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Best sports stories from the past week

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)/
May 4, 2012 at 12:04 a.m.


EDITORS: Here are the budget lines for the top SportsPlus and diversity feature offerings from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service for the past week. All of the SportsPlus stories have art elements and are suitable for weekend use.

For questions and resends, call Assistant Sports Editor Gregory Clay, (202) 383-6091, gclay@mctinfoservices.com; or the News Desk, 202-383-6080.

BBA-YUDARVISH-SPORTSPLUS:FT_Ron Washington is usually the last person to wonder what might be in a sport that he often says is completely unpredictable.

But Tuesday night the Texas Rangers' manager predicted great things could be ahead for right-hander Yu Darvish, who had just dazzled for 8 1/3 scoreless innings.

Darvish's teammates haven't been swept off their feet, at least not publicly, but they didn't deny what they had seen. The New York Yankees were shut down by a pitcher who had found his command and can be nearly unhittable when he's ahead in the count.

Strike one is the best pitch in baseball, whether in Japan or the United States.

Yet, Darvish had to see it to believe it, and learn to trust the players surrounding him.

800 by Jeff Wilson in Fort Worth, Texas. (MOVED ON APRIL 28, 2012)

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OLY-TEN-ISNER-SPORTSPLUS:SL_Like most 10-year-old athletic hopefuls, John Isner had his heroes. Among them was Andre Agassi, and Isner watched in 1996 when Agassi captured a gold medal at the Atlanta Games.

"I didn't know what my tennis career held at that point, but seeing him win the gold medal in the United States was very special to me," Isner said on a teleconference. "It's pretty special to think about having a chance to do the same thing. He was one of the guys I looked up to."

Isner seems to have a chance to follow in Agassi's footsteps. He has grinded his way to No. 11 in the ATP rankings, second to Mardy Fish. Since the beginning of the year, he's claimed victories over Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. This makes him a likely candidate for the U.S. Olympic team in London, where he would relish the chance to play singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

800 by Kathleen Nelson. (MOVED ON APRIL 29)

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OLY-BKL-AURIEMMA-SPORTPLUS:LA_He's a one-named wonder in the women's basketball universe, tantamount to Pele, Magic and Michael in their domains.

Geno doesn't need the last part of his name for identifying purposes, but it's Auriemma, for the record.

These days, only one thing still pushes him outside his comfort zone.

"I have never felt more pressure in my life than coaching an Olympic gold-medal game for the U.S.," he said. "It overwhelms me, to be honest with you. And I wasn't even born here. It's not your town, your school, your state. It's your country. Now I know why the guys playing World Cup soccer behave the way they do. I feel like a little kid out there."

650 by Mike Bresnahan. (MOVED ON APRIL 30)

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OLY-KAYAK-JOHNSON-SPORTSPLUS:LA_The hardest part for Carrie Johnson is not knowing.

The 28-year-old kayaker can handle endless days of training on the water. She can remain calm in a race_the flatwater sprint _ that requires two minutes of explosive strength and steely nerves.

But as Johnson prepares for her third consecutive Olympic Games this summer, something else could quash her medal hopes before she so much as reaches the starting line.

"It's frustrating," she said. "And I have no control over it."

850 by David Wharton in Chula Vista, Calif. (MOVED ON MAY 1, 2012)

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FBN-MKTG-NFLDRAFTMONEY-SPORTSPLUS:KC_The memories are of Neil Smith bringing down a quarterback, then rising to deliver his trademark celebration: a swing of an invisible baseball bat after one of his 104 { career sacks.

Smith was, for nine years, a Chiefs icon, a Kansas City businessman and philanthropist, and a key part of the local culture during the 1990s. He also played for Denver and San Diego in his 13-year NFL career.

But a dozen years after retiring, the memories have given way to a different reality. Smith, 46, has struggled financially in his life after football, joining a growing list of ex-athletes who suffered financial distress after the million-dollar contracts ended. Smith, once among the NFL's highest-paid players, owes more than a half-million dollars in back taxes, and his sprawling home in Blue Springs, Mo., was foreclosed upon in 2007.

The NFL's annual draft ended Saturday, the birth of more than 250 new careers. Many of those players will sign contracts worth millions _ money that, if managed properly, could last a lifetime. But the influx of income will bring new temptations: of free spending, risky investments and support for friends and family.

"A lot of guys don't look to the end of their careers, because it's just starting," former Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison said. "Once they see the checks, they say: 'Man, these checks are going to last forever.'"

2150 by Kent Babb in Kansas City, Mo. (MOVED ON MAY 2)

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RAC-DERBY-UNIONRAGS-SPORTSPLUS:PH_One question to be answered Saturday in the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby: Does Union Rags have as much willpower as his owner?

Five decades ago, Phyllis Wyeth suffered a broken neck in a head-on car collision on her way to work at the White House after a morning ride on her horse. For years, she walked with the aid of crutches. More recently, she uses a motorized scooter, rarely slowing down.

"I should have broken my neck riding 3{-mile steeplechases," Wyeth said, explaining how as a 20-year-old in 1962 she had ridden a jumper, changed clothes, and jumped in her car. "Driving down to Washington, I was hit . . . straight on. It wasn't my fault."

Horses have been part of her life as far back as she can remember.

"She rode before she could walk," her husband Jamie Wyeth says. "She wasn't just a country girl who went out riding. She mucked out the stalls, she was a 4-H member. She had a steer that she entered in competitions."

1550 by Mike Jensen. (MOVED ON MAY 3)

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BKN-EDUC-SHAQ-SPORTSPLUS:MI_ More than 1,100 students will graduate from Barry University on Saturday, but only one will be wearing a custom-made size-XXXL gown _ 7-foot-1, 325-pound Shaquille O'Neal, the former Miami Heat and NBA superstar.

Among O'Neal's many nicknames during his 19-year career were "The Big Aristotle," "The Diesel" and "Superman." After this weekend, he'd like to be referred to as "Dr. O'Neal" following his graduation with a doctoral degree in education.

O'Neal spent the past 4 { years working toward his degree in organizational learning and leadership, with a specialization in human resource development.

"I was skeptical at first, because I only knew what I saw of him on TV and media," said David M. Kopp, the department chair who guided O'Neal through the program. "I'm not a sports freak, and didn't know what to make of it. But he insisted he wanted to earn it, and he certainly did that. He was thoughtful, asked very good questions, and never missed an appointment."

950 by Michelle Kaufman in Miami. (MOVED ON MAY 4)

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(c) 2012, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Not for publication or retransmission without permission of MCT.

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