National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Kentucky recruiting class considered its best ever

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Mark Stoops didn't have to go far to recruit Kentucky's best-rated class in school history.

The second-year Wildcats coach on Wednesday announced a 28-member class including 11 prospects from Stoops' native Ohio, along with the state of Kentucky's top four players, one of the program's best showings in-state.

The group includes 11 four-star prospects resulting in best-ever rankings by Rivals.com (14th) and Scout.com (20).

Leading the in-state contingent are quarterback Drew Barker of Burlington; defensive tackles Matt Elam of Elizabethtown and Adrian Middleton of Bowling Green; and defensive end Lloyd Tubman of Louisville, who announced his decision to play for the Wildcats on Wednesday.

Fifteen defensive players dominate this class, including six linemen and four linebackers, critical to improving a team coming off a 2-10 season and is winless in the Southeastern Conference since 2011.

Kentucky also added four wide receivers to what was a thin group last season, along with four offensive linemen. The class includes junior college players Ryan Flannigan, a linebacker, defensive tackle Cory Johnson and cornerback A.J. Stamps.

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KENTUCKY

National rankings (Rivals 14; Scout 20).

Best in class: Drew Barker, QB, Conner, Ky. Ranked by Rivals.com as Kentucky's top prospect, his early commitment to the Wildcats over South Carolina and others opened the eyes of top-flight recruits who began looking at Kentucky as a viable choice.

Best of the rest: Matt Elam, DE, Elizabethtown, Ky. Chose the Wildcats over Notre Dame and Alabama.

Late addition: Lloyd Tubman, DE. The Louisville native picked Kentucky on Wednesday over the hometown Cardinals and Nebraska.

One that got away: Derrick Kelly, OL. The Havana, Fla., product de-committed from the Wildcats to accept a late offer from national champion Florida State.

NOTE: Barker is among seven recruits enrolled this semester and was featured in a Kentucky football commercial that ran in parts of the state during halftime of Sunday's Super Bowl. Wildcats offensive coordinator Neal Brown said the new QB "has those abilities that will give him the opportunity to come in and compete, and he's going to be thrown into the fire this spring.

LeBron James teams up with Starz for comedy series

NEW YORK (AP) LeBron James is no stranger to getting the greenlight to shoot, but this time it's for a scripted comedy series set in the world of professional basketball.

Starz network is giving the go-ahead his sitcom, "Survivor's Remorse."

The Miami Heat star will serve as an executive producer of the half-hour show. He will team with Tom Werner, a force behind series such as "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne." Actor-writer Mike O'Malley will also be an executive producer.

The story follows Cam Calloway, a basketball phenom in his early twenties who is thrust into prominence after signing a multi-million-dollar contract with a pro team in Atlanta.

The series will shoot in Atlanta. Its six-episode first season airs this fall.

The network didn't announce any cast members.

Shaun White pulls out of Olympic slopestyle competition

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Shaun White jammed his wrist on one jump and watched the world's best snowboarders join him in tumbling down the supersized, super-scary Olympic slopestyle course.

Quickly, his choice became clear: Time to step away from the danger, and give himself a better chance in the event he knows he can win.

The world's most famous snowboarder pulled out of the new Olympic event Wednesday, saying that after much deliberation, he has decided to bypass a chance at winning two gold medals at these games and instead concentrate on the halfpipe, where he'll have a chance to win his third straight title next week.

"With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on," White said in a statement.

The world's most decorated rider in a sport known for its risk-takers, White's decision was a stunner that dealt yet another blow to the still-to-start Sochi Games. They have been wracked by security threats and political dust-ups, along with the loss of at least one other headliner, injured American skier Lindsey Vonn.

White isn't leaving, but his departure from an event that was essentially introduced at the Olympics this year to take advantage of his star power certainly can't make the folks at the IOC or NBC too happy.

"He's a notable person and he probably would have brought more viewers to slopestyle," said Nick Goepper, an American who competes in the skiing version of the event.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams downplayed the idea that the course is too dangerous.

"I don't think that's an issue," he said. "A lot of the athletes have said they're very happy, they like the venue."

Slopestyle qualifying starts Thursday, the day before the opening ceremony.

Snowboarding's newest and most-hyped Olympic event is a judged sport - a speed-packed trip down the mountain, filled with rails, bumps and, most notably, steeply angled jumps that allow riders to flip two, sometimes three times, before landing. White hurt his wrist on one of the takeoff ramps, which were built "kind of obnoxiously tall," according to one top rider, Canadian Mark McMorris.

White, who had already hurt his shoulder and ankle in the lead-up to the Olympics, deemed his latest injury - the jammed wrist - as nothing serious and said reports about it were overblown. But he said there remained serious issues with the slopestyle course.

"There are definitely concerns about the course," he said. "It's been interesting to see how it's developed and changed over the past couple days. The big question is if it will continue to change. Because every day, they have riders meetings and they give feedback. Sometimes there's changes, sometimes there's not."

Reaction to White's decision came from several corners, not all of it positive.

"Mr. White... It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win," said Canadian rider Sebastian Toutant in a tweet that was later deleted.

Maybe so, but White certainly wasn't alone in questioning the course.

Australian Torah Bright, the defending women's halfpipe champion who is trying to compete in three events this year - halfpipe, slopestyle and a racer's version called snowboardcross - also described an overly treacherous few days of training.

"We're here as the world's best snowboarders," she told The Associated Press. "Too bad we don't have a world-class course. The craftsmanship doesn't match the world-class athletes that are here."

Out of slopestyle, White will now focus solely on next Tuesday's contest in the halfpipe, which is essentially a hollowed-out ice shell with 22-foot (7-meter) sidewalls. There is danger there, but unlike slopestyle, it's based mostly on the types of head-over-heels tricks the riders try and not the setup of the pipe.

In a news conference about an hour before he gave first word of his decision to the "Today" show, White was asked whether halfpipe was more important to him.

"For me, I definitely feel the halfpipe carries a bit more weight, a bit more pressure. I guess that's fair enough to say," he said.

He is favored to become the first male American to win three straight golds in the Winter Games.

His prospects for slopestyle, on the other hand, were uncertain. He's the five-time Winter X Games champion, though he more or less gave up the event about five years ago to focus solely on the halfpipe. He hurt his ankle on the halfpipe in the season's first Olympic qualifier, then bashed his shoulder during a nasty fall in slopestyle about a month later.

He pulled out of events, changed his mind a few times about the X Games - considered the biggest snowboarding event outside of the Olympics - before skipping that, as well. In all, it has been a hectic lead-up period as he tried to deal with both events, and it didn't stop once he reached Russia. The slopestyle final is set for Saturday, which would cost him the first day of practice on the halfpipe.

"It's tough juggling both events," White said. "Definitely not easy. It's something that's been talked about quite a bit. Losing a day of practice is a serious thing, especially with a new course and the challenges I'd face in slopestyle."

He said watching the injuries pile up on the course didn't build much confidence.

Another top rider, Torstein Horgmo of Norway, was forced out after breaking his collarbone during practice Monday. On Tuesday, Finnish rider Marika Enne was carted off the course with a concussion.

There were dozens of other less-serious flips and spills.

Many riders said the dangers of the course were being overblown - "There's no way this course is too dangerous," American Sage Kotsenburg insisted.

But White and Bright are not alone in criticizing the setup.

"It's a little intense, a little challenging," said American rider Jamie Anderson, a gold-medal favorite on the women's side. "The jumps are still a little weird. I'm having a questionable time getting used to them."

While the other riders might breathe a little easier knowing one of their main competitors is out of the way, White understands his place in the sport and the gravity of his decision.

"Not one I take lightly," he said. "I know how much effort everyone has put into holding the slopestyle event for the first time in Olympic history - a history I had planned on being part of."

US picks Todd Lodwick as Olympic flagbearer

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - The United States has chosen six-time Olympian Todd Lodwick to be the team's flagbearer at Friday's opening ceremony for the Sochi Games.

Team USA announced the choice on Wednesday. Lodwick is competing in the Nordic combined in Sochi. He is the first American to compete in six Winter Games. Lodwick was part of the team that won silver in Vancouver in 2010.

The 36-year-old Lodwick's longevity made him the choice despite competing in a relatively low-profile event. The Nordic combined features athletes who compete in both the ski jump and cross-country skiing.

Lodwick was chosen over more famous American athletes, including snowboarder Shaun White and men's hockey captain Zach Parise.

Beckham exercises option to buy MLS team in Miami

MIAMI -- David Beckham hopped onto the stage, his back to sparkling Biscayne Bay, and a pack of photographers jostled for position as soccer fans cheered and chanted.

"Thank you for the warm welcome," Beckham said on a sunny, 80-degree February morning. In this case, it was soccer weather.

The sport moved a step closer to returning to South Florida on Wednesday, when Beckham confirmed he has exercised his option to purchase a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Miami. The deal will be finalized when the former English national team captain can secure a financing plan and location for a new stadium.

Beckham attended a news conference with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to discuss their progress.

"This is an exciting time, and something we're really looking forward to bringing to Miami," Beckham told a crowd of more than 300 people on a downtown museum plaza. The event was frequently interrupted by cheers for Beckham, who's popular around the world and especially in celebrity-smitten Miami.

Beckham has scouted possible stadium sites and is seeking investors to assist with startup costs such as construction and player acquisitions. Among those who might become involved is Beckham's friend LeBron James, who has had recent conversations with the retired soccer star about bringing a team to Miami.

"We don't want public funding," Beckham said to applause. "We will fund the stadium ourselves. We have worked very hard to get to this stage where we can fund the stadium ourselves. We want to create a football club that is the people's football club."

Beckham, looking the part of a businessman in a suit and tie, said city officials have promised the stadium will be downtown, which is his preference.

Gimenez — who at one point referred to Beckham as "Beckman" — said there's political support for a plan.

"We started our negotiations last week," Gimenez said. "We have to get rolling. There's a time crunch. We are willing partners. We are very grateful that Mr. Beckham and MLS have chosen Miami as the site for their next franchise. We're going to do all in our power to make sure we get the stadium built in the right place as quickly as possible."

Beckham said he also wants to start a children's soccer academy in Miami.

The former Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Los Angeles Galaxy and Paris Saint-Germain star has the right to an expansion team at a discount fee of $25 million. MLS's Miami Fusion played in Fort Lauderdale from 1998-01 before folding because of poor attendance.

"Miami is a vibrant city with a lot of passion," Beckham said. "I know this city is ready for football — soccer — this time around. I know this is going to be successful."

The crowd at the news conference included a throng of chanting, singing fans.

"People here love this sport," Garber said. "We together have no doubt it will be a very successful MLS team."

Shareholders will include Beckham's business partner Simon Fuller, the "American Idol" creator who is the driving force in franchise negotiations, and Marcelo Claure, president and CEO of Brightstar Corp.

Beckham declined to say what players he would like to bring to the team.

"We have a list," he said. "We want to bring some of the best players in football to Miami to play on this team. I've seen what happens to teams when you bring great players in. I'm talking about the Heat."

That brought cheers from the crowd. James and the Heat have won the past two NBA titles.

Beckham laughingly ruled out hiring his former coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, to coach the team, but said he has ideas regarding that search as well.

"I kind of know what makes a great coach and what doesn't," he said. "We'll have a good coach here."

AP source: Magic Johnson in group buying Sparks

Magic Johnson is part of a group buying the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday night because no announcement had been made.

Johnson teamed with a group of investors to buy baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for a record $2.15 billion. It will be the same group owning the Sparks, minus Peter Guber, who owns a stake in the NBA's Golden State Warriors.

Previous Sparks owner Paula Madison informed the league in late December that she wouldn't be able to run the team anymore. She told The Associated Press that her family had lost $12 million on the franchise since buying it from the Buss family in 2007.

Johnson was a part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers for a decade before selling his share of the team in 2011.

While the franchise hasn't been successful financially, the Sparks have been one of the WNBA's best teams on the court and have led the league in attendance the past two seasons. They won titles in 2001 and 2002 and made it to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. They were knocked out in the opening round by Phoenix this past season.

Los Angeles, one of only four original WNBA franchises left, also has one of the league's marquee players in MVP Candace Parker.

The WNBA will announce the Sparks' new ownership at a news conference Wednesday outside Staples Center.

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Rogers announces more details about NHL deal

TORONTO (AP) Rogers Communications is going to air 500 regular-season NHL games in Canada starting next season as part of its blockbuster 12-year agreement with the league.

Rogers revealed some of its plans at an event for advertisers on Tuesday at Maple Leaf Gardens. The company is trying to drum up excitement from the media buyers who will help pay off its hefty $5.2-billion investment.

Rogers says it will broadcast games across 13 different Canadian TV channels, including City, Sportsnet and cable channel FX Canada. What's still unclear is whether longtime traditions like CBC's "Coach's Corner," and its co-hosts Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, will be part of Rogers' programming umbrella.

"We've had some conversations (with them), but not full conversations," Scott Moore, president of Rogers Sportsnet, said during a media conference after the presentation.

"We will be in a position to announce all our hockey commentators by early May."

Executives kept the focus on plans for Rogers to expand beyond "Hockey Night in Canada," which will still play a major role with 130 games shown on Saturdays throughout the season.

Rogers hopes to build a loyal following around other weekly events like "Hometown Hockey," airing Sunday nights on City. Hosted from different community rinks across the country, the series will feature profiles of NHL players, alongside a Canadian team's game.

In total, more than 1,250 hours of nationally televised hockey will be broadcast, Rogers said.

"This is about giving our fans ways to take advantage of every opportunity to connect with our game," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"We know that we're with the right people, the right partner to evolve and even lead in terms of what the developments will be in sports and entertainment into the future."

WR Fitzgerald agrees to restructured contract

PHOENIX (AP) Larry Fitzgerald says he has restructured his contract with the Arizona Cardinals, reducing a big salary-cap hit from his old deal and creating room for signing other players.

Fitzgerald announced the move on Tuesday via his Twitter account. The receiver says the move was made to help the Cardinals "get better for 2014."

Under his old deal, Fitzgerald would have earned $12.75 million next season and counted a whopping $18 million on the cap.

The restructured contract came as no surprise.

Fitzgerald said in a radio interview in New York last week that he understood the need to restructure his deal.

"When those discussions come I will do what I need to do," Fitzgerald told Arizona Sports 98.7 in an interview at the Super Bowl's "radio row." "I have a great relationship with (general manager) Steve Keim, he drafted me in Arizona. I understand his vision and what he is trying to do and the direction he is taking this ballclub. I understand at 30 years old there are things that need to change. That's part of football, that's part of being an older veteran."

Fitzgerald said he knew Patrick Peterson's "deal is coming up and he needs to be compensated as the best corner in the game, which I feel he is."

Fitzgerald also mentioned defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Frostee Rucker.

"There are a lot of guys that deserve to be compensated for their play," he said in the radio interview, "and I understand that."

Fitzgerald is on his third contract in his 10 NFL seasons, all with the Cardinals. Last season, he made his eighth Pro Bowl. Fitzgerald holds every Cardinals career receiving record.

He caught 82 passes, most on the team, for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. In his career, Fitzgerald has 846 catches for 11,367 yards and 87 touchdowns. He has not missed a game since the 2007 season.

The Cardinals, coming off a 10-6 season in their first year with Keim as GM and Bruce Arians as coach, had several players on one-year contracts, including inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who resurrected his career with a big season, leading the team in tackles.

Azcentral.com reported that the restructuring was a simple swap of bonus money for salary, saving the team about $10 million on the coming season's cap.

Cardinals President Michael Bidwill expressed confidence last week that the restructuring would get done.

Keim has repeatedly said the team has no intention of trading Fitzgerald and wants him to retire a Cardinal.

Braves reach long-term deals with Freeman, Heyward

ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Braves agreed to eight-year contract with first baseman Freddie Freeman that is worth about $125 million on Tuesday.

The deal was confirmed by the team on Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day, outfielder Jason Heyward and the Braves agreed to a $13.3 million, two-year contract. Heyward and Freeman had filed for salary arbitration last month.

The 24-year-old Freeman was an All-Star last year when he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. He matched his career high in home runs and set highs in batting average and RBIs which finishing fifth in NL MVP voting. He has topped 20 home runs in three straight seasons.

"Freddie has established himself as one of the best young talents in the game," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We are excited to sign one of our own homegrown players to a contract that will keep him in a Braves uniform for the next eight seasons."

Closer Craig Kimbrel is the Braves' only player left in arbitration.

Heyward, also 24, and Freeman are key members of the Braves' core of young stars. Kimbrel, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, outfielder Justin Upton and starting pitchers Julio Teheran and Mike Minor are 26 or younger. Evan Gattis, 27, is replacing Brian McCann as the starting catcher.

Heyward was happy to avoid arbitration.

"In my head it basically says to me, let's go play some baseball," he said.

Heyward is coming off an injury-filled season, and Wren said the relative lack of playing time complicated the arbitration process and helped make the two-year contract possible.

Heyward hit .254 with 14 homers and 38 RBIs in a career-low 104 games during his fourth season with the Braves. He had an appendectomy on April 22 and broke his jaw on Aug. 21 when he was hit by a pitch from New York Mets left-hander Jon Niese.

"Last year was such a tough year physically, through no fault of his own, with the appendectomy and getting hit in the face," Wren said. "So it also made it tough for both sides in an arbitration situation because it's hard to pin a number when you're comparing to players who played a lot more."

Heyward said he has moved past his injuries.

"Physically, I feel great, being 24 years old and being blessed with some genetics to go along with that," he said. "I'm growing up still in this game and I'm looking forward to what my body is going to allow me to do going forward."

Heyward's deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus, payable in equal installments on May 1 and July 1, and salaries of $4.5 million this year and $7.8 million in 2015.

The 2015 salary would escalate based on a points system for 2014 accomplishments, going up $500,000 for 20 points and then by $25,000 for each additional point. Heyward would earn 10 points each for 502 plate appearances, All-Star game selection, a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger award and finishing 11th-to-20th in MVP voting. He would receive 15 points for 6th-to-10th in MVP, 25 points for third-to-fifth and 35 points for first or second.

Heyward enjoyed his best season in 2012, when he hit .269 and set career highs with 27 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

Heyward's injuries did not prevent him from showcasing his versatility. A 2012 Gold Glove winner in right field, Heyward started 20 games in center last year.

He spent most of the season hitting second in the order before he was moved to the leadoff spot by manager Fredi Gonzalez on July 27. Over his next 22 games, Heyward hit .349 with five homers, 15 RBIs and 23 runs.

Heyward is projected as Atlanta's leadoff hitter.

"He provides a great presence," Wren said. "The one thing we saw, especially after Fredi moved him to the leadoff spot, it allowed him to utilize his speed, it allowed him to utilize his ability to get on base even to a greater degree.

"I think other teams felt pressure from the very first pitch of the game, because all of a sudden now you've got a 6-foot-6, 230-pound leadoff hitter that can do some damage from the get-go. That came back to us time and time again, that there's no let up. It starts right away."

Heyward is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. He had asked for a raise from $3.65 million to $5.5 million in arbitration and had been offered $5.2 million.

Report in Dolphins bullying scandal expected soon

MIAMI (AP) The NFL's report in the Miami Dolphins bullying case is expected to be released soon, shedding further light on the much-scrutinized, troubled relationship between offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.

The report likely will address whether the Dolphins organization was at fault for the locker-room culture that led Martin to leave the team last October. He later said he was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito, and alleged their racial, aggressive and sexually charged comments played a role in his departure.

Incognito's suspension by the team was lifted Tuesday. Dolphins officials say that was an administrative move agreed to by all parties last year, and had nothing to do with any new developments in the league investigation of the case.

Last week, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he has an idea of what will be in the league's report, and indicated he doesn't expect any new revelations. He said he's proud of the way the people running the franchise responded to the scandal.

Martin has said he tried to be friends with Incognito. The two players traded more a thousand text messages in a year's span, and the teasing and vulgar banter went both ways, with references to sex, drugs, violence and bawdy behavior, often in a jocular tone.

The back-and-forth continued last week. In his first interview since the scandal broke, Martin told NBC persistent vulgar language around the team made him feel trapped. Incognito's attorney Mark Schamel responded with a statement saying Martin was "hiding behind false allegations" rather than dealing with "his poor on-field performance and myriad other issues."

The NFL report will come from New York attorney Ted Wells three months after he was retained by the league to investigate the case, which inspired a national debate about hazing and workplace bullying.

Wells will determine the role of coach Joe Philbin, his staff and Miami management in the case. One issue is whether anyone on the coaching staff ordered Incognito to toughen up Martin, who became a starter as a rookie in 2012 but played poorly at times.

Martin has said people in the organization knew he was unhappy about comments teammates made to him, but he didn't talk to Philbin about it.

The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Martin abruptly left the team Oct. 28. He was briefly hospitalized and then joined his family in California and underwent counseling for emotional issues. Incognito was suspended Nov. 3 and sat out the final eight games.

Both players have said they want to play in 2014, but it likely won't be with the Dolphins. Incognito becomes a free agent next month and will probably sign with another team, and Dolphins are expected to trade or release Martin, who has two years remaining on his contract.

In a tweet Tuesday, Incognito said he supported Martin "100 percent in his return to football in 2014."

Teammates said the two linemen seemed to be good friends, despite their contrasting backgrounds. Martin, 24, was a classics major at Stanford, while Incognito, 30, was kicked off his team at Nebraska and went on to develop a reputation as one of the NFL's dirtiest players known for out-of-bounds behavior.

Incognito has said he regrets racist and profane language he used with Martin, but said it stemmed from a culture of locker-room "brotherhood," not bullying. Incognito is white and Martin is black.

Teammates both black and white have said Incognito is not a racist, and they've been more supportive of the veteran guard than they have of Martin.

In November there were reports that Ross might clean house after the season. But Philbin was retained to return for a third season in 2014, and most of his staff remains, including offensive line coach Jim Turner, who worked most closely with Incognito and Martin.

"Jim Turner is an amazing coach and friend," Incognito tweeted Tuesday.

General manager Jeff Ireland left the Dolphins in January after six seasons because of the team's mediocre results, and because he clashed with Philbin over personnel decisions.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Charlie Manuel to join Phillies Wall of Fame

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is being honored on the team's Wall of Fame.

The winningest manager in team history will be celebrated on Aug. 9 before Philadelphia plays the Mets. Manuel will become the 36th member of the club.

Manuel led Philadelphia to five straight NL East titles and the franchise's second World Series crown in 2008. He was fired last August, and last month accepted a job as a senior adviser to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

"I am honored to be enshrined on the Wall of Fame with Phillies greats such as Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and, of course, my good friend, Dallas Green," Manuel said in a statement. "The years I spent in Philadelphia were some of the best of my professional career and I owe a lot of that to the fans. I have said this before, but they are the best in the game."

Ex-NBA star McGrady tries hand as baseball pitcher

HOUSTON (AP) Tracy McGrady wants to follow Michael Jordan's path to the national pastime.

The retired seven-time NBA All-Star is aiming to become a baseball player, and plans to try pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. That's the same team that Roger Clemens pitched for a couple of years ago.

Jordan famously played in the Chicago White Sox organization in 1994 during his first retirement from basketball, reaching the Double-A level.

A statement from the Skeeters says that it is a "lifelong dream" of McGrady's to play baseball.

"McGrady has demonstrated skill, determination and diligence during his training program," the statement said. "We look forward to monitoring his progress."

The 34-year-old McGrady played for several teams, including the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic. He last played in the NBA in the 2011-12 season.

The Skeeters last made national headlines when Clemens pitched two games for them in 2012 at age 50.

McGrady made seven consecutive All-Star games from 2001-07. The 6-foot-8 McGrady, natural right-hander, was drafted out of high school with the ninth overall pick in 1997 by the Toronto Raptors. He spent his first three seasons with the Raptors before becoming a star with the Magic. He spent four years with the Magic and led the NBA scoring in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.

He then joined the Rockets where he teamed with Yao Ming to help Houston to three playoff appearances.

McGrady played for the Knicks, Detroit and Atlanta after a six-year stint with the Rockets. He retired with more than 18,000 points and more than 5,000 rebounds in his career.

Bulls C Noah fined by NBA

NEW YORK (AP) Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has been fined by the NBA for yelling at the officials after he was ejected from a game at Sacramento.

The league announced the $15,000 penalty on Tuesday.

Noah received two technical fouls in less than three minutes during the third quarter of Chicago's 99-70 loss on Monday night. The All-Star gestured at the referees and yelled obscenities as he was escorted off the court at the 7:40 mark.

Noah apologized for his actions after the game.

Scans show Nadal on mend from back injury

MADRID (AP) Medical scans have revealed no serious problems as Rafael Nadal continues his recovery from a back injury sustained at the Australian Open.

A statement from the world's top-ranked player says all checks "were satisfactory and showed positive evolution" regarding the injury, which contributed to his loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the final in Melbourne.

Nadal is continuing to work out in the gym and his return to the tennis court - starting on Thursday - will decide "when he is ready to return to competition."

The Spaniard is scheduled to play in Buenos Aires next week. Tournaments in Rio de Janeiro, Indian Wells and Miami follow.

Doctors had prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy to speed his recovery.

5 Things to Know: College Football Signing Day

Officially, national signing day allows high school football players to start signing a letter of intent with the college of their choice.

In reality, national signing day is not a starting block but a finish line. All the flip-flopping, committing, de-committing and re-committing stops.

"It's the end of the fiscal year of college football," said former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel of the Pac-12 Network. "Truthfully, the next year has already started. It's a culmination of lots of work, two and three and four years of work to get these guys into the boat."

Sure, there are occasional stragglers among the blue chippers. Some kids get cold feet and need a little extra time. Or maybe mom flips out, and needs to be reassured that her baby is in good hands. But for the most part, by the time Wednesday is over, the vast majority of FBS teams will have their latest haul of players locked up.

"It's a long day," Neuheisel said.

For a coach, the best signing days are drama-free.

"The last thing any coach wants at the 11th-hour is a surprise," Neuheisel said.

Five things to know about signing day 2014:

S-E-C!: The reason why the Southeastern Conference wins all those national championships and bowls is apparent every signing day. When it comes to quality and quantity, the Deep South is the most fertile football recruiting territory in the country. SEC schools are sinking big bucks into coaches' salaries and facilities to make sure all those studs stay close to home. Heading into signing day, the leading recruiting news sites - Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN.com and 247sports.com - all had nine SEC teams ranked in the national top 20. That includes Tennessee, which finished 5-7 last season and Kentucky, which won two games. Expect Alabama to be crowned recruiting national champs - again - by most experts. The Crimson Tide has had the No. 1 class according to Rivals each of the last three seasons. Coach Nick Saban has commitments from five of Rivals' five-star recruits. No other school has more than three. Those schools? Alabama's SEC West rivals Auburn and Texas A&M.

SIGNING DAY STARS: Most of the top prospects have already made solid verbal commitments. Signing day is a formality. But a few of the most-sought after recruits in the nation are still undecided:

- Defensive back Adoree' Jackson, from Gardena, Calif., took late trips to USC and UCLA and is also considering Florida and LSU. "That's a family fight," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.

- Defensive lineman Malik McDowell from Southfield, Mich., appears to be leaning Michigan State, though his parents aren't. "That's a pretty publicized family battle," Farrell said.

- Wide receiver Malachi Dupre from River Ridge, La. He and two of his teammates took a late trip to UCLA. Farrell says LSU is still his best guess on where Dupre lands, but watch out for Florida State.

FLIP-FLOPPERS: Last season, three of Rivals' five-stars flipped on signing day, including Florida State star defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Farrell said running back Joe Mixon of Oakley, Calif., is a candidate to pull a similar move this season. He's committed to Oklahoma, but maybe UCLA can change his mind.

MAD HATTERS: The routine is familiar to most college football fans. Recruit sits at a table with a microphone and announces his college choice by grabbing a hat with the logo of the winner. A few turn to props, like a live bulldog puppy to choose Georgia. Oh the drama! But sometimes the prospect's future coach knows what is coming. "Two nights before (signing day), there's a bunch of what we call secret commitments," Neuheisel said. "No one knows but the coach and (player) because they want to make a big splash and big surprise."

PERSPECTIVE: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a two-star recruit, according to Rivals, when he signed with North Carolina State in 2007. The top-rated QB in that class was Jimmy Clausen. This is not an exact science.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

Canucks coach Tortorella returns from suspension

DETROIT (AP) Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella returned from his 15-day suspension against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.

Tortorella was punished without pay for his conduct after a brawl in a game against the Calgary Flames. He went to Calgary's locker room following the first period, which began with several fights.

"I apologize first and foremost to the players for the situation I put them in, to the organization for my stupidity, to the league," Tortorella told reporters after the team's morning skate. "It's been embarrassing and not just for me, but for everyone around me."

NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said Tortorella's actions were "dangerous and an embarrassment to the league" when the suspension was announced.

Tortorella previously blamed Flames coach Bob Hartley for starting his fourth line, saying he couldn't put Canucks stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin at risk just to deflate the situation. Hartley was fined $25,000 by the NHL, but Tortorella was very contrite after his absence.

"What's happened was deserved," he said. "I hope it makes me a better coach, but it certainly doesn't stop the situations I've put a lot of other people in, especially my other coaches."

Vancouver lost 2-0 to the Red Wings on Monday night, spoiling Tortorella's return.

During the suspension, which lasted six games, Tortorella wasn't allowed to interact with the Canucks before, during or after games.

"It's been very embarrassing for my family and for myself and more importantly, everybody around me that I'm supposed to represent," he said. "As far as the nonsense I caused, I want to move by it. I think too much focus has been put on this. We need to worry about our hockey club right now."

Tortorella was suspended for Game 6 of the 2009 playoffs when he was coaching the New York Rangers for throwing a water bottle into the stands in Washington.

Clearly, Tortorella sounded as if he regretted his second suspension.

"I put a lot of other people in a precarious situation," he said. "I'm glad I'm back with our guys. I'm looking forward to trying to grow more as a coach with them. More importantly, get our team growing together again to be a competitive team."

No. 16 Iowa St. beats No. 19 Oklahoma St. in 3OT

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) DeAndre Kane had 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to help No. 16 Iowa State defeat No. 19 Oklahoma State 98-97 in triple overtime on Monday night.

The win was Iowa State's first in Stillwater since March 2, 1998 - a span of 18 games.

Melvin Ejim had 22 points and 12 rebounds, Georges Niang scored 17 points and Dustin Hogue added 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Cyclones (17-4, 5-4 Big 12), who have beaten six ranked teams this season.

Le'Bryan Nash scored 26 points, Marcus Smart had 20 points and eight assists and Markel Brown added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma State (16-6, 4-5), which lost its third in a row. Oklahoma State was without guard Stevie Clark, who was kicked off the team Monday after his second arrest of the new year.

Bucks snap 6-game skid, edge Knicks on late winner

MILWAUKEE (AP) Brandon Knight made a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left and finished with 25 points, and the Milwaukee Bucks snapped a six-game losing streak with a 101-98 victory Monday night over the New York Knicks.

Knight took a couple dribbles, then quickly fired his 3 from the wing with Raymond Felton leaping into the air. Felton turned in disbelief as Knight rushed down the other end to celebrate.

The Knicks had one last chance, though Carmelo Anthony misfired on a deep 3. He finished with 36 points.

New York rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but ended up falling to the worst team in the NBA.

Khris Middleton added 19 points and a season-high five 3s for Milwaukee, which also snapped a seven-game skid to New York.

Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo had 15 points and sparked the crowd with a rousing dunk in the fourth quarter, while Zaza Pachulia also gave the Bucks a lift off the bench with 12 points and seven rebounds.

New York was usually never more than a few possessions away and the last few minutes got even tighter.

Anthony hesitated before firing up a 3 with 19 seconds left to tie the game at 98 before Knight's last-second heroics.

Unlike most of the rest of the season, the Bucks had a counterpunch for every Knicks spurt.

Knight's back-door layup off a pretty feed by Pachulia with 27.5 seconds left gave Milwaukee a three-point lead to answer Raymond Felton's 3 on the previous possession.

Middleton hit a 3 with 2:44 left that was answered on the next possession by Anthony's own 3 about 17 seconds for another tie.

Anthony finished 13 of 25 from the field and 5 of 10 from 3-point range, while Tyson Chandler had seven points and 10 rebounds but was just 1 of 6 from the foul line.

Middleton nearly matched Anthony shot for shot, going 10 of 23 from the field and 4 of 8 from long range. Middleton was 6 of 9 and 5 of 6 from the arc.

New York led by seven early and had plenty of chances to gain control but went through inopportune dry spells and went just 15 of 24 from the foul line.

The Knicks lost to the Bucks two days after falling to the Southeast Division-leading Miami Heat.

In the first half, Milwaukee went 10 of 15 from the field, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, in the final 8:42 of the second quarter to go from down seven points to up by seven at halftime.

Knight and Middleton hit open 3s on back-to-back possessions during a 28-14 spurt to close the half, and the Bucks got a lift when Anthony went to the bench with 3:38 left with his third foul.

Notes: Iman Shumpert returned to the Knicks' starting lineup after missing two games with a sprained right foot. He finished with five in 24 minutes. Forward Kenyon Martin sat out again with a nagging left ankle injury. ... Bucks guard O.J. Mayo missed a fifth straight game due to illness, but did return to the bench in street clothes. "He's getting close," coach Larry Drew said. "He's been out for a while. We're going to have to get him in shape all over again." ... Drew said forward John Henson (sprained right wrist) was close to returning. He's missed three straight games.

LeBron just misses triple-double as Heat win 5th in last 6

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James came within two rebounds of his first triple-double this season, and the Miami Heat won for the fifth time in six games Monday by beating the Detroit Pistons 102-96.

James had 24 points and 11 assists, Dwyane Wade scored 30 points and Chris Bosh added 17.

Wade had one of his best performances in an injury-hampered season, shooting 13 for 19 and adding 10 rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes. His point total was his highest since Dec. 18.

James was blanked in the rebound department down the stretch. When Wade snatched a rebound away from him with 4 minutes left, a grinning James chided him as they ran upcourt. Wade waved his arms in sheepish apology.

Teammate Ray Allen outfought James for a rebound a minute later, which left James muttering to the Heat bench.

Fair or foul? Parity and American sports

So I was thinking about something after the Super Bowl ... the Seattle Mariners have never been to the World Series. They have had the occasional excellent team, beginning, of course, with the 116-win Mariners of 2001. The 1995 team was also quite good, as were the 1997 and 2000 teams. But they could not quite take that final step. The World Series, for Seattle fans, must feel a million miles away.

I was thinking how in Seattle people must think the NFL is a much fairer league since the Seahawks have now been to two Super Bowls, one which they believe the refs stole, and the other where they dominated the game like no team in decades. This NFL thing is pretty easy -- get the right coach, the right quarterback, the 12th man and, voila, championships rain.

Then I was thinking about ... my hometown, Cleveland.* The Browns have never been in a Super Bowl -- that goes back to the very beginning. There is no way to even begin describing how much hope and prayer and money and dreaming we invested into those Browns. And, as of right now, the scoreboard still looks like this:

Times they’ve left town: 1
Times they’ve fired coaches: 13.
Times they’ve reached the Super Bowl: 0.

Meanwhile, the Indians have been to the World Series twice and got relatively close a couple of other times. This year, when we expected nothing out of them, they won 92 games and made the playoffs. So in Cleveland people tend to think that the World Series is accessible and possible, and it’s the Super Bowl that’s a million miles away. It’s all a matter of perspective.

*This is also true for Detroit.

We spend a lot of time in America worrying about the fairness of our sports leagues. This does not seem to be as true in some other places. In the English Premier League, for instance, there are a handful of teams that make more, spend more, win more ... and more or less everyone seems to accept this as the way of big-time sports. I have a buddy in London who more than once has said to me, “The difference between here and the United States is that we like our leagues unequal and our health care equal, and you apparently prefer the opposite.”

You can decide for yourself about how our health-care system compares to theirs, but the sports part at least is true.

Formula One racing is an extraordinary bit of capitalism -- there seem almost no limits to what teams can spend, what engineering breakthroughs they can achieve, what speeds and handling advances they can reach. This is why Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel basically wins every championship and, at this point, every race.

Meanwhile our NASCAR is so concerned about achieving equality that they actually put RESTRICTOR PLATES on cars at certain tracks so that nobody can go too fast.

The Premier League’s results are self-evident. The Premier League as it’s now configured began in 1992 -- so there have been 21 championships. They have been won by five teams.

Manchester United — 13
Arsenal — 3
Chelsea — 3
Manchester City 1
Blackburn Rovers — 1

But here’s where it gets even more remarkable. Only three other teams — Newcastle, Liverpool and Aston Villa -- have even finished runner up. It’s just understood: If you are not rooting for one of the five or six biggest teams, your team has pretty much no chance to win the Premier League and not much of a chance to come especially close. The excitement in England for these other teams comes from other things besides championship races — from the many other tournaments going on, from the games against your biggest rival, from the occasional thrilling upset and, paradoxically perhaps, from the triumph or disappointment of a relegation battle.

Here, that just doesn’t fly. Our leagues don’t have relegation -- you’re stuck in the league no matter how badly you do. The thrill of upsets doesn’t last more than a few hours. The rivals games at the professional level don’t have the bite they once did. We don’t have any other tournaments to distract our attentions.

And so we worry about fairness. Equality. Parity. We obsess over it. The leagues institute salary caps and luxury taxes, reverse-order drafts and compensation picks, franchise player tags and shared revenue, all in a concerted effort to give every team a somewhat-even chance and every city a somewhat-reasonable hope for something good to happen.

So ... where do the sports stand? There are a million ways to look at it (of course) but I chose the simplest way I could think: I went back 30 seasons in each sport. I chose 30 because that is roughly the number of teams in each league (MLB, NHL, NBA all have 30; the NFL has 32). Also, this allows me to include the 1985 Kansas City Royals.

Here’s what we’ve got:

NFL
Won the Super Bowl: 14 teams
Made the Super Bowl: 25 teams
Most wins: Giants and 49ers 4; Cowboys and Patriots 3; Broncos, Packers, Washington, Steelers and Ravens 2 each.
Most appearances: Patriots 7, Broncos 6, Giants and 49ers 5.

Comment: The NFL prides itself on parity, and the results here are pretty good. It is interesting that for all the big market, small market talk in baseball, the NFL’s big markets (New York, New England, San Francisco in particular) have certainly done better than smaller markets like Cleveland, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Of course, Green Bay is usually brought up as an example of how small markets can thrive in the NFL. I do wonder, though, if Green Bay is still a small market -- it’s kind of a national team in many ways.

* * *

MLB

Won the World Series: 18 teams
Made the World Series: 25 teams
Most wins: Yankees 5; Red Sox 3; Giants, Cardinals, Twins, Blue Jays and Marlins 2.
Most appearances: Yankees 7; Cardinals 6; Braves 5; Red Sox, Giants and Phillies 4.

Comment: When it comes to the big game, at least for the last 30 years, baseball is looking awfully competitive with the NFL on the parity front. We appear to be entering into another baseball spending spree with all the regional television money that is about to be dumped on teams like the Dodgers. And with that comes the usual worriers, of which I’m often one. But so far there’s something about baseball structure that eludes the big spenders.

* * *

NBA
Won the NBA Championship: 8 teams
Made the NBA Finals: 19 teams
Most wins: Lakers 8; Bulls 6; Spurs 4; Heat, Celtics and Pistons 3.
Most appearances: Lakers 13; Bulls and Celtics 6; Spurs and Pistons 5.

Comment: Well, here is the least competitive league in American sports — which might be why the NBA appeals to so many around the world. There’s a baffling salary cap in place and there are countless baffling rules about player movement. But in the end, this is the only league in America where someone like LeBron James can call up a couple of buddies, come meet in Miami and win championships.

* * *

NHL
Won the Stanley Cup: 16 teams
Made the Stanley Cup Finals: 23 teams
Most wins: Oilers 5; Red Wings 4, Devils and Penguins 3.
Most appearances: Oilers 7, Red Wins 6, Devils 5; Penguins, Bruins and Flyers 4.

Comment: A little bit more competitive than I realized -- 16 different teams winning in 30 seasons is actually quite open-ended. I guess the most interesting part is that 1980s powers — Edmonton, the Islanders and Montreal in particular -- have not been in the Finals in two decades. It seems like the game took a very sudden shift in the mid-1990s. I’m sure some big hockey fans will be happy to explain.

* * *

Obviously, you can draw your own conclusions. But I think baseball has probably been the most competitive sport in America the last 30 or so years, even with all the money spent by the Yankees and Red Sox and Angels and others. The NFL does let in a couple more playoff teams and I think (though I haven’t looked too closely) that it’s easier to make a quick turnaround in the NFL than it is in baseball.

But I think the way baseball is played, the way the salaries are structured (with the youngest players and often best players still making a lot less money than the older guys) and the crapshoot that is the baseball postseason, baseball is still your city’s best shot.

One thing is pretty clear: The NBA is NOT your city’s best shot. Unless LeBron happens to like it.

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