Smith Only Needed Half The Game To Shine Brightest Among Stars

It feels crazy to think that coming into the 2020 college football season all eyes on the wide receiver position at Alabama were on Jaylen Waddle. Waddle – still a mighty receiver in his own right – fractured his ankle early in the season and seemed to leave a void at the position for the Crimson Tide. Circumstance can lead to greatness, however, and that is exactly what happened this fall as DeVonta Smith exploded onto the scene as one of the premier players in the country and as potentially the greatest college wide receiver (in a single season) of all time.

Smith was domineering in the first half of the National Title game. He outgained Ohio State on his own, catching an insane 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He made the whole thing look incredibly easy – gliding around the field like he owned it (which he did) while the Buckeyes’ defenders were running in mud and chasing his shadow. The game was all but over thanks to Smith as the Crimson Tide were up 35=17 at the half on the back of their premier player, and it would have been very interesting to see what type of numbers Smith would have put up if he hadn’t picked up a pretty disgusting looking finger injury right at the start of the second half.

They say that the stars shine brightest in the biggest moments, the biggest games, and with all the star power on the field – Mac Jones/Najee Harris/Justin Fields – it was Smith who simply took over the contest.

Smith did everything he wanted in this game. He was able to score touchdowns beating double-coverage with his peerless route running. He was able to beat tough one-on-one coverage from the Buckeyes’ best cover guy in Shaun Wade because his feet and balance are so good that Smith is able to catch passes that most playing on Sundays would struggle with. He was able to use matchups and schemes to his advantage – anyone that can give me a reasonable explanation why linebacker Tuf Borland was covering Smith on his final touchdown I’m here for it – to out think and out run the entire Buckeyes’ team. It was incredible to watch.

The wild part of all of this is that Smith being very, very good cannot have come as any surprise to Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and his coaching staff. Smith being the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard of Michigan in 1991 – and even his win was skewed by Howard’s special teams work – was a clue. Other clues would be that Smith led the entire FBS in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641), and receiving touchdowns (20). Those are huge numbers in any season, let alone one with Alabama having played two fewer games than normal because of the pandemic. Covering Smith had to be priority No. 1 for the Ohio State defense, yet this premier player just took over the game with his skill.

One of the wildest aspects of Smith’s success is that he is far from a big guy. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175-pounds – though there is a feeling that the NFL Combine will show these stats to be overselling both properties – he isn’t the typical Alabama receiver that overwhelms defenses with a killer trait. The likes of Calvin Ridley, Amari Cooper, and Julio Jones all had elite size, elite speed, or both. Smith really has neither. He just has a feel for the game that can’t be taught and rather than those elite prospects his best comparison might just be to Jerry Rice – the greatest receiver of all time who also didn’t have killer measurable or traits.

Where Smith and his 43 career touchdowns – almost triple that of Jones – goes from here is yet to be seen. What we can say is that for one season – and then one half – this premier player was untouchable.

Article By Premier Players

Henry Carries On The Legacy of Great Titans Running Backs

There are few things more entertaining in football than watching a running back take over a game. I was reminded this once again on Sunday as Derrick Henry did his best impression of a human freight train for the Tennessee Titans against the Indianapolis Colts.

While Henry is the latest Tennessee Titans’ running back to be that dominant of a force, he comes from a team with a surprising amount of stars at the position, especially if you go back to their days as the Houston Texans.  Recent fans will remember the speed freak of a back that was Chris Johnson – he of the ridiculous 4.24 time in the 40-yard-dash – while those of a certain age will recall the legendry Earl Campbell, one of the premier players at the position that has ever graced the NFL.

For others – mainly those of us in our 30s and 40s – the player most synonymous with the running back position in Nashville is Eddie George.

While Campbell was a beast for the Oilers in the late 70s and early 80s – a time before the magic of modern television and technology making games accessible to all – George was the lead back for the franchise from 1996-2003. This was a time of explosive growth in both revenue and popularity for the NFL, allowing more eyes to be on franchises weekly wherever you were in the country.

Also – and crucially – George was the back in charge when the Oilers moved states to become the Titans. This makes him the first true running back for this iteration of the franchise, making him feel like a more modern player even if he was rushing between the tackles almost 25 years ago as of writing.

George flashed in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Ohio State, but a couple of costly fumbles in a game against Illinois that the Buckeyes lost saw his playing time never really expand to where it could have been during those two seasons. As a junior he started to break out – he rushed for just under 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns – but it was as a senior that he dominated the college landscape. This premier player won the Heisman Trophy in 1995 on the back of a year where he rushed for 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns at an average of 5.9 yards per carry. It was also this season that George showed the type of power and durability that would become his hallmarks on Sundays.

George was the 14th overall pick of the 1996 NFL Draft and he was the third running back taken off of the board. He was picked behind Lawrence Phillips and Tim Biakabutuka, but outperformed both massively as they suffered from legal issues and injuries respectively.  George won the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1996 and then went on to excel as the starting running back for the team without missing a start before moving to Dallas for a year at the end of the 2003 season. George is one of only two running backs to pass the 10,000 yard mark without missing a start (Jim Brown) and is second behind Walter Payton in consecutive regular season games started (130).

Those are names any running back would want to be associated with at the end of a career and help cement the status of George as one of the premier players at his position. George has only increased his legacy in retirement, working with charities including those trying to prevent Type 2 diabetes and even performing on Broadway – pre-pandemic – following 12 years of acting and singing lessons to hone his skills at a new craft. Some people are driving to be the best they can be multiple times in life and this premier player – and maybe one day premier actor – is just such a person.

Article by Premier Players

Utah LB Lloyd Nominated For Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award

While his leadership on the field is evident after being Utah’s total tackle leader in 2019, Devin Lloyd’s character is even stronger.  Therefore, the University of Utah has nominated the junior linebacker for The 2020 Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award.

Lloyd is an avid volunteer in the Salt Lake City community, visiting patients in the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the main hospital, creating a special bond with a patient who was recovering from a skydiving accident.

“Devin Lloyd is one of those guys that does everything right, both on and off the field,” said Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham.   “He excels academically, is an exceptionally hard worker, participates in community service and his leadership skills are second to none. It’s been incredible watching him develop right before our eyes and become the leader and person he is today.  We’re looking forward to watching Devin’s continued success and what’s to come for him this season and in his future.”

Lloyd also visits local retirement homes and has organized drives to hand out water to the homeless. He is a team captain and a part of the leadership council on the team. He represents Utah in the Football Student-Athlete Working Group, started by the Pac-12.   In addition, Lloyd is passionate about social injustice and human rights, organizing marches in downtown Salt Lake City among community members and other student-athletes, speaking at each event on current social issues, and his passion for kindness and understanding.

He is majoring in communications, earning a spot on both the Dean’s List and the AD Honor Roll in 2019 and 2020.

Freddie Solomon played his college football at the University of Tampa (Florida) and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons before joining the San Francisco 49ers where he helped win two Super Bowl championships.  His career in the National Football League as a wide receiver came to a close after 11 years.  Then the Sumter, SC, native known as “Fabulous Freddie”, came back to Hillsborough County (Tampa) to make a more lasting impact.  Solomon devoted the next 12 years of his life to the youths of Tampa Bay, working with the Sheriff’s department to teach kids life lessons through football.  His efforts impacted more than two decades of youths and his lessons are still carried on in the community.  The Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award continues Solomon’s efforts to help make the world a better place by annually honoring a collegiate football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Information provided by Jordie Lindley
University of Utah Athletics

Navy Academy Nominates Myles Fells For Freddie Solomon Community Spirit

Myles Fells is known among his Navy teammates and coaches as one who attacks his football and classwork with passion and looks at a turbulent, troubled world with compassion and a yearning to help make it a better place.

In the short term, the senior slotback from Little Rock, Arkansas is preparing to graduate with a degree in political science and commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the United States Marine Corps. He likes the idea of sticking around next season on temporary assigned duty as a graduate assistant coach.

As long as Fells is serving someone or something larger than himself, he is a happy man which is why the US Navy Academy has nominated him for The 2020 Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award presented by The Premier Players Sports Foundation in Tampa, FL.

In the long view, Fells wants to lift and inspire others from a high-profile position of leadership. He talks matter-of-factly about running for public office successfully in his home state. He envisions himself serving the people of his home state as their Governor.

“My main goal is to leave [the world] better than the way I found it,” Fells says. “As I’ve seen things that have happened where I’m from, and as I’ve seen the state of things in various places around the United States, I feel the call to help my community. Life can be better — especially in places like where I’m from.”

There is Fells giving a short and passionate speech at a rally at the state capital in Little Rock. He is venting frustration following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, an incident that angered a nation.

There is Fells, bullhorn in hand, saying much during a snippet of a speech he organized without writing a word down. He estimates he came up with his speech in about five minutes.

“I grew up Black in Little Rock. My mom has had ‘the talk’ with me, about getting pulled over by police,” Fells said, identifying with the cheering crowd that includes many public school teachers and other African-Americans as he relays his own fear.

“I was driving back from a football game, and I got pulled over by three cop cars, for not having a light on. I was terrified,” he continues. “That was the same year [2012] Trayvon Martin was killed — a young Black man who looked just like me. I can’t help but think of my two brothers standing over there. What if it was them? What if it was one of my classmates?

“I couldn’t sleep for the past week, because this is weighing on me. The fact that we have so much traction [protesting racial injustice]…I have hope,” Fells adds. “Do everything in your power to be a strong role model. Continue to educate. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s time to have those conversations. Let’s help the people of Arkansas spread peace around the world!”

The rousing energy behind those words spoken in Fells’ clear and booming voice reflects the same quality he brings to each day on the Yard. Senior slot back C.J. Williams calls Fells “a machine” for the way he works tirelessly on his game and lifts teammates’ spirits. Senior Justin Smith admires how Fells exudes charisma and attracts followers with his need to know things about everyone on the team (Where are you from? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Names?).

As much as they feed off of Fells’ upbeat, day-to-day outlook, the Navy football family marvels at Fells’ mature perspective on a world that has taught him real-life lessons, both heart-warming and tragic.

The son of service-driven parents — his mother, Kecia, is an elementary school counselor and has worked in education for more than three decades; his father, Kenny, is a chemist who processes hazardous waste at a treatment storage and disposal facility two hours south of Little Rock in Eldorado, Ark. — Fells was developing his caring ways, even as a boy barely walking.

“At daycare, Myles was always quick to help the other kids, [for example] by picking up a bottle when one would drop it,” says Kenny Fells, who was drafted in 1986 as a running back by the Washington Redskins. “His work ethic was just different than most kids his age. I’ve told him since elementary school he’s a natural-born leader. People look to him, flock to him.”

Up until nearly middle school, when he attended Pulaski Academy in West Little Rock, Fells lived in the John Barrow section of the city, a neighborhood stricken by the twin scourges of drugs and violence.

The family then moved about 20 miles outside of Little Rock and lived on five acres that represented the picture of safety and security. The boys — older brother JaRon, now a nurse in Oklahoma City, and Morgan, a junior at Joe Robinson High School, Myles’ alma mater — commuted to school in Little Rock.

For financial reasons, Kenny, Kecia, and Morgan moved back to Little Rock after Myles had started his journey in Annapolis. Last spring, when the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, students all over America took to online learning at home. Myles went back to his old neighborhood in March, where he would remain for several months, before returning to Annapolis.

While living back in Little Rock, the killing of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police touched off the nationwide discussion and demands for racial justice in America. Fells says he attended at least half a dozen protests, against the wishes of his worried mother.

“I asked my mother do I want to look back on this time and be someone who played it safe, or do I want to be a guy who made his voice heard?” Fells recalls. “Do I want to tell my kids one day I was out there trying to help or did I run and hide? So many people have been there to help me. I’ve got to help as much as I can.”

One of the things that spurred Fells on to make his speech at the state capital was a terrible run of local tragedy that touched him. Over about 10 days, Fells says five young men whom he’d known as a youth died — four by gunshot, one by opioid overdose.

“I didn’t notice how bad things were when I was younger living in the J.B. neighborhood — the killings, the robberies, the drugs,” Fells says. “We’ve seen shootings, heard gunshots.”

“Myles has been through and seen some things that a lot of us haven’t seen or been through. He’s got a perspective and wisdom a lot of us don’t know,” says Ken Niumatalolo, Navy’s 13th-year head coach, who believes Fells will be an exceptional leader in the military and in politics, should he eventually choose that path.

“[Fells] doesn’t make speeches often, but the guys perk up when he talks,” Niumatalolo adds. “He speaks the truth, [with] no ill will, the best intentions. He’s one of the most respected people on our team because he has a great heart. He’s done a lot of selfless things for our team without complaining. He’s a really good football player. Myles is also one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.”

“Myles is the type of teammate that keeps your head above water, keeps you level-headed and seeing the big picture,” says Smith, who adds Fells helped him to let go of his frustrations as an offensive performer and to embrace his effective roles on Navy’s kickoff, kickoff return, and punt return teams.

“I come from an opposite sort of background in Virginia Beach, compared to the situation Myles comes from. But he doesn’t run away from challenges or adversity, he attacks them head-on,” Smith adds. “He’s got friends who are in jail or have died due to the violence in Little Rock. He’s never satisfied with the way things are. He’s a born leader. I’ve seen examples of it around our team for a long time. He doesn’t do fake energy.”

As an outstanding student-athlete, Fells’ talent on and off the field blossomed in high school, first at Pulaski Academy over two seasons. As a sophomore, he led Pulaski in rushing on a team that won the Class 4A state title. But Fells tore his ACL in the state semifinals and could not play in the title game.

After having knee surgery, Fells transferred to Robinson High in the fall of 2015. He struggled with the knee and wasn’t the same player, but he re-committed to rigorous training and weight lifting to prepare for his senior year. And Fells came into his own in new ways academically.

He was chosen to represent Robinson as a rising junior at Boys State, a week-long camp and immersive program in civics education, operated in part by elected public officials and complete with governing bodies. Fells responded tremendously to Boys State’s focus on participation and personal experience and its design that mirrored the government’s operation in Little Rock.

Fells was chosen by Boys State officials as Governor of Arkansas at Boys Nation.

“Myles has always had this overarching idea of justice and standing up for what he believes is right,” says Damian Patterson, a career educator in Arkansas who coached and mentored Fells as a youngster. “His drive to be successfully kept pushing him in football and he’s driven to serve, just like the people he’s been around.

“We’ve talked a lot about pushing the envelope to change policies and not letting it get too emotional. Be calm and deliberate in your actions,” Patterson adds. “Myles exhibits all of those things. I tell him he’s not responsible for the fate of Black America, just do his piece. When he came back home during Covid, I told him he would be the first Black governor of Arkansas.”

While the knee injury scared off numerous Division I schools recruiting Fells — Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Memphis among them — Navy wanted him by the middle of his senior year in early 2017. By then, Fells was hitting on all cylinders.

He was a two-way starter in football, and shined on both sides of the ball, as Robinson reached the quarterfinals of the state championship tournament. Fells rushed for 928 yards and 14 touchdowns, had 240 yards receiving and seven more scores, but startled everyone by his prowess on defense as a first-time starter at LB, where Fells led 4A with 115 tackles, including 20 tackles for a loss and four sacks.

Fells was one of three finalists for Arkansas Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, as a senior, he led 4A in scoring in men’s soccer, after going nearly a decade without playing the sport. He served as captain of both teams that year.

And after not expressing much interest in running for Class President as a senior, a Robinson administrator urged him to give a speech with the rest of the competitors in the school auditorium, before the vote was held. Fells was the last person to speak. He was voted Class President.

“He is the type of kid everybody gravitates to,” says Tyler Updegrove, who coached Fells at Robinson. “You watch him play, you want to play harder. And you see he truly has a heart for other people.”

Fells has started every game for the Mids in 2020. He has averaged 7.3 yards on 19 carries, caught a career-long, 73-yard touchdown pass, and thrown a slew of crisp blocks.

And those close to Fells are waiting to see how far this born leader takes that part of his game. Kenny Fells gets emotional when he imagines what his son can become.

“If it’s something he wants, you’re not going to stop Myles,” he says. “He’s sitting on the verge of greatness.”

Article provided by US Navy Academy

Notre Dame Nominates DL Daelin Hayes For Freddie Solomon Community Award

Notre Dame has nominated defensive lineman Daelin Hayes for the 2020 Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award because of his leadership on racial injustice and inequality. He serves as part of the football program’s unity council, which took the initiative to help register the entire team to vote in November. He has also served as a voice for those efforts and a commitment to health and safety, joining programs like NBC’s The Today Show to speak on behalf of the team.

Daelin organized a rally in honor of Juneteenth on the Notre Dame campus. Most of the team had returned to campus by June 19, but they were the only students on campus and had not yet started on-campus workouts as they were awaiting the first round of COVID test results. While many had participated in protests or marches at home following the death of George Floyd, the players had not yet had the opportunity to make their voices heard together. Daelin led the charge in organizing the event in roughly 72 hours. In addition to his speech, prayers were offered by University president Rev. John Jenkins and teammate Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, while teammate Max Siegel II and head coach Brian Kelly also spoke. That was followed by a unity march through campus.

Prior to his recent work, Daelin has been actively involved in the Robinson Community Learning Center, an educational initiative jointly operated by the University of Notre Dame and the Northeast Neighborhood residents of South Bend. Between classes at the Center and outreach to community schools, the Center reaches over 8,000 children in the Greater South Bend area annually. Daelin taught a twice-weekly class last fall at the Center, working with 4th & 5th graders on how to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner.

Daelin is also a leader at team community service events, including Shop With A Player (team members take children from local schools and the Pokagon Band shopping for Christmas presents), Football & The Force charity softball game between Notre Dame football and local law enforcement officers, Saint Mary’s College Dance Marathon to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, and Roof Sit to prevent child abuse in St. Joseph County.

Other volunteer efforts include Food Bank of Northern Indiana (weekly in 2018), South Bend Center for the Homeless (weekly 2018-19), Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County (weekly in 2018), Facilitator at Notre Dame Summer Bridge Program (2019) helping new freshman student-athletes begin at college, Kindness to Prevent Blindness helping underprivileged youth get eye exams and glasses, Ambassador for Irish Strong mental health initiative for student-athletes, a representative for Fighting Irish Fight for Life program which sees teams adopt children fighting a rare disease, volunteer to read weekly at Studebaker Elementary School (first graders) and mentor at the South Bend Juvenile Detention Center.

Freddie Solomon played his college football at the University of Tampa (Florida) and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons before joining the San Francisco 49ers where he helped win two Super Bowl championships.  His career in the National Football League as a wide receiver came to a close after 11 years.  Then the Sumter, SC, native known as “Fabulous Freddie”, came back to Hillsborough County (Tampa) to make a more lasting impact.  Solomon devoted the next 12 years of his life to the youths of Tampa Bay, working with the Sheriff’s department to teach kids life lessons through football.  His efforts impacted more than two decades of youths and his lessons are still carried on in the community.  The Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award continues Solomon’s efforts to help make the world a better place by annually honoring a collegiate football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Information provided by Claire Kramer
Notre Dame Athletics

Washington QB Alex Smith Beats All Odds & Returns To The Gridiron

You would have to walk through many NFL locker rooms before finding a premier player as resilient and unwilling to let his career go as Washington football team quarterback Alex Smith. In many ways, Smith has battled the NFL odds his entire career, but those odds looked to have caught up to the signal-caller back in 2018 when he suffered one of the more brutal lower leg injuries in the history of the game.

At 34-years-old, when the injury happened, no one would have blamed Smith for hanging up his cleats and calling it a career. However, this premier player is one who lives for the game, and his inspirational return to a starting quarterback position is one of the few positives to take from a year that has tested our ability to be positive and inspiring like Smith.

In a game against the Houston Texans on November 18, 2018, Smith was sacked by the Texans’ pass rush. It looked like a routine football play right until the point where Smith couldn’t get up and was clearly on the ground in agony. The sack – and how the players fell – had caused a compound fracture of both the tibia and fibula in Smith’s right leg. The injury itself was a big enough deal to come back from – but initially, things only got worse from there.

Smith soon discovered a flesh-eating bacterial infection in his leg. This issue – which is every bit as painful as it sounds – means that to get to the point of strapping on his helmet against the Detroit Lions on November 15, 2020, Smith will have undergone a total of 17 surgeries on his left injury. The comeback should have been impossible – Smith has to wear a titanium brace on the leg for protection because of the amount of soft tissue he lost – but the former Utah Ute wouldn’t let outside forces tell him that it was time to retire.

Football was so far away from the realm of possibility for Smith at one point that quotes from the period in question are hard to believe. This quote – per ESPN – from Washington team physician Dr. Robin West speaks to just how serious the situation was for this premier player. “We’re doing the best we can.”, said West. “And right now, our first priority is we’re going to save his life. And then we’re going to do our best to save his leg. And anything beyond that is a miracle.”

Smith is a miracle. He overcame sepsis – a condition where the body fights itself by releasing chemicals into the blood to stave off an infection that can cause organ failure – at a point where doctors considered a lower leg amputation to save his life. From there, Smith has worked and worked and refused to let this be the end. His rehab partly took place at a military facility because his injury was considered bad, as some seen in combat. The environment helped Smith with the inspiration to keep fighting and keep working, justifying that if people worked that hard to come back from war wounds, he should do the same after a football injury.

“So for me, certainly having the ability to go down to San Antonio and be around a lot of our servicemen and women that were severely injured protecting this country,” Smith said. “And making the ultimate sacrifice for us and how humbling that is to be around these men and women that have toed the line and how much, how real that is.”

The work has paid off. Smith will play every snap for the rest of 2020, knowing that each one is a blessing given a career that began as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft – and that has seen him named as a three-time Pro Bowler – could have ended so differently without his will and determination to get back on the field.

Article by Premier Players

John Thompson Used Basketball To Teach Legendary Character

The word legendary tends to be thrown around too often, but John Thompson Jr. – the legendary coach of Georgetown University who passed away on August 31st – is certainly a man fitting of that title. Thompson, who was 78 years old, was a premier coach and a pioneer who became the first black coach to win the NCAA championship when he led the Hoyas to the mountaintop of the sport in 1984.

‘Big John’ as he was known to players and fans was much more than just a coach. Hired to coach Georgetown in 1972 it was seen as something of a radical appointment at that time to place the future of a traditionally white Jesuit University in the hands of a black coach. Fighting through racism and abuse – something that he would champion the cause against all the way through his life – this premier coach was in charge of the Hoyas for 27 seasons and despite his on court success it was his work off the court that should be pointed out to show the love and resiliency of his character.

This tweet from Allen Iverson, a player that Thompson mentored and coached for two years at Georgetown between 1994 and 1996, shows the type of bond that Big John would form with the student athletes under his leadership:

“Thanks For Saving My Life Coach.  I’m going to miss you, but I’m sure that you are looking down on us with a big smile.  I would give anything just for one more phone call from you only to hear you say, “Hey MF”, then we would talk about everything except basketball . . .”

Iverson is a perfect example of Thompson’s willingness to work with players coming from difficult backgrounds. The future multiple time NBA All-Star was blackballed from a lot of the top schools in the country because he had three felony convictions hanging over his head relating to a brawl he was involved in at a bowling alley while in high school.

While many of the college bluebloods shied away from Iverson, Thompson went all in on the Hampton, Va. product. Thompson knew he was getting a gifted athlete for his program, but more than that he realized he could make a huge difference in the life of a young man who needed the vital guidance and life coaching that he could provide.  In 2016, Iverson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – a place where his bust stands alongside that of Thompson – a place that Iverson has said countless times that he would never have reached without Big John in his corner for all those intervening years.

Iverson is the most well-known story of the type of man that Thompson is, but there are countless tales of such character and drive to make everyone be the best person in life that they can possibly be that Big John formed in locker rooms, over the phone, and during his coaching sessions throughout his storied career. As a coach, he took Georgetown to three Final Fours and seven Big East titles in the 1980s, along with leading the US to a bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics – the last Olympics before NBA players made winning a medal a much easier prospect for a coach at that level.

Along with Iverson, Thompson recruited and developed three other Hall of Famers in Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo. He was a coach that wasn’t afraid to recruit minority players regardless of the upbringing, and he famously walked off the court in a 1989 game to protect Proposition 42, an NCAA measure that he saw as an aim to limit scholarships – and therefore life altering opportunities – to minority students.

Thompson’s legacy is secure. He is a coach that would stand up for what he believed in, would fight against social inequality, and who would win more than his fair share of basketball games. He will remain an inspirational figure long after this date.

Article by Premier Players

Makur Passes On Basketball Powerhouse Colleges To Play At Howard

For decades the route to the NBA for premier players in high school basketball has been pretty clear. Attend a blue blood program for as little time as a possible – or skip college entirely if you were a Kobe or a LeBron and were in the era when immediate eligibility was an option – and declare for the draft at the first opportunity.

Recently, however, there has been something of a change in how this process works. It started with high schoolers not interested in attending college using their one-year post-high school and before NBA Draft eligibility to play professionally. This began with players leaving the country – Terrance Ferguson, RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball all went to Australia – or choosing to simply take a year off and train while knowing that they won’t be hurting their draft stock one bit.

These moves and decisions were ones players chose for themselves and for their own good. There is obviously nothing wrong with that, but earlier this month a 5-star prospect made a college decision that was about so much more than self-interest and improving his draft stock. On Friday, July 3, Makur Maker announced that he was passing on the likes of UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky to attend school at Howard University.

It is hard to put this premier player’s choice of college into any type of recent context. Howard – one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) – does not get commitments from a player of Makur’s talent and potential. The same can be said for any of the HBCUs. A top-50 player committing to play in the MEAC has been unheard of for over half a century and in the times we currently live the choice of Makur to go to Howard couldn’t feel any more culturally significant.

Makur – an athlete who is from South Sudan in Central Africa – said the following in a recent interview published by The Undefeated. “The reason behind my decision? I dare to be different, and I always consider myself to be a leader. I want to change the current culture and climate that has kept five-star athletes like myself from viewing HBCUs as a viable choice. I have no idea why it’s been over 40 years that not even one five-star basketball player in the United States has decided to play basketball at an HBCU. But I do know that, in this Black Lives Matter movement that’s empowered and assembled many different people across the country and the world, that it won’t be another 40 years until it happens again.”

Maker is a legit 7-footer who is the No. 17 overall prospect in the class of 2021 per the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Seeing a player of that level pledge to Howard shook the very foundations of what we know about college basketball – and perhaps even college sports in general – to its core. The next question is if this is a one-off as Maker makes a stand that no other premier players follow, or if it becomes a trend where 4-star and 5-star black athletes choose to spend a year at a HBCU to immerse in cultural diversity and raise the profiles of such schools on a national level.

It will take a few recruiting cycles to see if there is any real change in play here. Maker – as good as he is as a player – is not a significant voice on the AAU circuit that younger players look up to. For that we would turn to class of 2023 prospect Mikey Williams, a player with the world at his feet who is also said to be considering a one year stint at a HBCU before collecting NBA money. The 15-year-old tweeted about attending a HBCU even before Maker took the plunge and his presence on the floor of a HBCU in the winter of 2023 would absolutely mean that the world of college basketball for premier players has taken a sudden and socially significant turn.

 

Article by Premier Players

Fake Crowds Takeover Stadiums But No Match For Real Fans

When history is written about 2020 it will be known as the year of many things. One of those things – admittedly a few chapters into the books as something of a footnote – will be that 2020 was the year of the fake crowd.

It is hard to explain just how weird the concept of a fake crowd for a sporting event would have sounded at the back end of 2019. We love our premier players, be they on the diamond, the court, the rink, or the field. While fans aren’t the reason sports exist, they are the main reason that they matter to anyone other than the players involved. Sports without fans makes about as much sense as fans without sports, but that is the world we are living in today.

Sports in America are a little behind the curve when it comes to opening up. This is understandable given the size of the country, the distribution of people, and the number of ongoing cases. This means that the leagues in the US will have had time to watch the various methods of atmosphere creation around the world to see what has worked best to date.

In order to help out the NFL/NBA/Et Al, here are some random thoughts about which league has done the best job of giving its premier players and fans at home a decent experience amongst the madness of 2020.

Actually having a crowd

This first concept might be cheating a little bit but it is pretty obvious that the best thing a league can do to have an authentic experience is to actually have an authentic experience. New Zealand has to be seen as the pioneers of this strategy as 41,000 packed inside Eden Park to watch the Blues vs. the Chiefs as their Super Rugby Aotearoa competition got underway at the beginning of June. This strategy only works because the disease was eradicated – at one point at least – in the county, but it is worth watching to remember just what we have to look forward to in terms of an experience somewhere down the line.

Sponsor Banners

I mean these are ok. I get why they are there as it allows teams down on revenue to pull a little more out of their sponsors for more exposure while also covering up empty seating that just looks bad. It is effective, efficient, but a little boring. It is hard to believe that the premier players out there would even notice the existence of tarps all over the stadium, but I get it.

Fake Crowd Noise

This is where opinions start to differ. The basic options for fans at home – because premier players competing get nothing but eerie silence – is to have fake sounds piped on top of the broadcast or to have nothing and listen purely to the communication and chatter out on the field. The PGA has mic-upped their golfers and watching Australian rugby with no noise did allow fans to hear just how hard the players are getting hit in that sport. Getting the balance right here has proven to be difficult, with the noise often underwhelming compared to the action. It’s still early so watch this space.

CGI Crowds

They look terrible right now but these have promise. La Liga in Spain tried it first and it looked awful, like blotchy colors on a weak background. Maybe by the time the NFL returns the league can get some of the big CGI companies onto this and have crowds that actually look like they are real people for those watching at home.

Cardboard Cut Outs

The NRL in Australia allowed fans to pay to have their cardboard cutout placed in a random spot in the stadium for at least the first 10 weeks of the season. While their quality control wasn’t ideal early on with some notorious figures slipping through the cracks, this might be my favorite fake crowd yet. The cutouts are vivid and large, plus it is always fun to spot the random pet dog or bird in the stands with their very own cutouts.

Stuffed Animals

Never mind. This wins. Korean League Baseball nailed it with hoards of stuffed animals behind home plate. This is officially the best take from a terrible situation as it is impossible to not be happy seeing the tapestry of madness that the pitcher is looking at when winding up.

Article by Premier Players

Marcus Rashford Puts In The Hard Work For His Team & Humanity

The sports scene in England is not particularly politically minded. That is in stark contrast to the American sports landscape in 2020 where players are using their platforms more than they have in decades. That is not to say, however, that every premier player in England have used this lockdown period for nothing more than workouts and video games, and one such player is Manchester United star striker Marcus Rashford.

Rashford, at the tender age of just 22-years-old, has emerged as a star of the Covid-19 lockdown period in the United Kingdom. He is a player used to making a big impression, having scored on his debut for one of the biggest clubs in world football in 2016 at the age of 18. Since then, Rashford has gone from strength to strength as a premier player on the pitch, quickly becoming the most important attacking player for the Red Devils and also shining for England when given a chance as part of a dynamic and youthful forward lineup.

As impressive as he has been on the pitch over the course of four years, the last few months Rashford has been even more impressive off of it. The son of a single mother, Rashford was a soccer prodigy who was never afraid of hard work and never allowed to cruise along on talent alone. If soccer didn’t work out, Rashford was always going to be in a position to succeed in life thanks to his work ethic and drive.

It is that drive that has seen Rashford’s profile rise in the last few months from a generic, multi-millionaire soccer player who is only in it for himself into a social activist fighting for the every man. Not only has Rashford helped raise millions in donations for the food charity FoodShare, but he has also learned sign language to add another string to his bow and he has launched a poetry competition for deaf children that he seems extremely passionate about.  When you add in his powerful stance and message on racial equality in England in the wake of the George Floyd death and his charitable efforts to counter homelessness in December, then you start to get a sense of just how much Rashford understands that his position and celebrity status can be used for good.

Rashford’s most powerful action yet came in the middle of June where he was able to singlehandedly reverse a decision taken by the UK government on what to do about free school meals during the six-week summer vacation. Initially taking no action, the government quickly created a $150 million fund to provide food shopping vouchers to the families of Britain’s poorest children this summer.

The youngest of five children and raised below the poverty line himself, Rashford wrote an open letter to the government that was so powerful this premier player had members of parliament threatening to revolt against Prime Minister Boris Johnson if no scheme was announced. “The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked,” he wrote, before adding: “This is not about politics; this is about humanity.”

It is not his pace, his vision, or his goal-scoring ability that is Rashdford’s best asset. Instead, and perhaps unexpectedly to some given how athletes are sometimes viewed because of their lofty salaries and expensive cars, it is his humanity that has set him apart as a leader during this crisis. Rashford is a product of his generation and his 8.4 million Instagram followers give him a platform to be heard. With at least 10 more years of playing at the top level, Rashford is a player that fans of any team can root for thanks to his upbringing, his spirit and his heart.

Article by Premier Players