience with Sano:

As of Friday, Bissen’s Twitter account (@BitzyBetsy) has been made private (quite possibly due to harassment from trolls); she’s also changed her profile picture to a simple message of “Be Bold”.

In Bissen’s post, the now 37-year-old recalled meeting Sano at an autograph signing event at a mall store she volunteered at. She said she “didn’t reciprocate” Sano’s flirtatious actions during the event; and when the signing was over, Sano allegedly grabbed Bissen’s wrist and made her go to an Apple store with him, his agent, and Bissen’s employer within the same mall; Bissen said she “didn’t want to cause a scene” so she “just went along.”

Here’s what happened next. After about a half-hour at the Apple store, it was time to leave. As Bissen and Sano headed toward the back of the store where their ride was parked, Sano “decided” he needed to use the bathroom; and because Bissen was standing “too close” to Sano, it was a sign that Bissen “wanted him to grab me and try to take me back thru (sic) that door,” she wrote.

This is when the alleged assault occurred. According to Bissen, Sano attempted to kiss her- “more than once”- while trying to force her through the bathroom door. Bissen recalled struggling for 10 minutes, screaming for help, before Sano finally “gave up.”

“No, he didn’t rape me, but he sure did assault me,” Bissen wrote. “When I said no, it should have been the end of it. He should have respected that and stopped. Instead, he hurt me and kept going.”

Bissen recalled how her body was completely sore the next day from “having to fight off this athlete that thought he was entitled to take advantage of me against my will.”

Sano, who’s 6’4” and 260 pounds, denied the allegations, issuing the following statement through his agent:

“I unequivocally deny the allegation made against me today- it never happened. I have the utmost respect for women, especially those working in professional sports, and I deeply sympathize with anyone who has experienced sexual harassment. There is no place for it in our society.”

The Minnesota Twins issued their own statement as well:

“Today, the Minnesota Twins were made aware of allegations involving Miguel Sano at an offsite appearance during the 2015 season. The Twins, along with Major League Baseball, take these allegations very seriously. Until more information is gathered, the Twins will have no further comment.”

According to Yahoo.com’s Jeff Passan, the allegations against Sano aren’t surprising; at least according to five unnamed individuals. Here’s what he wrote:

“This was a perfect example of that terrible decision-making, because while Sano might have a lot of things, the utmost respect for women is not one of them, according to five people, including teammates, ex-teammates and confidants, with whom he has spent time. Though none accused Sano of sexual assault or could confirm Bissen’s account of the story, they characterized him as someone who saw the pursuit of women as sport. Getting in trouble for it ‘was only a matter of time,’ said one person familiar with Sano, whom he called ‘a ticking time bomb.'”

Trevor Plouffe, Sano’s teammate from 2015-16, replied to Bissen on Twitter:

Perhaps Plouffe had been one of the five people who knew about Sano’s apparent disrespect for women before Bissen’s post swept social media. Perhaps he’s the one who referred to Sano as a “ticking time bomb.” Of course, that’s just speculation. Maybe Plouffe and Bissen even had a friendly relationship together.

Obviously, this is a very serious allegation. We will have to see how it plays out in Major League Baseball’s investigative process. “We are aware of the allegations and are now in the process of looking into it,” said MLB spokesman Mike Teevan.

Bissen ended her Twitter post by writing, “Every time I have to hear about how great people think Miguel Sano is, I’m reminded of how awful he actually is and how he hurt me.”

As the old saying goes, innocent until proven guilty; but with the apparent lack of surprise from the five unnamed sources in Passan’s article, in the 24-year-old Sano’s case, this could very well be guilty until proven innocent.

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