Golden State’s Andre Iguodala dished out notable assist in shout out to NBA chaplains

COMMENTARY

AndreDALLAS — For a sportswriter who has covered the NBA for the past five years, among the trends that never generate headlines is when players meet with the chaplains as part of their pregame rituals.

Because of the constant traveling and customary back-to-backs that make up an 82-game regular season, players rarely get to partake in worship inside of an actual edifice.

Besides, as NBA veteran Tayshaun Price told me during a 2013 interview regarding this subject, meeting with chaplains on game days provides players with the spiritual guidance and wisdom they need which, as a result, will enable them to keep life in its proper perspective.

So how commendable that in the wake of the Golden State Warriors’ Game 6 NBA Finals win Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers that gave them their first world championship in 40 years, Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala during a live postgame interview deemed it necessary to thank the chaplains across the league for their dedicated pastoral service they rendered generously to him and his teammates.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED --- Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and MVP Andre Iguodala celebrate after their team defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 to win the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Warriors took the best-of-seven series four games to two over the Cavaliers to claim their first title since 1975. (Photo by Timothy Clary/Getty Images)

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED — Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and MVP Andre Iguodala celebrate after their team defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 to win the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Warriors took the best-of-seven series four games to two over the Cavaliers to claim their first title since 1975. (Photo by Timothy Clary/Getty Images)

“I want to thank all the chaplains across the NBA for helping us out every single night,” Iguodala said after he became the first non-regular season starter in NBA history to be named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

HEART OF GOLD --- Iguodala during a live postgame interview deemed it necessary to thank the chaplains across the league for their dedicated pastoral service they rendered generously to him and his teammates.  ““I want to thank all the chaplains across the NBA for helping us out every single night,” Iguodala said after he became the first non-regular season starter in NBA history to be named the Finals Most Valuable Player. (Photo by David Liam/Getty Images)

HEART OF GOLD — Iguodala during a live postgame interview deemed it necessary to thank the chaplains across the league for their dedicated pastoral service they rendered generously to him and his teammates.
““I want to thank all the chaplains across the NBA for helping us out every single night,” Iguodala said after he became the first non-regular season starter in NBA history to be named the Finals Most Valuable Player.
(Photo by David Liam/Getty Images)

Consequently, Iguodala’s rare acknowledgement to the NBA’s men of the cloth brought tears to the eyes of longtime Memphis Grizzlies chaplain Donald Johnson.

Johnson, in telephone interview from Memphis on Wednesday, said he befriended Iguodala when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers from 2004-2012. Both, Johnson acknowledged, had often communicated via text messaging during the Warriors’ playoff run and, after their championship-clinching win, Johnson wasted little time reaching to his friend.

“I texted him (Tuesday) night and told him, ‘Congratulations on the championship’ and ‘job well done,’” Johnson, the pastor of Memphis’ historic Oak Grove Missionary Church, said. “I told some people he was going to be the Most Valuable Player not because he is a great player, but because he’s a man of God.”

PLAYERS' PASTOR --- Donald Johnson, the longtime Grizzlies chaplain, spoke with such eloquence in December 2012 on how essential it is that Iguodala and his teammates become dedicated daily to partaking in prayer and reading God's word because, according to Johnson, "they both go hand in hand."  As the brief session was about to culminate, Johnson prayed for Iguodala, asking God to grant him favor and to release supernatural blessings upon the All-Star who, after Tuesday night's game, had wrapped up his 11th NBA season.

PLAYERS’ PASTOR — Donald Johnson, the longtime Grizzlies chaplain, spoke with such eloquence in December 2012 on how essential it is that Iguodala and his teammates become dedicated daily to partaking in prayer and reading God’s word because, according to Johnson, “they both go hand in hand.”
As the brief session was about to culminate, Johnson prayed for Iguodala, asking God to grant him favor and to release supernatural blessings upon the All-Star who, after Tuesday night’s game, had wrapped up his 11th NBA season.

According to www.sportschaplaincy.org, sports chaplains have been fixtures to the sports community, having existed since the early mid-20th century. Also, the presence of sports chaplains have grown considerably over the past two decades, the website states, and the United States, United Kingdom and Australia have well established Christian sports chaplaincy ministries.

Since I began covering the NBA, I’ve witnessed array of players meet with Johnson roughly 90 minutes before tipoff in a designated room adjacent to FedExForum’s media hospitality area. Players from Mike Miller, Jeremy Lin, Dwight Howard, Stephen Curry, to the entire Oklahoma City Thunder team.

Heck, I even recall last season when Houston Rockets point guard James Harden shoved me out of the way in the FedExForum tunnel after a pregame shoot around session so he could meet Johnson in time for to hear a mini-sermon.

Ironically, I actually sat in on Iguodala’s pregame session with Johnson the day after Christmas in 2012, during which Iguodala was in a contract season with 76ers.

I recall like yesterday how Johnson spoke with such eloquence on how essential it is that Iguodala and his teammates become dedicated daily to partaking in prayer and reading God’s word because, according to Johnson, “they both go hand in hand.”

As the brief session was about to culminate, Johnson prayed for Iguodala, asking God to grant him favor and to release supernatural blessings upon the All-Star who, after Tuesday night’s game, had wrapped up his 11th NBA season.

Fortunately for Iguodala, it’s safe to assume that God has modernized his career unlike never before, considering he was thrust atop the basketball world, hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien hardware while simultaneously bearing an unlikely Finals MVP trophy.

Nevermind that Iguodala wasn’t deposited in the starting lineup until Game 5. But give him credit for being the only player capable of containing LeBron James, the Cavs’ self-proclaimed “best player in the world.”

After the Warriors’ historic season had come to a ceremonious end, after they emphatically had proven that their 67-win regular season wasn’t a fluke, Iguodala, whose primary role — at least for this season — was to fill in nicely whenever Klay Thompson took a breather, paid homage not just to his Creator, but to those who are responsible for dishing out the assists and tip-ins only a few seem to recognize.

Fortunately for Iguodala, it’s safe to assume that God has modernized his career unlike never before, considering he was thrust atop the basketball world, hoisting the covenant Larry O'Brien hardware while simultaneously bearing an unlikely Finals MVP trophy.  Nevermind that Iguodala wasn’t deposited in the starting lineup until Game 5. But give him credit for being the only player capable of containing LeBron James, the Cavs’ self-proclaimed “best player in the world.”  (Photo by Timothy Clay/Getty Images)

Fortunately for Iguodala, it’s safe to assume that God has modernized his career unlike never before, considering he was thrust atop the basketball world, hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien hardware while simultaneously bearing an unlikely Finals MVP trophy.
Nevermind that Iguodala wasn’t deposited in the starting lineup until Game 5. But give him credit for being the only player capable of containing LeBron James, the Cavs’ self-proclaimed “best player in the world.”
(Photo by Timothy Clay/Getty Images)

Those much-needed spiritual assists and tip-ins that will empower them daily to keep life in its proper perspective.

“That really did touched my heart,” said Johnson, explaining his reaction to Iguodala’s postgame shout out to chaplains. “I was really humbled by that and I texted him and said, ‘Brother, thank you. I can’t lie to you. A tear began to dwell in my eye. It’s great to get the recognition.”

A newsworthy subject that surely had been long overdue for generating headlines.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

LeBron James has earned the right to say he’s ‘the best player in the world’

COMMENTARY

AndreDALLAS — Two days after the NBA All-Star break last year, I walked inside of American Airlines Center, where the Miami Heat had just completed their morning shootaround session.

Then-Heat superstar LeBron James had retreated to the opposite end of the arena away from his teammates.

Consequently, I headed toward the area where James sat and, although he didn’t take questions from reporters, he and I partook in a rather brief exchange.

It had nothing to do with basketball.

WORLD'S FINEST --- Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, an 11-year veteran continues to register consistently remarkable numbers in a series (36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals while playing 45-plus minutes per contest) many didn’t expect to be this competitive, considering the shorthanded Cavs have lost their second and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) to season-ending injuries. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

WORLD’S FINEST — Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, an 11-year veteran continues to register consistently remarkable numbers in a series (36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals while playing 45-plus minutes per contest) many didn’t expect to be this competitive, considering the shorthanded Cavs have lost their second and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) to season-ending injuries. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Instead, I congratulated James on his recent marriage to the former Savannah Brinson, his longtime girlfriend of 13 years.

Suddenly, I jokingly asked James, “Do you have any marital advice you’d like to pass along to me?”

James, a seemingly ecstatic newlywed, then turned away from his cell phone and, without hesitation, said to me, “Choose your battles, man. Happy wife, happy life.”

It was, in fact, following that intriguing dialogue that I had drawn the conclusion that James isn’t merely the villain many sensed he had become in the aftermath of his infamous “The Decision” prime-time national television special when he unequivocally coined the phrase, “taking my talents to South Beach.”

But rather I had drawn the assessment that James is one who, love him or hate him, doesn’t shy away from the notion of always keeping it real.

In my estimation, he’s kept it real ever since.

Such was the case when after a memorable four-year run in Miami in which James guided the Heat to back-to-back world titles and four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, he revealed in a first-person essay to Sports Illustrated that he intended to rejoin the Cavaliers.

Such was the case when he met last summer behind closed doors with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to mend their well-publicized differences.

Such was the case following Cleveland’s 104-91 loss at the Golden State Warriors in Sunday’s Game 5 of their NBA Finals best-of-7 series.

Even after the Cavs were dealt their second consecutive setback to fall behind in the series three games to two, James, assuming his customary businesslike approach, was forthright and to the point in assessing how his team will devise ways to atone for squandering a 2-1 series lead.

“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” James, after his 40-point, triple-double outburst, said when asked about his team’s chances of rallying to win the series.” It’s that simple.”

While many media pundits sense that Golden State — just like in its previous series against Memphis — has made the necessary adjustments to take control of a series the Warriors are favored to win, James, meanwhile, was only stating the obvious following a loss that now have the Cavs on the brink of witnessing yet another franchise heartbreaker heading into Tuesday night’s Game 6 at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.

That is, he uttered with such fearlessness a dauntless declaration many around the sports world had been professing for some time.

Love him or hate him, James, to his credit, surely has earned the right to say he’s the world’s best player, given his masterful, awe-inspiring display on basketball’s grandest stage.

SWEET HOME OHIO --- Such renewed hope and enthusiasm wouldn’t have come to fruition in Cleveland if not for the much-anticipated return of James who, to his credit, was such an integral part of the Heat organization that after he bolted South Beach and returned to his Ohio stomping ground, Miami failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in seven years. All of which is why even with a series loss to the Warriors, James ought to be named Finals MVP. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

SWEET HOME OHIO — Such renewed hope and enthusiasm wouldn’t have come to fruition in Cleveland if not for the much-anticipated return of James who, to his credit, was such an integral part of the Heat organization that after he bolted South Beach and returned to his Ohio stomping ground, Miami failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in seven years. All of which is why even with a series loss to the Warriors, James ought to be named Finals MVP. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

For starters, the 11-year veteran continues to register consistently remarkable numbers in a series (36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals while playing 45-plus minutes per contest) many didn’t expect to be this competitive, considering the shorthanded Cavs have lost their second and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) to season-ending injuries.

Not only that, the 30-year-old James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player who finished third in this year’s league MVP race, has virtually done it all on both ends of the floor, most notably as the Cavs’ facilitator in a series showdown against Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the league’s reigning MVP.

How else to explain why Cavs undrafted shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova has filled in superbly for the injured Irving, thus manufactured his pro basketball coming out party?

How else to explain why Clevelanders who, on several occasions, had become accustomed to witnessing their professional sports teams wound up on the wrong side of arguably the most memorable moments in the history of sports — the Browns’ disheartening loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game known as The Drive and Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot over Craig Ehlo two years later, for instance — were ultimately given some renewed hope and enthusiasm when the Cavs surprisingly stole homecourt advantage with a decisive win in Game 2 against the heavily-favored Warriors?

POSITIVE APPROACH --- Even after the Cavs were dealt their second consecutive setback to fall behind in the series three games to two, James, assuming his customary businesslike approach, was forthright and to the point in assessing how his team will devise ways to atone for squandering a 2-1 series lead. “"I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world," said James, when asked about his team’s chances of rallying to win the series.” It's that simple." (Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

POSITIVE APPROACH — Even after the Cavs were dealt their second consecutive setback to fall behind in the series three games to two, James, assuming his customary businesslike approach, was forthright and to the point in assessing how his team will devise ways to atone for squandering a 2-1 series lead. “”I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” said James, when asked about his team’s chances of rallying to win the series.” It’s that simple.” (Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

Make no mistake, such renewed energy wouldn’t have come to fruition if not for the much-anticipated return of James who, to his credit, was such an integral part of the Heat organization that after he bolted South Beach and went back to his Ohio stomping ground, Miami failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in seven years.

All of which is why even with a series loss to the Warriors, James ought to be named Finals MVP.

All of which is why James, because of his undeniable excellence and astounding body of work in recent years, undoubtedly has earned the right to say he’s the best player in the world.

Love him or hate him.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Young gymnast Leeiah Davis having international impact on amateur circuit

LeeiahDADJust recently, amateur Leeiah Destanee Davis was asked what are amongst her essential plans during the summer.

“This summer I want to go back to my hometown in Florida and get in the gym with one of my favorite gymnast, Derrian Goburne, and hope to run into Gabby Douglas,” Davis, during a recent interview, said while chuckling.

For Davis, a 10-year-old rising gymnast phenom who has enjoyed an array of success on the amateur circuit in recent years, it would be rather simple to grasp a thorough concept as to why she is destined to meet Douglas, who emphatically caught the sports world by storm when she became the first African-American woman to capture gold medals in both the all-around and team competitions in the 2012 Summer Games.

For starters, just like the young Douglas, Davis has proven to be just as big a gym rat, a trend that has ultimately has given way to a brutally immense work ethic, let alone a passion for the sport her parents initially discovered she embraced some five years ago.

CHECK OUT LEEIAH: gofundme.com/SupportLeeiahd

As Martha Tatham-Davis recalls, her then-baby daughter was seen jumping and tumbling off of virtually everything in their home that would suggests that this vibrant, happy-go-lucky kid was showing flashes that a future in gymnastics was essentially a foregone conclusion.

My reaction was, ‘Oh my!’ Tatham-Davis explained. “God has given her an awesome gift and I want to encourage her to explore it.”

The rest, as they say, was history.

Five years removed from being caught flipping off of house furniture as her parents looked on in wonderment, Leeiah, to her credit, has enjoyed a wealth of success as an amateur gymnast, a trend that has afforded her the golden opportunity to put her skills on display even outside of the United States.

TRACK DOWN LEEIAH: (Google #leeiahd)

LeeiahMainAmong the reasons is that Leeiah, a Winter Haven, Florida native whose family currents resides in Fort Meade, Maryland, made her competitive gymnastics debut in Europe — Vicenza, Italy to be exact.

That’s because Leeiah was — and still is — a military child, considering her father, Demetrius Davis, is a longtime soldier in the United States Army.

In fact, as Leeiah — who’s also competed briefly while living in Killeen, Texas — tells it, her continuous rise as a young gymnast would not have come full circle if not for the viable presence of her father who, according to her mother, endures what she describes as “separation anxiety,” particularly when her father is on assignment for the country.

DADDY'S GIRL --- Among the reasons is that Leeiah Davis, a Winter Haven, Florida native whose family currents resides in Fort Meade, Maryland, made her competitive gymnastics debut in Europe --- Vicenza, Italy to be exact.  That’s because Leeiah was --- and still is --- a military child, considering her father, Demetrius Davis, is a longtime soldier in the United States Army.  In fact, as Leeiah --- who’s also competed briefly while living in Killeen, Texas --- tells it, her continuous rise as a young gymnast would not have come full circle if not for the viable presence of her father who, according to her mother, endures what she describes as “separation anxiety,” particularly when her father is on assignment for the country.

DADDY’S GIRL — Among the reasons is that Leeiah Davis, a Winter Haven, Florida native whose family currents resides in Fort Meade, Maryland, made her competitive gymnastics debut in Europe — Vicenza, Italy to be exact.
That’s because Leeiah was — and still is — a military child, considering her father, Demetrius Davis, is a longtime soldier in the United States Army.
In fact, as Leeiah — who’s also competed briefly while living in Killeen, Texas — tells it, her continuous rise as a young gymnast would not have come full circle if not for the viable presence of her father who, according to her mother, endures what she describes as “separation anxiety,” particularly when her father is on assignment for the country.

“Leeiah is extremely close to her dad, and when certain things like separation anxiety sets in, gymnastics are her outlet,” Tatham-Davis said. “Nothing relaxes her like being in the gym, so it’s not just a past time for her, or something to do after school. It’s her therapy, it’s her job, and it’s her passion.

A student at Pershing Hill Elementary in Fort Meade, the 4-foot-10 Leeiah practices her craft as a gymnast for as close to 18 hours a week, according to her mother.

While often observing her daughter in action in the gym — or in her “sanctuary” of sorts, Tatham-Davis acknowledges — she even recalls a memorable encounter about which still brings her to smiles to this very day.

“The most memorable encounter would be watching her learn gymnast through the art of the sport itself due to the language barrier of beginning her career in a foreign country,” Tatham-Davis explained. “There is no limit, because God has blessed her infinitely. You don’t read about upcoming gymnasts that are a part of a military family every day. And while one might not think that’s a big component of her career, it truly is.”

Which, by all accounts, is among the grandest reasons that Leeiah — who is also an avid track and field standout — appears destined to leave it all out on the floor whenever she makes her much-anticipated presence in the gymnasium.

Whether in the states or anywhere else around the globe.

“I want to go to (the University of) Florida Gators for gymnastics or be a professional gymnast,” said Leeiah, explaining her future goals and ambitions. “It’s my dream to help take care of my parents and my brothers and sister. My dad is amazing. He is a soldier and he works hard for me so I want to make him happy with making good grades and follow my dreams.”

Something she hopes Olympic gold medalist phenom Gabby Douglas will hear about.

At some point in time.

Maybe, perhaps, this summer in Florida.

MAKING STRIDES --- Davis is also an avid track and field standout.

MAKING STRIDES — Davis is also an avid track and field standout.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Sports media types blaming Stephen Curry’s daughter is deplorable on all levels

COMMENTARY

DALLAS — While covering the 2012 NBA best-of-7 opening-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers versus the Memphis Grizzlies, I noticed that Clippers point Chris Paul on several occasions had brought his son, Chris Paul, Jr., to postgame news conferences.

THE REAL MVP --- Although Golden State Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry was named league MVP recently, his two-year-old daughter Riley essentially stole the show during Tuesday night's postgame news conference after the Warriors' 110-106 come-from-behind win against the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of their Western Conference Finals best-of-7 series. (Photos by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

THE REAL MVP — Although Golden State Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry was named league MVP recently, his two-year-old daughter Riley essentially stole the show during Tuesday night’s postgame news conference after the Warriors’ 110-106 come-from-behind win against the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of their Western Conference Finals best-of-7 series. (Photos by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

In addition, while in Houston to cover the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant brought one of his daughters to the Media Day festivities as he addressed a massive gallery of reporters.

Which is to say that in the wake of the Golden State Warriors’ 110-106 come-from-behind win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, I deem it downright ridiculous and insulting that several media pundits sounded off negatively about Warriors All-Star point guard Stephen Curry for bringing his beautiful daughter to the postgame news conference.

That several sportswriters had gone as far as to say the presence of the adorable two-year-old Riley, Curry’s daughter — who was allowed to sit on her father’s lap and made disruptive, cute comments terrible twos customarily utter — made it increasingly difficult for them to make their writing deadline is deplorable on all levels.

As a veteran sportswriter who made his professional debut in the print journalism industry some 15 years ago straight out of Journalism School, I am fully aware that one can’t possibly be trusted by his editor to hold such a responsible beat in covering a major college athletic program or professional sports franchise if he or she will often find it difficult meeting brutal reporting deadlines.

SHOW STOPPER --- Several sportswriters had gone as far as to say the presence of the adorable two-year-old Riley, Curry's daughter --- who was allowed to sit on her father's lap and made disruptive, cute comments terrible twos normally utter --- made it increasingly difficult for them to make their writing deadline.

SHOW STOPPER — Several sportswriters had gone as far as to say the presence of the adorable two-year-old Riley, Curry’s daughter — who was allowed to sit on her father’s lap and made disruptive, cute comments terrible twos normally utter — made it increasingly difficult for them to make their writing deadline.

That is, by all accounts, an essential requirement of the job. Reporters, particularly those who are employed by major daily metropolitan newspapers, must be able to gather news under intense pressure, let alone file and submit stories under the tightest and strictest of deadlines.

That several sportswriters had gone as far as to criticize Curry for allowing his precious angel of a daughter to join her league Most Valuable Player father on the postgame platform while he took questions from the media following his 34-point outburst is valid proof that some sports journalists not only are habitual whiners but, most of all, it shows just how soft they are with regards to fulfilling their job responsibilities.

Because, if, by chance, these reporters are routinely faced with stiff deadlines as they harshly suggested after Tuesday’s Rockets-Warriors game, surely they shouldn’t pin blame on Curry, much less blame the presence of his daughter who, to her credit, brought humor and life to what essentially was a boring, dead postgame news conference.

If, by chance, these reporters are routinely faced with stiff deadlines as they harshly suggested after Tuesday game, surely they shouldn't pin blame on Curry, much less blame the presence of his daughter who, to her credit, brought humor and life to what essentially was a boring, dead postgame news conference.

If, by chance, these reporters are routinely faced with stiff deadlines as they harshly suggested after Tuesday game, surely they shouldn’t pin blame on Curry, much less blame the presence of his daughter who, to her credit, brought humor and life to what essentially was a boring, dead postgame news conference.

If nothing else, these journalists ought to blame themselves for their inability to deliver, ought to point fingers at themselves simply because it seems they often have issues in meeting their editor’s lofty expectations while reporting on basketball’s grandest stage.

As for a silver lining to all of this constant postseason murmuring by media members, well, at least they will be afforded the golden opportunity to atone for their lethargic reporting display after Game 1.

Game 2 is Thursday night in Oakland.

Same place.

Same time.

Same tight deadline.

AndreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

As Memphis AAU hoops phenom Harold Draper III goes, so goes his teammates

Draper1Arguably the scariest thing about Harold Draper III, particularly for those who must face him on the basketball court in the coming years, is that this kid’s best days are well ahead of him.

At just 10 years of age, Draper — nicknamed “HD3” — a vibrant, speed point guard on the Memphis-area AAU circuit, has become a fixture amongst those who have monitored closely his immense skills in recent years.

Armed with what many AAU coaches say is a basketball IQ similar to that of a varsity athlete, it would hard pressed to tell that Draper III — because of his draw-dropping skills on the hardwood — is a year away from entering the middle school ranks.

“He has become very much more aware of how defense creates offense,” said Andrea Dandridge, arguably Draper III’s most devoted fan. “Defensively, he has improved tremendously.”

DOUBLE THREAT --- Not only is Harold Draper III --- the cousin and mentee of former University of Memphis senior guard Trey Draper who boasts lofty aspirations of someday playing for the perennial power Tigers --- efficient on the court, but he has proven to be just as effective in the classroom at Memphis’ Double Tree Montessori and Technology School.  Just recently, Draper III was recently honored with the Presidential Award For Academic Excellence, a prestigious accolade that is given to the student that produces the highest grade average. (Photos by Christopher Schmidt)

DOUBLE THREAT — Not only is Harold Draper III — the cousin and mentee of former University of Memphis senior guard Trey Draper who boasts lofty aspirations of someday playing for the perennial power Tigers — efficient on the court, but he has proven to be just as effective in the classroom at Memphis’ Double Tree Montessori and Technology School.
Just recently, Draper III was recently honored with the Presidential Award For Academic Excellence, a prestigious accolade that is given to the student that produces the highest grade average. (Photos by Christopher Schmidt)

Not only has his defensive mechanics become nearly equally efficient as his offensive skillset, but whenever Draper III suits us for the Memphis Tigers 4.0 Boys/Gentlemen of Memphis Tigers 11-and-under AAU squad, those with whom he plays alongside routinely benefits mightily from his on-court presence.

In a nutshell, as Draper goes, so goes his teammates, a rather favorable trend that customarily brings 4.0Boys/Gentlemen of Memphis Tigers coach Brandon Johnson to smiles from the sidelines.

“Harold is a kid that relies on fundamentals,” Johnson told MemphiSport on Tuesday. “He is a leader on and off the court and is an honor student athlete.”

Indeed he is.

Not only is Draper III — the cousin and mentee of former University of Memphis senior guard Trey Draper who boasts lofty aspirations of someday playing for the perennial power Tigers — efficient on the court, but he has proven to be just as effective in the classroom at Memphis’ Double Tree Montessori and Technology School.

Check out HD3 on YouTube: http://youtu.be/TzjSyTun6js

Just recently, Draper III was recently honored with the Presidential Award For Academic Excellence, a prestigious accolade that is given to the student that produces the highest grade average.

To his credit, Draper III’s reputation is such that he not only dishes out eye-catching A’s (assists) on the court, but he’s doing the same even when he isn’t in the gymnasium.

In other words, Draper III is a straight-A student.

“Harold holds his priorities dear to him…Christ, class, court,” Dandridge said. “He knows that his abilities are a blessing, so he honors God in everything that he does. He is aware that he is a student athlete and that there is nothing more important than an education. He surrounds himself with people that he can foster positive relationships with, who will encourage and inspire him. He knows that the opportunity that he has to play is a privilege. So he never takes it for granted when his feet hits the hardwood.”

Come this weekend, the kid who has made a name for himself in gyms throughout this basketball-crazed Bluff City will once again be afforded the golden opportunity to put his skills on display.

Only this time it will be on a much-larger stage.

OFF TO NAWLINS --- Come Saturday, the kid who has made a name for himself in gyms throughout this basketball-crazed Bluff City will once again be afforded the golden opportunity to put his skills on display.  Only this time it will be on a much-larger stage.  That’s when the Gentlemen of Memphis Tigers will travel to New Orleans to partake in the always popular PrimeTime Super 60 Basketball Tournament this weekend.  This three-day event will showcase over 600 premier teams from around the nation, something about which isn’t new to Draper III, who is accustomed to performing on the big stage.

OFF TO NAWLINS — Come Saturday, the kid who has made a name for himself in gyms throughout this basketball-crazed Bluff City will once again be afforded the golden opportunity to put his skills on display.
Only this time it will be on a much-larger stage.
That’s when the 4.0 Boys/Gentlemen of Memphis Tigers will travel to New Orleans to partake in the always popular PrimeTime Super 60 Basketball Tournament this weekend.
This three-day event will showcase over 600 premier teams from around the nation, something about which isn’t new to Draper III, who is accustomed to performing on the big stage.

That’s when the 4.0 Boys/Gentlemen of Memphis Tigers will travel to New Orleans to partake in the always popular PrimeTime Super 60 Basketball Tournament this weekend.  This three-day event will showcase over 600 premier teams from around the nation, something about which isn’t new to Draper III, who is accustomed to performing on the big stage.

Even if it’s in the Big Easy.

Last week, Draper III engineered the Tigers to the Southeastern AAU State Championship.

“I think that I am a little faster and my shots have gotten better,” said Draper III, assessing his progress within the past year. “On the court, my team is special. Everybody is talented. It is special (group of athletes) because we are more than teammates; we are brothers and friends. I’m better because they make me better.”

For someone who many say boasts the immense skills, maturity, and talent to emerge as a local big name point guard much like Memphians Andre Turner, Elliot Perry, and Joe Jackson, among others, Draper doesn’t shy away from the notion that his priorities must remain intact as he continues to make his presence felt.

On and off the court.

“I’ll make my parents proud by keeping my priorities in order…Christ, class, court,” Draper III said. “I’ll make my coach proud by staying humble, being a gentlemen, and earning my keeps.”

Which, after all, is the scariest thing about the young HD3.

That’s because his best playing days are well ahead of him.

Without question.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”

DreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Mid-South amateur boxer Mike Davis’ skills drawing comparisons to Floyd Mayweather

DALLAS — Amateur boxer Mike Davis is often referred to as “Iron Mike,” a nickname that was given to him a couple of years ago by his coach, Devonshea Smith.

GREATEST EVER? Dubbed the Battle for Greatness or The Fight of the Century, Floyd "Money" Mayweather, who boasts a 47-0 record with 26 knockouts, will put his unified WBA, WBC, WBO welterweight titles on the line against an upset-minded Pacquiao, whom many media pundits sense is arguably the champion’s toughest foe to date. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

GREATEST EVER? Dubbed the Battle for Greatness or The Fight of the Century, Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who boasts a 47-0 record with 26 knockouts, will put his unified WBA, WBC, WBO welterweight titles on the line against an upset-minded Pacquiao, whom many media pundits sense is arguably the champion’s toughest foe to date. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Although former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson is widely known as “Iron Mike” in the professional boxing world, Davis essentially has added a unique distinction to such a familiar label.

Among the reasons is those who have followed Davis closely since he made his debut on the amateur circuit three years ago don’t merely liken his mechanics to Tyson.

Instead, many believe Davis’ immense skills have drawn comparisons to that of Floyd “Money” Mayweather, the undefeated, five-division world champion and world’s No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound boxer who will square off Saturday night against Manny Pacquiao in a much-anticipated bout in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena.

He reminds me of Floyd Mayweather with his confidence and drive,” Alicia Davis, Mike Davis’ mother, told MemphiSport during a telephone interview from St. Louis Thursday afternoon.

'IRON MIKE' --- To his credit, Mike Davis, a Pine Bluff, Arkansas native, has held his own in such a brief time on the amateur boxing circuit. For starters, this slim, speedy 12-year-old six-grader took part in his first competitive fight October 2012 and won by unanimous decision. He’s since had 31 competitive bouts, having won a majority of them. (Photo submitted by A. Davis)

‘IRON MIKE’ — To his credit, Mike Davis, a Pine Bluff, Arkansas native, has held his own in such a brief time on the amateur boxing circuit. For starters, this slim, speedy 12-year-old six-grader took part in his first competitive fight October 2012 and won by unanimous decision.
He’s since had 31 competitive bouts, having won a majority of them. (Photo submitted by A. Davis)

Dubbed the Battle for Greatness or The Fight of the Century, Mayweather, who boasts a 47-0 record with 26 knockouts, will put his unified WBA, WBC, WBO welterweight titles on the line against an upset-minded Pacquiao, whom many media pundits sense is arguably the champion’s toughest foe to date.

A native of Kibawe, Bukidnon, Philippines and nicknamed, “Pac-Man,” the 36-year-old Pacquiao brings a 57–5–2 record into Saturday’s main event, having won three consecutive bouts.
Thirty-eight of Pacquiao’s wins have come as a result of knockouts.

“Yes sir, I am big on Mayweather because I think he has some skills I want to follow someday,” Mike Davis said.

To his credit, Mike Davis, a Pine Bluff, Arkansas native, has held his own in such a brief time on the amateur boxing circuit. For starters, this slim, speedy 12-year-old six-grader took part in his first competitive fight in October 2012, winning by unanimous decision. He has since had 31 competitive bouts, having won a majority of them.

“He has a good right hand and slip punches well,” Alicia Davis said. “The sky is the limit because he started at a young age and continues to advance.”

Fortunately for Mike Davis, his skills haven’t gone unnoticed, in large part because the organization for which he fights is sanctioned by USA Boxing.

Mike Davis owns a No. 3 national ranking in the Silver Gloves, 75-pound division in rankings that were released recently by USA Boxing.

BOLD PREDICTION --- As for whom he thinks will emerge victorious Saturday between Mayweather versus Pacquiao in what many boxing experts believe will the highest grossing fight in history, it is no secret that Mike Davis believes Mayweather will walk out of the ring still armed with an unblemished mark.  “Mayweather I think got more heart than Pacquiao,” Mike Davis said. “He got mad speed. He has the right amount of speed over Pacquiao to win. I think he’ll win by unanimous decision, because sometimes you’ve got to have much power to fight Pacquiao. But I think Mayweather will fight his fight.”

BOLD PREDICTION — As for whom he thinks will emerge victorious Saturday between Mayweather versus Pacquiao in what many boxing experts believe will the highest grossing fight in history, it is no secret that Mike Davis believes Mayweather will walk out of the ring still armed with an unblemished mark.
“Mayweather I think got more heart than Pacquiao,” Mike Davis said. “He got mad speed. He has the right amount of speed over Pacquiao to win. I think he’ll win by unanimous decision, because sometimes you’ve got to have much power to fight Pacquiao. But I think Mayweather will fight his fight.”

Having weighed in at just over 78 pounds, he was upgraded last week to the 80-pound division.

Although a recent weeklong illness prompted his mother to pull him from the upcoming regional bouts in Oklahoma in mid-May so he could concentrate on academics — her son is a member of the Junior National Honor Society — Mike Davis said his primary focus over the next few weeks is to condition regularly, keep his weight down, and gear up for preparing to add to his already congested trophy case.

“For all of my (upcoming) fights, I’m going for the win,” Mike Davis said. “And for Jr. Olympics and Silver Gloves (competition), I’m going for the belt.”

As for whom he thinks will emerge victorious Saturday between Mayweather versus Pacquiao in what many boxing experts believe will the highest grossing fight in history, it is no secret that Mike Davis believes Mayweather will walk out of the ring still armed with an unblemished mark.

“Mayweather I think got more heart than Pacquiao,” Mike Davis said. “He got mad speed. He has the right amount of speed over Pacquiao to win. I think he’ll win by unanimous decision, because sometimes you’ve got to have much power to fight Pacquiao. But I think Mayweather will fight his fight.”

Much like “Iron Mike” has done on the amateur circuit in recent years.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle praises each Southwest Division team on making playoffs

SOUTHWEST SUCCESS --- Dallas Mavericks coach Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs to their first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series. That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths. This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images Photo)

SOUTHWEST SUCCESS — Dallas Mavericks coach Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs to their first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series. That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths. This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images Photo)

DALLAS — First team to 16 wins…

“The first one to 16 will have a pretty nice piece for their jewelry cabinet,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said while addressing reporters Thursday afternoon at American Airlines Center.

Carlisle was alluding to the 16 teams that have punched tickets to this year’s NBA playoffs, a nearly two-month-long marathon that will culminate with one franchise hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien trophy.

Now in his seventh season as the Mavericks’ head man, arguably Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dallas to its first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series.

That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths.

This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs.

HOT HANDED HARDEN --- The Southwest Division champion Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer. Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

HOT HANDED HARDEN — The Southwest Division champion Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer.
Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I think this is the toughest division in all of (professional) sports,” Carlisle said. “It has been for the last several years.”

Among the reasons is the Spurs (55-27) undoubtedly have been the division’s most consistent and dominant team. Making their franchise-best 18 consecutive postseason appearance when they open defense of their NBA title Sunday night at the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Clippers (56-26), the six-seeded Spurs have won five world titles during this stretch.

As for the Mavs, erasing the memory of last year’s seven-game opening-round defeat to San Antonio certainly will be a brutal task, considering seventh-seeded Dallas (50-32) will face the No. 2 seed Houston Rockets Saturday at 8:30 p.m. CST in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening-round series.

BLOCK PARTY --- Marc Gasol (left) and the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in FedExForum. (Photo by Jerome Miron/Getty Images)

BLOCK PARTY — Marc Gasol (left) and the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in FedExForum. (Photo by Jerome Miron/Getty Images)

The Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer.

Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. Dallas is making its second straight playoff appearance.

The fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) in FedExForum.

Memphis’ best postseason outing during this span took place two years ago when the Grizzlies manufactured their highest winning percentage and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history.

Arguably the surprise Southwest Division team to make the playoffs is New Orleans.

The NBA’s fourth youngest team with an average age of 24.9 years, the Pelicans (45-37) played arguably their most complete game of the season, which couldn’t have come at a better time, considering New Orleans controlled its own destiny.

Led by Anthony Davis’ 31 points and 13 rebounds, the Pelicans withstood a furious late rally by the defending champs to solidify the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot in the regular season finale, thus ending a four-year postseason drought.

Next up for upset-minded Pelicans is an opening-round date with the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, starting with Saturday’s Game 1 at 2:30 p.m. CST.

Led by Stephen Curry, whom many consider the frontrunner for league MVP, the high-octane Warriors enter the postseason with the NBA’s best record at 67-15.

Come Saturday, the race to 16 wins begins.

Which, of course, begs the question: Will the Larry O’Brien trophy remain in the Southwest Division for a second consecutive year?

As far as Carlisle is concerned, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if it does.

“It’s just quality teams from top to bottom,” Carlisle said of the Southwest Division. “During the battles of the division opponents during the year, I mean those were slugfest games. They were extremely meaningful. There’s a lot of wear and tear. (Games) were very physical. They’re emotional. But when you get a division like this, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it gets everybody primed for this time of year.”

Let the nearly two-month-long marathon begin.

First team to 16 wins…

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Mid-South-area gymnast Caela Flake making her presence felt across the nation

Flake2As far as Caela Flake is concerned, no one has to give her a pep talk on what it means to persevere through life’s toughest of obstacles.

By and large, this 17-year-old Arlington High gymnast had learned the significance of weathering what she described as seemingly insurmountable challenges a little more than two years ago.

For instance, Caela’s father, Derek Flake, was the breadwinner of their family and, along with his wife, Sherita, had done a masterful job of seeing that their children lived comfortably in their Northeast Shelby County home and made wise decisions.

Unfortunately for Caela, her father’s job was eliminated in December 2012, news that ultimately gave way to assortment of challenges for the rising young gymnast.

For starters, Caela, unlike in previous years, wasn’t able to train consistently for nearly a two-year stretch because of the financial adversities that had plagued her family during the time. But just as she had done in the various competitions in gymnasiums throughout the country, she deemed it necessary to, as she tells it, “make lemonade out of lemons.”

“I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.”

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES --- According to Sherita Flake, her daughter, Caela Flake, first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.  “We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.” To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES — According to Sherita Flake, her daughter, Caela Flake, first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.
“We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.”
To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor. (Photos submitted by S. Flake)

That’s not all this vibrant, think-outside-the-box athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics.

“I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”

ALL NOT LOST --- “I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.  That’s not all this vibrant, innovative athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics. “I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”

ALL NOT LOST — “I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.
That’s not all this vibrant, innovative athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics.
“I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”

Now a junior campaign at Arlington, Caela doesn’t shy away from the notion that because she has trained just as intensely as many of her peers on the gymnastics circuit, she is destined to fulfill her dream of earning an athletic scholarship in the sport.

“I would like (college recruiters) to know that I am one of the most determined and dedicated kids they’ll ever meet,” Caela said. “I believe that whichever school I go to, I’ll make a good name for the school athletically and academically.”

To get a thorough understanding of why Caela is primed to seize a full-ride scholarship, look no further than how she’s going about emerging as one of the Mid-South finest young gymnast, who was christened the 2012 state champion in Tennessee after placing first in bars competition for the entire season?

According to Sherita Flake, her daughter first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.
“We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.”

To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor.

The now-retired Dawes is widely remembered for being the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics and the first black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She is also one of only three female American gymnasts, along with Muriel Grossfeld and Linda Metheny-Mulvihill, to compete in three Olympics and was part of three Olympic medal-winning teams: Barcelona 1992 (bronze), Atlanta 1996 (gold), and Sydney 2000 (bronze).

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.  In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.
In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.

In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.

“We were on vacation in California and she met a coach and got him to open the gym for her so she could work out,” said Sherita, assessing her daughter’s intense work ethic on the circuit.

BRIGHT FUTURE --- “I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”

BRIGHT FUTURE — “I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”

Not bad for a thriving athlete, who was born three weeks premature and was diagnosed with what doctors described as severe strabismus, a condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. Because of her unfavorable vision, she was delayed talking, walking, siting up alone, and crawling, among other things, her mother recalled.

“When she was six months old, we found out that her vision was bad and she began wearing glasses,” Sherita said. She had to go to physical therapy and occupational therapy. At that point, her doctors told us that she would be quirky walking and doing things that required gross motor skills. They also told us that she would not be able to run, tumble, or skip. We prayed about it and she has fully overcome that battle. Gymnastics is proof. Her gymnastics victories are proof.”

All of which is why Caela has learn the significance of what it means to persevere.

“I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”

That’s because she learned a valuable life lesson long ago — the lesson on how to make lemonade out of lemons.

DreAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

OKC rival Memphis Grizzlies respond to Kevin Durant’s latest injury development

DALLAS — In three of their last four playoff appearances, the Memphis Grizzlies went to battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, including the last two seasons.

THUNDER STORM WARNING --- If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reining MVP. That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been "removed from basketball activities" and could be shut down for the season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

THUNDER STORM WARNING — If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reining MVP. That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been “removed from basketball activities” and could be shut down for the season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

If the Grizzlies wound up squaring off against the Thunder for a third consecutive year in the postseason, the possibility exists that they will do so without facing the NBA’s reining MVP.

That’s because Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Friday announced that Durant has been “removed from basketball activities” and could be shut down for the season.

The news of Durant’s latest setback surrounding a right foot injury came as a shock to a Thunder team that is clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. According to team officials, Durant’s foot reportedly has caused him more pain after he underwent surgery Feb. 23.

Durant, who traveled with the team to Dallas for Monday’s outing and underwent treatment before that game, told MemphiSport.com, “I’m feeling better. I’ll be re-evaluated in a few days and will be ready to go soon.”

However, as early as Friday, Durant’s injury apparently had taken a turn for the worst, a development team officials believe will likely sideline the seven-year veteran for the remainder of the season.

That OKC will likely be without Durant, its best player, if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Reuters)

That OKC will likely be without Durant, its best player, if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Reuters)

“He’s not making the progress we’d hoped or expected,” Presti said.

That OKC will likely be without its best player if it clinches a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year came as a surprise to the Grizzlies, who have faced the Thunder in the postseason in three of the last four years.

Memphis made its first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history in 2013 after eliminating the Thunder in five games. That year, the Thunder were without point guard Russell Westbrook, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs’ opening round.

“I feel bad for him,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said of Durant’s injury following Friday morning’s shoot around in American Airlines Center. “Great player. Special guy. Special player. I got to know him a little bit during the All-Star weekend. But I feel bad for him. I know how much he loves the game and how much he wants to be out there. And I feel bad for him.”

Like Gasol, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said the news of Durant likely being shut down the rest of the year came as a shock, considering he had been hearing that Durant was recouping comfortably from the foot injury.

Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Russell Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career. Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over Atlanta. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Russell Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career. Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over Atlanta. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I have not heard about it. That’s news to me right now,” Conley said.

Since Durant underwent surgery last month in attempt to alleviate soreness and discomfort in his right foot that was being caused by a screw inserted in October during a procedure to repair a Jones fracture, Westbrook has played arguably the best basketball of his seven-year career.

Currently the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 27.8 points per game, Westbrook has been nothing short of remarkable of late, having recorded a league-best nine triple doubles, his latest of which came in OKC’s 123–115 home win Friday night over the Atlanta Hawks (36 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds).

So resilient Westbrook has been after what was an injury-ridden season last year for the former UCLA star that he has emerged as a legitimate candidate for league’s Most Valuable Player.

However, earlier this week, Westbrook reiterated that individual accolades are the least of his concerns, especially considering the Thunder are battling for their playoff lives during the season’s stretch run. At 39-30, OKC owns a two-game lead over ninth-place New Orleans for the pivotal eighth spot in the West.

“I don’t know,” said Westbrook, when asked if he’s playing the best basketball of his career. I take it one day at a time, man, and keep doing what I’m doing. I have no take (on the MVP race). My job is to come out and play at a high level every single night.”

But whether Westbrook and Co. will have Durant back for what figures to be an intense postseason in the always rugged Western Conference remains unclear.

As of Friday, team officials hinted that a Thunder playoff run this year likely will take place without arguably their best player.

“You know, it sucks to have any kind of injury,” Conley said. “And the situation (Durant) is going through, I know he wants to be back on the court. So that’s tough for him and the organization. But I’m sure they’re doing whatever’s best for him and the team.”

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Former Kentucky Christian DL JeR’yl Christian aiming to impress pro football scouts

DALLAS — The countdown has begun for JeR’yl Christian to witness the chance of lifetime.

“It’s really a big dream to me because I’ve been playing (football) since the age of five,” Christian, a former Kentucky Christian University defensive lineman, said during a recent interview. “I love the passion of the game and can’t anyone hold me back. I’ve work hard each and every day. I’ve dreamed about this day.”

After auditioning for various CFL teams in the coming days at California University of Pennsylvania, for Kentucky Christian University defensive lineman Jer'yl Christian is scheduled to try out for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions in Seattle on May 17.  For the 24-year-old Christian, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, that he will be afforded the golden opportunity of putting his football skills on display before pro scouts is something he said he will relish for the rest of his life. (Photos courtesy of KCU Athletics)

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ — After auditioning for various CFL teams in the coming days at California University of Pennsylvania, for Kentucky Christian University defensive lineman Jer’yl Christian (No. 49) is scheduled to try out for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions in Seattle on May 17.
For the 24-year-old Christian, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, that he will be afforded the golden opportunity of putting his football skills on display before pro scouts is something he said he will relish for the rest of his life.
(Photos courtesy of KCU Athletics)

The day Christian is alluding to is an organized Canadian Football League tryout at California University of Pennsylvania. Located on 294 acres in the rural establishment of California, Pennsylvania, the school known as “Cal U” is just 35 miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River.

According to many who have observed his maturation process on the field, particularly during his collegiate stint, they believe the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman is worthy of a shot of playing at the professional level, even the NFL. “There is no doubt to me the JeR’yl should get a shot at becoming an NFL player,” said Christian’s longtime mentor Michael McIntyre. “The positive attributes that JeR’yl possesses are what is needed in professional football. His character is one of his strengths that are equaled by his perseverance, talent, and dependability.”

According to many who have observed his maturation process on the field, particularly during his collegiate stint, they believe the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman is worthy of a shot of playing at the professional level, even the NFL.
“There is no doubt to me the JeR’yl should get a shot at becoming an NFL player,” said Christian’s longtime mentor Michael McIntyre. “The positive attributes that JeR’yl possesses are what is needed in professional football. His character is one of his strengths that are equaled by his perseverance, talent, and dependability.”

After auditioning in the coming days at Cal U, Christian is scheduled to try out for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions in Seattle on May 17.

For the 24-year-old Christian, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, that he will be afforded the golden opportunity of putting his football skills on display before pro scouts is something he said he will relish for the rest of his life.

According to many who have observed his maturation process on the field, particularly during his collegiate stint, they believe the 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman is worthy of a shot of playing at the professional level, even the NFL.

“There is no doubt to me the JeR’yl should get a shot at becoming an NFL player,” said Christian’s longtime mentor Michael McIntyre. “The positive attributes that JeR’yl possesses are what is needed in professional football. His character is one of his strengths that are equaled by his perseverance, talent, and dependability.”

After a stellar high school career in which he had drawn interests from a host of Division 1 colleges, Christian ultimately decided to take his football talents to Akron University. However, following a red shirt year and the subsequent firing of Akron’s coaching staff, Christian transferred to Kentucky Christian, where he enjoyed three efficient seasons for the NAIA member Knights.

To his credit, Christian helped propelled the Knights to a 5-6 mark this past season, a two-game improvement from the previous year.

Arguably his most productive season at KCU was his junior campaign, which was a coming out party, of sorts, for Christian. That’s because he emerged as a catalyst of the Knights’ defensive unit, having recorded a team-best 57 tackles, including 13 ½ of which was for lost yardage.

LEAST HE FORGET --- As he prepares for what undoubtedly is the biggest opportunity of his young life, Christian credits a majority of success to his late grandmother, Barbara June Gardner, who looked after him since birth.  Gardner, who was legally blind, died of a heart attack last year on March 18.

LEAST HE FORGET — As he prepares for what undoubtedly is the biggest opportunity of his young life, Christian credits a majority of success to his late grandmother, Barbara June Gardner, who looked after him since birth.
Gardner, who was legally blind, died of a heart attack last year on March 18.

Add to the fact that this rugged defensive lineman — who garnered preseason All-American honors — recorded 5 ½ sacks and had three forced fumbles, and it’s no wonder the possibility exists that many believe his best playing days are ahead of him.

As he prepares for what undoubtedly is the biggest opportunity of his young life, Christian credits a majority of success to his late grandmother, Barbara June Gardner, who looked after him since birth.

Gardner, who was legally blind, died of a heart attack last year on March 18.

REMEMBERING BARB --- Christian's current Facebook profile photo features artwork of him and his late grandmother.

REMEMBERING BARB — Christian’s current Facebook profile photo features artwork of him and his late grandmother.

“It really broke my heart,” Christian said of his grandmother’s death. “But I know she’s here with me throughout everything. I just want a chance to prove that I can play at any level.”

His golden opportunity will take place in the coming days which, according to him, is a chance of a lifetime that is.

Let the countdown begin.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.