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Dave Smart Aims to Coach Canadian Men’s Basketball Team to Rio Olympics



The men’s basketball team at Carleton University has won 12 of the past 14 Canadian university championships. But the two games coach Dave Smart invokes most often are the ones when Carleton fell short.

In 2008, it was a double-overtime loss to Acadia University in the semi-finals. In 2010, again in the semis, the University of Saskatchewan upended Carleton. Smart watches tape of the Acadia loss monthly. Every few weeks, he reminds his players about the Saskatchewan loss.

“Whenever there’s complacency,” Smart said, “we bring those games up.” He insists that if you believe in yourself, “then it’s easy to talk about the failures.”

The fiery 50-year-old is one of the best to have worked on the sidelines of a basketball court in Canada, and this summer brings one of the great challenges of his career. He will help coach the men’s national team at its last chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

Canada has to win a six-team tournament in early July that includes international powers France and Turkey.

Training camp begins on Friday.

Canada has its own recent difficult loss to confront.

Last September, the young team led by Andrew Wiggins and Cory Joseph had a ticket to Rio de Janeiro almost in hand at the FIBA Americas tournament.

It was a must-win game against Venezuela, which Canada had beaten by 20 points a week earlier. Canada had a seven-point lead with three minutes on the clock. It lost by one.

Whether Canada missed its likeliest shot to play in the Olympics is irrelevant to Smart. His goal is a bigger one.

“I want to medal at the Olympics,” he said. “If we can’t beat France at the qualifier, we probably aren’t going to medal at the Olympics. But if we can beat France at the qualifier, we’ve got a legitimate shot at medalling at the Olympics.”

Smart became a basketball coach at the age of 19. He had started playing only in high school and hurt his knee when he tried out for Carleton. He pivoted to coaching, first back at his high school. He became obsessed. In his mid-20s, he played at Queen’s University, where he was a star point guard. At 33, he landed his job as head coach at Carleton after two years as an assistant there.

“I never really fell in love with basketball,” Smart said of his early years. “I fell in love with coaching.”

He won his first title at Carleton in his fourth season. Two undefeated seasons followed – and a winning streak of 87 games, nearly double the previous record. There was a third undefeated season in 2011-12. Over 16 winters, his regular season and playoff record is 394-35.

But Smart is quick to say he knows losing intimately. As his career got going, he coached more than 300 games a year, driving from gym to gym. He has slowed down, relatively, to about 100 games. His total tally stands at more than 5,000.

“Losing isn’t a fear for me,” he said. “I’ve done it enough.”

Smart, beyond his Carleton win-loss record, is best known for his intensity, especially on the sidelines. “There are times he looks like he’s losing his mind,” said Kevin Churchill, a former player and former assistant coach.

What people don’t see, Churchill said, is all the time Smart spends with players, working one on one, on the court or watching tape. “If you want to get better at something, you want to be around him,” he said.

On the international stage, Smart’s role is different.

He has been a national team assistant for most of the years since 2005. Under Jay Triano, who was hired back as head coach in 2012, he helps guide the defence. “A good portion is what we try to do at Carleton,” he said.

The idea is an aggressive defence keyed on rebounds and forcing opponents, individually and as a group, into offensive situations where they are weak. For instance, driving to their weak hand, the left typically.

The information is gleaned from analytical scouting and hours of watching tape. “He works harder than anyone I’ve ever been around,” Churchill said.

Smart has evolved with the national team.

A decade ago, he found it difficult at first to fit in as an assistant, a role he had rarely held. “I wasn’t a very good assistant,” he said. Since Triano returned in 2012, the team has aimed to build a “Canadian identity” in its playing style. The Smart defence is one pillar.

“I have a lot of respect for the way he coaches,” said Triano, who coached Canada’s last men’s Olympic team in 2000 and was an assistant with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers until he reportedly was picked up last month by the Phoenix Suns as an associate head coach.

“He’s one of the best coaches, not only in Canada. He’s respected by NCAA coaches and NBA coaches who have worked with us.”

Intensity is what makes Smart, said Dave DeAveiro, a long-time rival coach at McGill University and the University of Ottawa. “I don’t think he’s mellowed at all,” DeAveiro said. “He’s the same competitive guy he’s always been. There’s always something going on in Dave’s mind, in a game, in a practice.”

Rob Smart, Dave’s nephew, has played for his uncle and worked as an assistant coach for him. This past winter, as interim head coach, Rob Smart led Carleton to another title, when Dave was on a sabbatical.

Battling complacency has been the long-standing mission. “We realized early on success could be the thing that kills you,” Rob Smart said.

For Dave Smart, losing has always been an essential element of winning. “You figure it out as you go along,” he said. “You make a lot of mistakes.”

The national team’s loss last September burns. Wiggins has called it the worst of his career.

This summer, Canada can achieve redemption at the last-shot Olympics qualifier.
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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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