NASCAR needs a spurt of new superstars to make racing fun – USA TODAY

5:17 p.m. EDT September 5, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) ? Jeff Gordon is mostly retired and Tony Stewart is almost out the door. Now Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sidelined for the rest of the year, exposing NASCAR’s glaring need for new stars to captivate the audience.

The three big names who have moved the needle for NASCAR the past two decades have a combined seven championships, 168 career Cup wins and five Daytona 500 victories. More important, they are the household names for NASCAR, the ones who move the needle and make people pay attention.

But Gordon called last year his last, only to be called back to the race car in late July when a concussion knocked Earnhardt out for the season. Stewart, meanwhile, has just 13 races left in his NASCAR driving career.

He was in vintage form Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, where he seemed to intentionally wreck Brian Scott in a move that earned him a post-race sit-down with NASCAR’s bigwigs. Stewart’s response to the incident? A wry smile and denial of culpability.

NASCAR will argue the sport is bigger than one, two or three personalities, and that the stable is full of young talent to carry stock car racing deep into the future. There’s some truth to that and it stretches beyond Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

Kyle Larson is a week removed from his first Cup victory, a win that earned him a berth in NASCAR’s playoffs, and rookie Chase Elliott is a week away from securing his spot in the 10-race championship series. Austin Dillon could also make the Chase for the championship in next week’s regular-season finale, as could Chris Buescher, last year’s Xfinity Series champion who used a win at rain-shortened Pocono to slide into title contention.

Ryan Blaney won’t make the Chase, but the 22-year-old has been competitive and part of a new generation of drivers that NASCAR will have to rely upon once its superstars are in street clothes.

The problem, though, is that none of these new faces are the complete package. They seem fun on Snapchat and other forms of social media, but put them in a firesuit with a live television camera and all the sparkle is sucked right out of their personalities.

There are plenty of drivers with the talent of Erik Jones, William Byron or Daniel Suarez, but if they can’t make a fan base fall in love with them, then what does it matter?

Labor Day weekend has been celebrated the last two years in NASCAR as a throwback to its earlier days, when the racing was rougher and the men were tougher and drivers didn’t hide from fans or media in million dollar motorhomes. They didn’t complain about packed schedules, crowded garages or too many interview requests.

They called everything like it was and fear of sponsor backlash didn’t stifle many personalities.

So it was fitting to see Smoke mete out his own justice on Sunday, and to hear Kevin Harvick succicitly blast his crew after yet another race was lost in the pits. Across the border, on a road course in Canada, two teenagers waged a furious drag race to the checkered flag with a bid in NASCAR’s playoffs on the line for Cole Custer.

But John Hunter Nemechek didn’t care, bumped Custer’s Truck from behind, then the two bounced off each other’s doors as their trucks hurtled through the grass and to the finish line. As if that old-school finish wasn’t wonderful enough for every NASCAR fan who wistfully remembers the good ol’ days, Custer used a running start to leap into the air and knock Nemechek to the ground as Nemechek tried to collect the checkered flag.

Now watch, Custer will be punished by NASCAR for his post-race WWE impersonation, and future displays of raw emotion from young drivers will be throttled. It’s not that NASCAR needs the drama, the theatrics, the fisticuffs, to be successful. It’s just that people need a reason to care, and listening to a driver reel off a list of sponsors between praising downforce and tire wear isn’t the sexiest sell.

NASCAR needs new superstars, and NASCAR needs them to be engaging, entertaining and excited to be part of the show. Somehow, that message needs to be conveyed to these young drivers before the fan base leaves with Gordon, Stewart and all the other stars from that romantic time when NASCAR was fun.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Daily Fantasy Baseball Advice for September 6 –

We have a full main slate?tonight, but only one pitcher is priced over $10,000. There are a staggering 23 pitchers under $8,000 on DraftKings tonight. Should we use two of the higher priced ones, or are there bargains at a lower price? Let’s check out the past stats for some insight.

NOTE: these picks are based solely on statistics. Some players have never faced their opponents, or have very little experience against them. I am not saying that none of those are good picks. The highest scorer of the day could be someone with no experience against his opponent. This is based on statistical analysis only. If you have a gut feeling, then by all means, follow that. This is not an exact science. The best lineups usually have a mix of proven stats and hot players. Check out this post from Matt McGarvey for great tips about whether to use a hot player in DFS or not.

For you first time players, if you would like $20 worth of free entry tickets, use this link for the referral bonus! Then continue reading for tips on how to turn that $20 into more!

Luke Weaver has never faced the Pirates. He has a solid 3.86 ERA in his first four starts, and he struck out ten Brewers in his last outing. He has a nice strikeout potential, and has not given up more than three runs in any of his four starts if you are looking to roll the dice.

Luis Cessa allowed no hits and a walk in an inning of relief against the Blue Jays back in May. Of course, he faced the wraparound part of the order before Jose Bautista was hitting leadoff. His 4.17 ERA is not bad, but it isn’t good either. Definitely not good enough for me to use him against the hard hitting Blue Jays.

Rafael Montero was solid in his first start, giving up only two hits in five scoreless innings. Now for the bad news: he walked six and only struck out three. His problems finding the strike zone make him a risk, even against the suddenly offensively challenged Reds.

Adam Morgan was solid against the Marlins in his only start against them, but he only struck out one batter. His 6.21 ERA should tell you that this isn’t worth the risk.

Best Bets:

Corey Kluber ($12,600):?This makes me a little nervous since Kluber is $2,800 more than the next pitcher on the list. Will he really outscore everyone else by enough to justify the price? The Astros are only hitting .236 against Kluber in 72 at bats. The Astros have not homered off of him, and the seven rusn scored is average. They have struck out 21 times, which is approaching elite level. The strikeouts give Kluber the best chance at racking up big points tonight.

Aaron Sanchez ($9,600):?Sanchez has owned the Yankees so far in his young career. The current lineup is hitting just .197 in 61 at bats with a homer, only two runs, and 14 strikeouts. If Sanchez were guaranteed to not be on a pitch/innings limit, he would be the top option of the day. Just be aware that if the game gets out of hand, Sanchez could be pulled at any point after the fifth inning.

Honorable Mention:

Brandon Finnegan ($8,800):?The Mets are only hitting .219 against Finnegan in 32 at bats with a homer, three RBI, and nine strikeouts. Those are good numbers. Add to that the fact that he gets to face off against rookie Rafael Montero, and you have a sneaky option for one of the best pitchers of the night.

Clay Buchholz ($7,900):?Buchholz has never faced the Padres, but the has faced a few current Padres. They are a combined 3-18(.167) with only one extra base hit (a double by Oswaldo Arcia), no runs, and six strikeouts. There is potential for a huge game here considering the struggles of the Padre offense.

Jason Hammel ($7,500):?The Brewers have struck out 30 times against Hammel in only 108 at bats. You can forgive the five homers and the decent .241 average in that case. The high number of strikeouts is going to make Hammel a very attractive play in DraftKings tonight.

Dark Horses:

Jeff Samardzija ($6,300):?The Rockies have hit .258 against Samardzija, but they only have two homers and eight runs in 120 at bats. The 32 strikeouts adds to the intrigue. As does Samardzija’s 2.01 career ERA at Coors Field over 22.1 innings. He is worth a look if you are in need of a cheap option.

Brad Peacock ($5,600):?Peacock will get a couple of turns in the rotation with Dallas Keuchel still not ready to return to the mound. That could be a good thing against Cleveland. The Indians are only hitting .186 against Peacock in 43 at bats with a homer, three runs, and nine strikeouts. Those are very solid numbers at this low of a price.

Jose Urena ($5,500):?The Phillies are only 5-29(.172) against Urena with two solo homers and seven strikeouts. Those are really good numbers at this price, and you have to think that Urena will have a good shot at the win facing off against Adam Morgan.

Adam Jones ($3,800) is 11-28(.393) with a walk, a double, two homers, and four RBI off of Jake Odorizzi. Manny Machado ($4,100) has also hit Odorizzi hard, going 7-26(.269) with two walks, two homers, and six RBI off of him. J.J. Hardy ($2,300) is 6-23(.261) with a walk, a double, a homer, and two RBI. Chris Davis ($3,400) is only 5-24(.208), but he has six walks, two doubles, two homers, and three RBI against Odorizzi. Jonathan Schoop ($3,000) has six hits in 16 at bats with three doubles and a RBI. Pedro Alvarez ($3,100) is 3-8 with a solo shot against Odorizzi.

Ervin Santana has been brilliant over the last ten weeks or so, but the Royals have still hit him hard. Alcides Escobar ($4,200) is 9-30 with a double and five RBI. Eric Hosmer ($3,900) is 6-19(.316) with five walks, two doubles, two homers, and nine RBI against Santana. Salvador Perez ($3,800) has two hits in five at bats with a homer and two RBI. Alex Gordon ($3,500) is only 8-37(.216), but he has five walks, two doubles, two homers, and five RBI against Santana.

Brian Dozier ($5,300) is 5-14(.357) with a walk, a double, and three solo homers against Dillon Gee. Robbie Grossman ($3,600) has three hits in seven at bats with a homer and two RBI. Eddie Rosario ($3,000) is 3-6 with a walk, a homer, and two driven in. Kurt Suzuki ($2,700) is 6-17(.353) with a double and a RBI. Miguel Sano ($3,900) only has one hit in nine at bats against Gee, but it is a two run homer.

You will probably want to stack hitters against White Sox lefty Miguel Gonzalez. Miguel Cabrera ($5,400) leads the charge going 6-13(.462) with two doubles, a homer, and three RBI. Ian Kinsler ($4,900) only has five hits in 20 at bats, but he has a walk, a double, a homer, and five RBI. J.D. Martinez ($4,600) has four hits in eight at bats with a walk, two doubles, and three RBI. Justin Upton ($4,200) is perfect with a walk, a double, and two RBI against Gonzalez.

The A’s aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, but they have had no problems hitting Ricky Nolasco. Yonder Alonso ($2,500) is 4-11 with two walks, a double, a homer, and four RBI against Nolasco. Billy Butler ($2,700) has five hits in 15 at bats with a walk, a double, and a RBI. Ryon Healy ($2,600) has a solo homer in two at bats against Nolasco. So does Max Muncy ($2,600), except his is a two run shot in four at bats. Danny Valencia ($3,000) is 2-6 with a double and a solo homer.

Jose Altuve ($4,700) is 4-15(.267) with two doubles and two RBI against Corey Kluber. Marwin Gonzalez ($2,700) has three hits in nine at bats with a walk and two RBI.

Matt Carpenter ($5,000) is 7-17(.412) with two walks, a double, a triple, and two RBI against Ryan Vogelsong.

Adrian Gonzalez ($4,200) is 4-7 with a homer and four RBI against Shelby Miller. Carlos Ruiz ($3,200) is only 4-18(.222), but he has two walks, two doubles, and four RBI.

Nolan Arenado ($5,400) is 5-13 with a walk, a double, a triple, and two RBI against Jeff Samardzija. Carlos Gonzalez ($4,600) only has four hits in 20 at bats, but one of them is a solo homer. Gerardo Parra ($3,500) is 8-21(.381) with two walks, a double, a homer, and three RBI off Shark.

Coco Crisp ($3,700) is 5-16(.313) with five walks, two doubles, a triple, a homer, and two RBI against Brad Peacock.

Tyler Goeddel ($3,700) and Tommy Joseph ($3,200) both hit solo homers in their only plate appearances against Jose Urena.

My guess is that Andrelton Simmons ($3,500) will be a part of a lot of winning lineups tonight. Simmons is 4-13 with a double, two homers, and six RBI against Ross Detwiler.

David Ortiz ($5,500) drilled a solo home run off of Paul Clemens in his only plate appearance against him.

Freddie Freeman ($5,000) has punished Gio Gonzalez. Freeman is 9-31(.290) with two walks, four doubles, two homers, and 10 RBI against Gio. Matt Kemp ($4,800) is 4-13(.308) with two walks, a double, a homer, and four RBI. Nick Markakis ($2,700) has five RBI despite a disappointing 7-30(.233) mark.

Adrian Beltre ($5,000) is 5-10 with three walks, a homer, and three RBI against James Paxton.

Yoenis Cespedes ($4,800) only has one hit in five at bats against Brandon Finnegan, but it is a homer and he has driven in all three runs the Mets have off Finnegan.

Both Angel Pagan ($4,000) and Buster Posey ($4,700) took Tyler Anderson deep in his first start against the Giants. Can they do it again?

Corey Dickerson ($3,800) is 5-9 with a double, a homer, and four RBI against Yovani Gallardo in his career. Brad Miller ($4,500) is a homer shy of the cycle in ten at bats, but has no counting stats.

Bryce Harper ($5,400) is only 1-4 against Williams Perez, but the hit is a three run homer. Daniel Murphy ($5,300) is 3-6 with two doubles and a solo homer.

Jose Abreu ($4,500) is 3-7 with a homer and three RBI against Matt Boyd. Avisail Garcia ($3,800) is 2-5 with a homer and two RBI.

Ryan Braun ($4,300) is 9-27 with three walks, a double, three homers, and four RBI against Jason Hammel. Kirk Nieuwenhuis ($3,600) is only 2-9, but he has two walks, a homer, and two RBI.

Anthony Rizzo ($5,400) has destroyed Wily Peralta. Rizzo is 14-28 with four walks, three doubles, five homers, and 11 RBI against Peralta. Miguel Montero ($3,300) is 4-11 with a walk, a homer, and two RBI. Addison Russell ($4,300) has two walks, a homer, and two RBI in three at bats.

Nelson Cruz ($4,700) has four hits in seven at bats off of Martin Perez with a walk, a double, and two solo homers. Kyle Seager ($4,300) is 10-27(.370) with two walks, three homers, and five RBI against Perez.

Be sure to check out the FanDuel picks from out experts in that area! Brian Tulloch provides the picks, and alternative plays if you don’t want to follow the herd. Don’t play FanDuel before checking it out!

Good luck out there, and check out our picks for FanDuel baseball


This article originally appeared on

The Best Bet For Legal US Sports Betting Is Through Congress – Legal Sports Report

Congress sports betting

Legal sports betting?in the United States is being called inevitable by some high-profile movers and shakers in the sports and legal worlds. But the timeline and the path to legalization are still uncertain.

The backstory of US sports betting

With New Jersey suffering yet another defeat in its quest to overturn PASPA (the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) and legalize sports betting, supporters of legalization have headed back to the drawing board.

Make no mistake about it, the?fight for New Jersey sports betting will continue, with the possibility of taking the?case to the Supreme Court. Legal experts have indicated it?s unlikely?SCOTUS will hear the case; if it does, upholding the previous ruling is the most?likely outcome.

Other states, most notably New York, have hinted they could bring their own PASPA challenges in the near future. How these potential cases would differ from New Jersey ? other than being heard in different federal courts ? is unclear. State efforts to legalize sports betting will likely languish in the court system for years, and as New Jersey has discovered, these cases face an uphill battle.

Nothing short of the so-called ?nuclear option? (allowing entirely?unregulated sports betting) seems likely to survive a PASPA challenge at the state level, which has advocates reassessing where this battle should be fought: at the state or federal level.

The simpler fix is for Congress to repeal or amend the roadblock that is PASPA. This might sound simple in theory, but getting Congress to vote on anything ? let alone revisiting a law that would lead to the largest expansion of gambling in the nation?s history ? is no small task.

What needs to happen for federal action to occur

To force congressional action three things will need to occur.

Win over the professional sports leagues, or at least have them step aside

For many years, the NCAA and professional sports leagues have staunchly fought against legal sports betting, largely on the grounds that it?could undermine the integrity of their games.

The NCAA continues to be completely opposed to legal sports betting, but some professional sports leagues are starting to crack ? most notably, the NBA.

In a 2014 op-ed that appeared in The New York Times, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the following:

?In light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed. Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.?

Following the Third Circuit?s recent en banc ruling against New Jersey, NBA spokesman Mike Bass repeated Silver?s earlier comments, that legal sports betting needs to occur at the federal level:

?The Third Circuit reaffirmed that the appropriate path to legal sports betting is through Congress. We remain supportive of a federal legislative framework that would protect the integrity of the game and allow those who bet on sports to do so in a legal and safe manner.?

Silver isn?t the only commissioner of a major sports league that is softening on this issue.

In an appearance on ESPN?s Outside the Lines in February 2015, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in part, ?Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization, and I think it?s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.?

In November, Manfred went on the ESPN?s Mike & Mike and said the following:

?What I?ve said about legalized gambling is that the landscape is changing and that baseball, during this offseason, principally will take a look at its relationships with legalized gambling ? whether it?s sponsorship, whatever ? and re-evaluate given that the country has changed in terms of its approach to legalized gambling.?

In this same vein, each of the four professional sports leagues works with the sports data company Sportradar; the same company also works with bookmakers worldwide.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have not been as supportive, at least publicly, of legal sports betting.

While efforts to repeal PASPA may not need the leagues? outright support to be successful, they will need the leagues to at least allow it to happen.

Consensus among the casino industry

In addition to winning over the professional sports leagues, the American Gaming Association?and the casino industry will have to lobby hard to get PASPA changed.

The AGA has made legalizing sports betting its top issue of late. It seems like the majority of its members, and the casino and gaming industry as a whole, are on the same page when it comes to sports betting.

One of the key points the AGA has been making ? along with sports betting being an untapped?market worth billions ? is the false notion of sports betting prohibitions ensuring game integrity. Billions are already being wagered illegally, and taking this money out of the shadows and cleansing it with sunlight would improve game integrity.

Essentially, the ?integrity? issue is becoming less defensible ? if it ever was ? as Las Vegas will soon have an NHL team, and the Oakland Raiders?could move the storied franchise to Sin City, as well.

For Congress to listen, the AGA and the casino industry will need to present a clear, unified message. Such a lobbying push is slated to begin soon.

Continued pressure from states

Pressure can come from the states in one of two ways.

First, states could take the New Jersey approach and challenge PASPA through the courts. The other option is doing what Pennsylvania?has?done: writing language into its proposed gambling?expansion package that would allow the state?to offer legal sports betting if and when federal laws change.

Second, states can continue to legalize online gambling and daily fantasy sports.?Both of those activities obviously share traits with?sports betting; they could help normalize the idea of legal sports betting, paving the way for congressional action.

The DFS industry?s legislative battles in 2016 allowed New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone to call for congressional hearings on DFS. At the hearing, Pallone brought up his state?s efforts to legalize sports betting, and noting the hypocrisy of the distinction between DFS and sports betting:

?I must also mention the hypocrisy of those arguing that daily fantasy sports is readily distinguishable from traditional sports betting, while quietly applying for and receiving gambling licenses in the United Kingdom, DFS operators continue to argue to interested states in the U.S. that ? unlike sports betting ? DFS is not gambling.

?Their reliance on the arbitrary distinction of skill and chance is also unconvincing, especially since both the Department of Justice and the NFL have asserted that sports betting also is a game of skill.?

What would a PASPA amendment look like

If Congress does decide to revisit PASPA (and potentially the Wire Act if the conversation turns to interstate sports betting) a full repeal might be?unlikely. PASPA could just?be amended.

One possibility is to leave PASPA as is, but give states a second chance at a PASPA exemption. In effect, this would simply reopen the window for a predetermined period of time, and allow states like New Jersey the chance to legalize sports betting.

When PASPA was passed in 1992, the bill authored by New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley?grandfathered in four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. (The latter three were partial exemptions.)

It also threw a bone to Bradley?s home state. PASPA gave any states that had operated licensed casino gaming for the previous 10-year period a one-year window to pass a law legalizing sports betting. The New Jersey legislature declined, and the window was closed on the Garden State.

Alternatively, Congress could leave the window open in perpetuity. PASPA could be rewritten to allow any state with licensed casino gaming (with or without a minimum number of years threshold) to legalize sports betting, but still prohibit it in states without casino industries, thereby ensuring sports betting is overseen by seasoned gaming regulators.

Nick Beer announces retirement from downhill racing – Dirt Mountainbike

After nearly 150 professional races, Nick Beer has decided to call time on his downhill career. He is the third high profile rider this year to announce his retirement?after Steve Peat and Harry Heath also stepped down.

The Radon Magura Factory rider is a former European and Swiss Champion and a regular fixture in the World Cup top 20. His most prolific years came racing alongside Stevie Smith on the Devinci Global Racing team where he picked up a handful of top tens and a sixth place finish at the 2013 World Championships in Pietermaritzberg.

Beer first started racing cross-country in the early nineties against fellow Swiss Nino Schurter however he switched to downhill in 2000 and raced his first World Cup in 2003.

In a post on his Facebook, Beer said: ?I would like to let you know that 2016 will be my last year of racing.?It has been a long and great journey racing bicycles since a young age.

?Close to 150 professional and even more amateur races later, I feel blessed that I could achieve many goals on just as off the track.

?Riding bikes around the world and meeting people who became friends to me, more than I ever could ask for. To stop racing is nothing to be sad about. I had a great time and I am happy to enter the next chapter.?

Beer has been selected to represent Switzerland at the World Championships in Val di Sole, but after that he will be hanging up his professional racing shoes for good. He will instead focus on his studies in Mechanical Engineering ? hopefully with those credentials behind him it won?t be long before we see him back in the industry!

A Nigerian basketball prospect and an ex-Redskin are putting a fledgling private school on the map – Washington Post

With the help of 6-9 Ni?ger?ian basketball prospect Ejike Obinna, Antwaan Randle-El is putting Virginia Academy on the national high school basketball map. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

After boarding an airplane for the first time in his life and flying halfway around the world, the Nigerian student walked through customs at Dulles International Airport wearing a vest far too short for his skinny 6-foot-7 frame. Antwaan Randle El didn?t know what to say.

The former Redskins wide receiver had hitched the reputation of a tiny Christian school in Ashburn called Virginia Academy to an African basketball player he had never met. During his nine-year NFL career, Randle El had started a foundation to benefit underserved children, and as the program?s first international student peered down at him at Dulles, Randle El realized his post-football life had begun.

?What do we call you?? Randle El, the school?s athletic director, asked Ejike Obinna then, and he laughs now at how odd that must have sounded.

Obinna, 16, began his senior year of high school last week as the most prominent member of Virginia Academy?s first full graduating class. He is a coveted and chiseled 6-foot-9 college basketball prospect who went from adverse conditions in his native Enugu, Nigeria, to one of relative comfort in Loudoun County in a remarkably short period of time.

He also represents the unorthodox way Randle El chose to build a high school athletic department. Though age discrepancies and unreliable handlers often make recruiting African exchange students a risky endeavor, Randle El believed it to be part of his Christian mission.

The decision has put Virginia Academy on the high school basketball map.

?I trusted the process. I trusted that the people, the strangers, were good people,? Obinna said. ?I believed it?s all going to end up good.?

Ejike Obinna was named the Capital Beltway defensive player of the year for Virginia Academy, which won the VISAA Division III championship despite only having seven players. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

A chance for a better future

For Randle El, taking this leap made sense. He had agreed to start the high school athletic department at Virginia Academy, where his kids attend, and needed basketball players ahead of the 2013-14 school year.

?The plan was just to get us going,? Randle El said. ?I didn?t have a vision.?

That?s why he eventually connected with Greg Hendricks. The former Morehead State guard had spent several years working for the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation after his professional career overseas ended, spreading the Gospel through basketball and identifying prospects for a series of national exposure events.

Henrdricks mostly remembers the earnestness and punctuality of the last teenage boy he shepherded from Nigeria to the United States, and how refreshing it was in a culture he described as ?all talk and no follow-through.?

Obinna picked up a basketball for the first time in January 2013. A growth spurt dictated he at least try out the sport after years spent playing soccer. His father died in a car accident when he was 10, and these were dire times with the family?s financial standing deteriorating.

He was the youngest prospective player Hendricks had laid eyes on, and the most upfront.

?He just wanted to better his family situation by getting to America,? said Hendricks, who is currently a pastor in San Diego. ?That was his only real agenda, and he told me that.?

Though Obinna?s shot looked uncoordinated and he hardly knew the rules of the game, he showed enough promise and athleticism to attract Hendricks?s attention. It all happened quickly after that.

Hendricks got in touch with a similarly devout former Super Bowl champion looking for a boost in his new job, and Obinna said goodbye to his family. He suddenly had a new life waiting an ocean away, and didn?t know whether he would ever return to the old one.

?I had to take it. It was a chance for a better future,? Obinna said. ?We had to make a lot of decisions that were not good for us but good for the situation. We needed to help my mom.?

But the world he was entering can be murky, with families desperate to lift themselves from poverty that make promises they can?t keep.

Longtime National Christian boys? basketball Coach Trevor Brown, who recently helped Nigerian Sylvester Ogbonda earn a college scholarship to Georgia Tech, described the cottage industry that sprouted around such student transactions as containing characters both noble and nefarious.

?People just call you out the blue, or hit you up on Facebook or Instagram saying they got some 6-10 African kid, and that?s when it gets risky right there,? Brown said. ?A lot of people will jump on it because 6-10 is not just walking around your city.?

The support system

By the time Obinna arrived in Ashburn in October 2013, Ray and Teresa Matthews had already agreed to serve as his host family. They were blissfully unaware of all the practices, private workouts and national tournaments that the pursuit of a college scholarship entails. But they provided Obinna with precisely what he needed.

Teresa Matthews wrapped Obinna in a hug while he received immunization shots at a Northern Virginia hospital, and he would reveal to her years later, ?it made me feel welcome.?

The Matthews often learn of the home he left behind like this: in bits and pieces during car rides and meals, at home or in basketball stands, doled out with anecdotes that emerge unpredictably. His first hot shower, for instance, prompted a reflection on living with five siblings in a three-bedroom apartment with no running water.

He was the youngest male in his family, and also its greatest hope. He was just as likely to be watching cartoons with Zachary Matthews, almost four years his junior, as he was CNN or BBC because he loves the news.

?Here in America, it?s hard to feel you?re not at home,? Obinna said. ?Since I?ve gotten here, I?ve always dreamed big.?

The Matthews grew enamored with his bright demeanor and quiet confidence within the first week. And so what started as a one-year favor to the Community Church at which the Matthews served as deacons almost immediately became an investment in a boy?s future.

?He doesn?t let on what?s going on in his mind. It?s like nothing fazes him,? said Ray Matthews, a program management consultant and retired Army helicopter pilot. ?As a 13-year-old, he was already a man in control of his own destiny. It was probably more of an adjustment to be under the parental authority we presented.?

As Obinna?s recruiting profile increased, so did the Matthews? involvement. While donations to The EL Foundation cover the more than $10,000 in tuition and fees at Virginia Academy, as well as Obinna?s medical and dental costs, he still must lean on a surrogate family.

They travel with him around the country, shouldering the financial and emotional support he needs while simultaneously developing on the basketball court and assimilating to a new country. When Obinna meets with head coaches from Florida, Clemson, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt later this month on official home visits, Ray and Teresa will be in the room as trusted advisers.

?To us, he?s our fifth son,? Teresa Matthews said last month. ?I very much feel like his American mom. I just asked him to cut the grass today.?

?This kid?s got it?

Obinna leaned back in the passenger seat of a white Lincoln Navigator with bleary eyes in the blazing Ashburn heat last month. He had just returned from his last basketball tournament of the summer in Las Vegas and had been up until the wee hours of the morning.

He had called his mother in a panic after learning her visa interview went poorly. The Matthews want Obinna?s mother to visit her son in the United States for the first time, but the U.S. State Department is concerned she won?t return to Nigeria.

?I wasn?t there,? Obinna said matter-of-factly. ?It?s complicated.?

Despite Obinna?s high-major college options, it?s easy to forget how far he came so fast. Randle El marvels at the rapid transformation, from a gawky freshman who shot the ball funky to an imposing interior threat with 30 Division I scholarship offers. He is a defensive menace with a work ethic that matches his natural gifts.

By the end of Obinna?s first year, ?It was like, ?Oh my goodness,??? Randle El said. ???We?ve got to try to put some pieces around this kid because he?s got it.???

In many ways, Obinna was growing faster than the nascent enterprise backing him.

The Virginia Academy boys? basketball team played its first season in the Capital Beltway League and won the Virginia Independent State Athletic Association Division 3 championship last year with just seven players. Every home game was played off-campus because the gym is a makeshift tarped building that resembles a tennis bubble and features a court smaller than regulation size. There was a football team initially, but it was canceled because of a lack of resources and participation.

Randle El nonetheless forged ahead, even after another potential exchange student who arrived with Obinna had to be sent home for being older than his documents indicated, according to Ray Matthews. The high school had its first two graduates in 2016 and grew to more than 100 students this fall.

The EL Foundation also sponsored another promising Nigerian big man, rising sophomore Qudus Wahab, last year.

But Obinna will be Virginia Academy?s first college athlete, and the designation holds meaning for an entire school community.

?He?s the epitome of what we want,? Randle El said.

Sushil Kumar among wrestling personalities nominated for Padma Bhushan by WFI – Firstpost

New Delhi: Two-time Olympic-medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar has been nominated for the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civillian honour, by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

The Federation has also recommended female wrestler Alka Tomar and Dronacharya awardee Yashvir Singh, Sushil’s coach, for the honour.

“All three names were recommended earlier last month for the honour,” WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar said.

File picture of Sushil Kumar. PTI

File picture of Sushil Kumar. PTI

Earlier, Sushil’s name was recommended for the honour two years ago but was rejected.

Sushil is the only Indian athlete to have won two individual Olympic medals — a bronze in the 2008 Beijing Games and a silver in the 2012 London Games.

Already bestowed with the Khel Ratna award — the country’s highest sporting honour — Sushil is also a World Championships gold-medallist, a two-time Commonwealth Games gold-medallist, four-time Commonwealth champion.

The 33-year-old star grappler, however, missed out on Rio Olympics as Narsingh Yadav was sent for the Games to represent India in men’s 74kg freestyle category.

Narsingh, who ultimately could not take part at the Rio Games after failing a dope test, was picked by the WFI ahead of Sushil on the basis of him bagging the 74kg Olympic quota berth with a World Championships bronze last year.

Sushil’s demands for a trial in 74kg category to select who would represent India at the Rio Games were rejected by both WFI as well as the Delhi High Court after a lengthy legal battle.