National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Hamilton out 6-to-8 weeks with torn thumb ligament

SEATTLE (AP) Josh Hamilton's attempt to beat out an infield grounder with a headfirst slide into first base landed him on the bench for up to two months.

The 2010 AL MVP was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday by the Los Angeles Angels with a torn ligament in his left thumb. He was hurt trying to hustle down the line and beat out a grounder in the seventh inning of Tuesday night's loss to Seattle. Hamilton was thrown out, but the consequences of his decision ended up being far greater.

"The news sucks. Anytime you play and you're playing hard and having fun, the last thing you want to do is do something that is going to cause you to miss time and maybe hurt your team in the long run," Hamilton said. "If I could see the future, obviously, I wouldn't do it."

Los Angeles said an MRI Wednesday revealed a complete tear of the thumb's ulnar collateral ligament. After initially saying hand and wrist specialist Dr. Steven Shin would operate at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedics in Los Angeles, the Angels said Hamilton will be examined by Shin on Friday to determine whether surgery is needed.

Hamilton was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and outfielder J.B. Shuck was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake. Hamilton said he believed it was just a jammed thumb, but when he tried throwing in the outfield between innings he knew something might be wrong.

Hamilton told manager Mike Scioscia to have someone pinch hit for him in the ninth. Ian Stewart batted for Hamilton and struck out with the potential tying run on base in a 5-3 loss.

"It's definitely unfortunate but I think as a team you have to be able to absorb and be deep enough to absorb injuries to players and Josh is a special talent who is off to a great start for us. We'll do our best to fill that void," Scioscia said. "Over the years, we've had a lot of our key players miss significant time, but we've been able to absorb it and move on. That's what we have to focus on doing now for the next six, eight weeks, whatever the time frame is going to end up being."

Scioscia said the Angels lineup could see mixing and matching while Hamilton is out. Collin Cowgill was in the lineup in left field and leading off, with Kole Calhoun dropped to sixth in the order and Howie Kendrick moved up to Hamilton's usual No. 5 slot.

A five-time All-Star, Hamilton has struggled since signing a $125 million, five-year contract with the Angels before the 2013 season. He hit a career-low .250 last year with 21 homers and 79 RBIs, his poorest power numbers since 2009. He was batting .207 with 25 RBIs through June 23, then hit .289 with 54 RBIs during the rest of the season.

Hamilton strained a calf muscle during a baserunning drill on Feb. 25 and didn't play in his first spring training game until March 17. He is hitting .444 with two homers and six RBIs in 27 at-bats this season.

Hamilton believes he can still keep his timing down with his swing even while he's sidelined.

"Disappointing in general that you've got to miss some time, because as a player you prepare the whole offseason to come in and do what you can to help contribute to your team winning ballgames," he said. "That's the most disappointing part of the injury."

The injury rekindled the debate about sliding into first base. Hamilton wasn't the only player to make that choice in Tuesday's game. Seattle's Michael Saunders had an awkward slide into first base running out a ground ball.

"It's just part of who I am. I've done that a lot," Hamilton said. "Who knows if I will ever do that again?"

Mettenberger works out hard at LSU pro day

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Wearing an LSU helmet, shoulder pads and a yellow practice jersey, Zach Mettenberger took a mock snap and rolled hard to his right, rifling passes to former LSU receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

Less than four months after reconstructive left knee surgery, Mettenberger came away from LSU's pro day looking a lot like the quarterback who racked up 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.

"That was one of the biggest things we wanted to show," Mettenberger said after Wednesday's workout, which was viewed by numerous NFL personnel. "Just my knee health and mobility was a lot in question. I was able to roll out and throw accurate balls with something behind them.

"It was fun. I've been saying for a couple weeks now that I was healthy and good enough to go and I don't think all of y'all believed me," Mettenberger added. "The biggest thing I wanted to do is show that I could go out there, take an explosive drop and throw down field like everyone knows I can."

Mettenberger's college career ended as he unloaded a 32-yard completion to Landry during LSU's regular season finale against Arkansas on Nov. 29. Taking a hit as he threw, Mettenberger tore his anterior cruciate ligament and sprained his medial collateral ligament. Doctors gave the latter injury time to heal before repairing the ACL in January with a piece of Mettenberger's hamstring.

LSU head athletic trainer Jack Marucci said that while ACL repairs have traditionally been performed using a piece of the patient's patellar tendon, LSU and the Tigers' orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brent Bankston, have had a lot of success using hamstrings for more than a decade. Marucci mentioned a host of other LSU players who've had the same procedure and returned quickly to training, including running backs Stevan Ridley and Joseph Addai.

Marucci said Cybex tests - in which a machine is used to comparatively measure the strength of both legs - showed that Mettenberger's left leg was about 95 percent as strong has his healthy leg. Mettenberger, who his right handed, pushes off with his healthy right leg when he throws.

"I showed I'm healthy enough to go through practice, compete for a job - and by the time the season rolls around in September, I should be fully healed," Mettenberger said.

His decision to wear pads was made months ago and was not influenced by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's decision to also work out for NFL personnel in pads, Mettenberger said.

"The game is played in pads," he said. "I just think it's going to be a new trend for quarterbacks to work out with pads on."

Mettenberger missed on a few throws, twice throwing behind Beckham on crossing routes, and was breathing heavily when the workout ended.

"I'm three months out of surgery and not in playing shape. My legs are kind of tired. That's kind of something to expect," he said. "I'm doing everything I can to work through that."

Mettenberger had not yet visited any NFL clubs for private workouts, but said he has some scheduled as soon as Thursday with Jacksonville, followed by another Saturday with Detroit.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was among numerous coaches and scouts who attended the workouts at LSU.

"It's as good a workout as I've seen just with regards to the amount of throws, but to know he's three-and-a-half months post-surgery, that's pretty impressive," Payton said. "It says a lot about him - and his doctor."

Mettenberger's workout was conducted by LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a former offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL. Cameron said Mettenberger's pro day performance was a testament to the quarterback's work ethic, and that Mettenberger is ready for the NFL.

"His skill set translates extremely well to that league," Cameron said. "The bottom line is the guy's got to be tough, got to be football smart and he's got to be able to distribute the ball to everybody else throughout his team under pressure and in tight windows. Zach can do that."

Future Pro Bowls to be played in Arizona, Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) The next Pro Bowl will be played in Arizona at the site of the Super Bowl, skipping Hawaii for the first time since 2010.

The game will return to Hawaii in 2016, the NFL announced Wednesday.

The 2015 game will be the third time the Pro Bowl is held in the same city as the Super Bowl. The NFL's all-star game took place in Los Angeles after the first Super Bowl in 1967, then the two games weren't in the same city again until South Florida in 2010.

Since 1980, all but one Pro Bowl has been held at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, the college football home of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.

The Pro Bowl will remain a week before the Super Bowl, as it has the last five years. The new format introduced after last season, which scrapped the AFC vs. NFC matchup, will be retained. The new format splits the all-stars through a schoolyard-style draft, a setup loosely based on fantasy sports meant to play toward player egos and the changing ways fans are interacting with the game.

The Pro Bowl after this coming season will take place Jan. 25, 2015, at University of Phoenix Stadium. A year later, the game will be held Jan. 31, 2016, at Aloha Stadium.

Tourism officials in Hawaii said they were pleased that the game was coming back in 2016 and the deal has an option for the game to be played in Hawaii in 2017.

"While we would like to have had the Pro Bowl in Hawaii in 2015, the return of the Pro Bowl in 2016 provides the state with an opportunity to showcase our islands' unique culture and beauty," Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority, the main agency that markets the state to tourists, said the 2014 Pro Bowl generated nearly $72 million in direct visitor spending, including spending by people who traveled with Pro Bowl attendees.

The agency said Hawaii will pay $5 million to support hosting the Pro Bowl in 2016 and repurpose funds set aside for the 2015 game toward other initiatives, including drawing more conventions and tourists from Asia.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who leads a state initiative to try to attract big sporting events to Hawaii, said the loss of the 2015 game sends a message that the state has to stay proactive and competitive while other destinations push value and Hawaii grapples with issues like how to freshen an aging stadium.

"We've anticipated having to compete harder for all kind of different events, not just with the NFL but with other events," Tsutsui said. "We can't just take those things for granted anymore."

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AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in New York contributed to this report. Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia

Curt Schilling says he's completed chemo treatments

Curt Schilling says he has completed chemotherapy treatment and has radiation treatment ahead.

Schilling released a statement Feb. 5 saying he had cancer, and daughter Gabby tweeted the following week that he had undergone surgery.

The former pitched said in a Twitter posting Tuesday night: "Chemo done, 5 radiations remain."

He has not said what type of cancer he has or the prognosis.

A six-time All-Star who was 216-146 from 1988-07, Schilling won World Series titles with Arizona in 2001 and with Boston in 2004 and `07. He was hired in December to be part of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcast crew, and ESPN said Schilling will join the telecasts as soon as his health allows.

UMass basketball player announces he's gay

Derrick Gordon had kept his secret for too long.

He couldn't be himself. He considered giving up the sport he loved. Because he was gay, he distanced himself from teammates.

"I was living life in shame," the UMass guard said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It took a toll on me."

Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball on Wednesday, making the announcement on ESPN and Outsports. Now he hopes to inspire others in similar situations.

"It's crazy that I'm the first," he told the AP. "I didn't know that it would be this long, but if I'm the first, then I'll start it off."

Previous announcements by NBA player Jason Collins and Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam made his decision easier. Gordon said he talked with Collins several times before making his announcement.

"There was a time that I didn't want to play basketball anymore and that's the worst feeling ever," he said. "Right now I'm happy. I'm free just to live my life."

Gordon was the Minutemen's fourth-leading scorer with 9.4 points per game last season. UMass went 24-9 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. It lost its first game to Tennessee on March 21.

Nine days later Gordon told his parents, who have been supportive. The sophomore informed UMass coach Derek Kellogg the next day.

"He said it didn't matter. He's still going to love me for who I am," Gordon said. "He said `It just might make you play a lot better next season than you did last season.' So we joked around a lot."

Two days later, he told his teammates at an emotional meeting. They, too, supported him.

Center Tyler Bergantino roomed with Gordon as freshmen.

"The fact that he's gay doesn't change anything," Bergantino said. "We didn't know he was gay before. We know he's gay now. But he's the exact same person."

Gordon said some teammates at the Amherst, Mass., school probably have known since last summer. He sat out the previous season after transferring from Western Kentucky to be closer to his family in New Jersey, where he played at high school powerhouse St. Patrick.

"They could sense it because I kind of separated myself from the team," Gordon said. "I didn't really hang out with them as far as going to parties and stuff. I really kind of kept to myself, kept quiet. We went on road trips - I'd sit by myself and they were always wondering why. I did it because I didn't want to put myself in a situation where maybe something happens and they end up finding out. Then what? I'm not going to know how to handle the situation."

Gordon held off making the announcement to keep from diverting attention from the NCAA tournaments, which ended Monday night for the men and Tuesday night for the women.

"I've been getting tons and tons of support," Gordon said. "I'm barely getting anything negative."

That may be coming, but he's confident he can handle it.

"I'm not too concerned about any away games in terms of the crowd. I have a tough skin for that," he said. "They can say whatever they want."

During the year he sat out, he considered giving up the sport but changed his mind "just because I don't want to feel like I can't be myself because our society doesn't accept it," Gordon said. "I want to be able to live my life happy and play the sport that I love."

And help others who haven't come out.

"I just hope I can give kids in general the confidence to just come out and live their lives and be free," he said.

Collins made a trailblazing announcement last April when he came out in an interview with Sports Illustrated. In February, he became the first openly gay male athlete in the four major North American pro sports leagues when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

He tweeted that he was "so proud" of Gordon: "Another brave young man who is going to make it easier for so many others to live an authentic life."

Sam, projected as a middle-round prospect in next month's NFL draft, came out in interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports in February after his college career ended.

Sam also tweeted congratulations to Gordon: "You have so many in your corner and we're all proud and rooting for you."

Current NBA players Kyrie Irving of Cleveland and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Charlotte played with Gordon in high school.

"I thought it was a great day for him and his family," Irving said before the Cavaliers hosted the Detroit Pistons. "I'm proud of him. It's a big step, not only in his life but in his career to get the weight of the world off his shoulders."

"Derrick was a great teammate and is an even better friend," Kidd-Gilchrist said before the Bobcats' game in Washington. "I admire his courage and willingness to share his story."

Kellogg praised Gordon's "courage" and hopes the announcement will help others feel comfortable coming out.

"Some years from now, it might have a place in history," he said.

For now, Gordon has a more immediate goal - returning to the court with his teammates.

"They're ready to get back in the gym just as much as I am," he said. "I can't wait to get back with them and get ready for this upcoming season."

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AP Sports Writers Tom Withers in Cleveland and Joseph White in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Ryan Moore wins Masters' Par 3 tournament

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) With friends and family members in tow, Ryan Moore made memories at the Masters on Wednesday.

Moore shot a 6-under 21 to win the Par 3 tournament at Augusta National, calling it a "perfect practice day."

No one should consider it the perfect prelude to golf's first major, though.

Since the Par 3 contest began in 1960, no winner has gone on to don the green jacket later in the week. Raymond Floyd (1990) and Chip Beck (1993) won the mid-week tournament and finished second on Sunday. But since no one has swept both events, making the Par 3 more of a curse than a forecast for the Masters.

"I'm not afraid of it," Moore said. "You never know. Someone has got to break that curse at some point in time, so hopefully it's me, if I end up winning. Who knows? I might go shoot 8 under or something, make a couple hole-in-ones. We'll see."

Moore made a relatively short putt on the ninth hole to get to 6 under. He finished one shot behind the Par 3 record held by Art Wall (1965) and Gay Brewer (1973).

Moore played the round with his 18-month-old son, Tucker, who got more attention as he pounded his plastic driver all around the course.

"It was fun having my boy out there and playing a round, you know, playing with a couple of friends," Moore said. "That's what it's for, to kind of make you relax a little bit and just go and enjoy yourself the afternoon before."

Kevin Stadler and Fuzzy Zoeller finished tied for second at 4-under 23. Bernhard Langer, Joost Luiten and Victor Dubuisson were another stroke back.

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NO CHANGES: The Masters is the only major that doesn't have a rules official assigned to every group on the golf course.

And it will stay that way.

One of the suggestions that emerged from the Tiger Woods' ruling last year was that it might have been avoided if a rules official had been on the scene. Woods hit a wedge to the 15th green that hit the flagstick and caromed into the water. He said he purposely took his penalty drop a few yards back to avoid hitting the pin again.

That was a violation - the rule requires the drop to be as near as possible to the previous spot - and it led to a two-shot penalty. Woods was assessed the penalty shots after he signed his card, but he was not disqualified under Rule 33-7 because the rules committee felt it erred in not talking to him before Woods signed the card.

Augusta National, like the other majors, brings in rules officials from tours and golf organizations around the world.

"We have approximately 60 officials on the course, significantly more than any other tournament," Masters chairman Billy Payne said. "We think we do it pretty good with the familiarity they acquire for the specific holes - some with as many as six officials on it. So we think the way do it is pretty good, which is not to say that we would never consider a change. But we kind of like the way we do it now."

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ALL FOR WOMEN: The Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced last week that its 2,400 members would vote in September whether to accept females for the first time, a proposal that secretary Peter Dawson said appears to have ample support.

That includes Augusta National chairman Billy Payne.

"I'm proud to be a member of the R&A, and I bet you can guess how I'm going to vote," Payne said Wednesday.

The home of the Masters had no women as members for 70 years until a surprise announcement in August 2012 that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore had been invited to join.

"We readily and joyously welcomed our lady members when that happened a couple years ago, and it remains a very good decision on our part," Payne said. "We are so delighted - and I know I speak for everyone - that they are members."

He declined to say what kind of message it would send to the world of golf if the R&A takes on women as members.

"I would respect their process, their requirement to conduct a vote, and so the process will culminate in a decision," Payne said. "And as I've said, I know where one vote is going to be cast."

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DIVOTS: Darren Clarke becomes the 25th player to make 500 starts on the European Tour when he tees off Thursday in the Masters. European Tour chief George O'Grady commemorated the milestone by presenting Clarke an engraved silver ice bucket. ... Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have this going for them: The four majors that Tiger Woods has missed because of injury were won by Irishmen - Padraig Harrington (2008 British Open, 2008 PGA Championship), McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open) and Clarke (2011 British Open). ... There were three hole-in-ones in the Par 3 event. University of Florida golf coach Buddy Alexander, who was paired with former Gators Matt Every and Billy Horschel, aced No. 2. So did Mark O'Meara. Matt Jones aced the third hole. Those three shots bring the total hole-in-ones to 80 since the event's inception in 1960.

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AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.

UConn hoping to capitalize on championships

STORRS, Conn. (AP) Campus celebrations are winding down after two nights of championship parties, yet the off-court excitement could be just beginning at the University of Connecticut.

With students, faculty and alumni beaming with pride following the men's and women's basketball team's national titles, the university administration is looking far beyond the Gampel Pavilion sports arena for a payoff.

The teams' accomplishments led national news and sports broadcasts and appeared on news or sports pages of newspapers across the world.

"It's amazing. It lets everyone know we're something special here," said Danielle Deschene, an 18-year-old freshman from Norwich who was sporting a Huskies sweatshirt while picking up a UConn T-shirt for her dad at a campus bookstore.

UConn is the only school to ever win the NCAA Division I men's and women's titles in the same year, a feat it also accomplished in 2004.

Money can't buy that kind of publicity, and an expected result is a boost in finances, admissions applications and recruiting.

UConn President Susan Herbst said it is hard to quantify the effect the titles will have on donations and student applications, but she's sure they'll increase.

"They get the attention, they win, and then I take that attention and turn it toward the academic mission," she said Tuesday. "People are thinking about UConn and when they get to me with congratulations, then, I have to talk about our health center, our excellence in education, our student success."

Brian Otis, vice president of development at the University of Connecticut Foundation, said the national titles have contributed to a major hike in fundraising from less than $20 million annually in the 1990s to $63 million last year.

"The success has raised the bar of excellence across the university," he said. "There was a period where mediocrity was the acceptable level of performance. That's no longer the case."

Veteran UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma also made the point during a campus victory rally for his team Wednesday afternoon.

"Today, there is absolutely no question and no doubt that if you come to school here, you are a champion and you're going to live with champions," Auriemma said.

The women's team took a campus victory lap in an open-air, double-decker bus before speeches and cheers outside the Student Union. Seniors Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson tearfully thanked fans and fellow students.

"I love the support that we have from all of you," Hartley said. "It's not just the women's basketball team or the men's basketball team, we share this with every team on our campus."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that a parade for the basketball teams will be held Sunday in Hartford.

The NCAA basketball titles - a record ninth for the women and fourth for the men - deliver a boost to the UConn brand, Herbst said.

The school's image took a hit in 2013 because of the men's team was banned from the NCAA tournament over academic performance issues. The school also is facing a Title IX lawsuit over its response to sexual assault allegations on campus. Those headlines have been replaced by stories about men and women performing at a high level on and off the court and the school celebrating both championships.

"We're still top dogs," UConn men's coach Kevin Ollie said.

UConn expects the titles to help recruiting. The Huskies already were among the nation's elite in attracting basketball talent. But Ollie says winning another title a year after the ban sends a message to potential student athletes that the program isn't on the decline.

The championships also provide a financial windfall. Checkout lines snaked through the UConn Co-op bookstore Tuesday as fans purchased championship gear. The school is planning several new designs to honor both the men's and the women's teams.

Kyle Muncy, who's in charge of licensing and branding for the athletic department, said it's hard to predict how much of an effect the wins will have on licensing revenue. He said the biggest periods in the school's licensing royalty history were in 2004-2005 and 1999-2000, corresponding to the dual titles in 2004 and first men's title in 1999. He said this year could top the 2004 mark of $1.2 million.

The school's rise over the past 20 years as an athletic power has coincided with a rise in academic prowess. And the school has said the pool of applicants for next fall has higher SAT scores and more diversity than previous classes.

Applications for undergraduate admission at UConn have risen each year for over a decade, from 13,600 in 2001 to nearly 30,000 this year. Nathan Fuerst, the admissions director, said the championships do raise national awareness of UConn.

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Associated Press writers Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn., and Michael Melia in Storrs contributed to this report.

Northwestern QB says union push was rushed, wrong

Northwestern's Trevor Siemian said Wednesday it was wrong for former quarterback Kain Colter and other players to explore unionization without first taking their concerns to their coach and administrators.

The school's football players are scheduled to vote later this month on whether to form a union to possibly bargain over better compensation, health insurance and work conditions. Siemian, a quarterback who will be a senior this fall, said during a conference call with reporters that players should have taken their concerns to coach Pat Fitzgerald and athletic director James Phillips before setting out to unionize.

"I'm treated far better than I deserve here," Siemian said. "Introducing a third party or somebody else, especially when our main goals when this began ... there were issues with the NCAA that we thought we could address, and (unionizing) was one of the ways to do it. Nothing had been exhausted from within the school. Myself included, nobody ever addressed Fitz or Dr. Phillips about these issues.

"Two of these guys that all of us have come here and trusted so much - I've known coach Fitz five or six years now - to say I don't trust you enough to help us out addressing these changes isn't the right way to go."

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board announced on March 26 that Northwestern's football players meet the definition of employees under federal law and are allowed to unionize. The players are set to vote by secret ballot April 25 on whether to form a union.

Siemian said he would vote no.

"I can only speak for myself," he said. "I'll say there's a significant number of guys on the team who feel the same as me."

Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworkers Union, which has provided support to efforts to unionize, did not return phone and email messages. Neither did Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, which is working with the steelworkers on the bid to form the nation's first union for college athletes.

Fitzgerald has told his players to vote against the union. He declined to comment further Wednesday, though Northwestern filed its formal appeal with the NLRB and said it had "presented overwhelming evidence" at a hearing earlier this year that its athletes are "students first."

"Based on the testimony of a single player, the regional director described Northwestern's football program in a way that is unrecognizable from the evidence actually presented at the hearing," the school said. "Northwestern views participation in intercollegiate athletics as part of the educational process."

The school noted that it provides four-year scholarships for athletes, not year-to-year scholarships provided by other schools, and that primary or secondary medical coverage is provided as well.

"We hope that the full NLRB will not only review this decision but will hold that Northwestern's football scholarship athletes are not employees, and the petition seeking an election for the players to vote on union representation will be dismissed," said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for university relations. "We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we strongly believe that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address these concerns."

Siemian said he regretted not exploring other options for addressing athletes' concerns when Colter organized a January meeting where he asked football players to sign union cards.

He said the fact the team petitioned the NLRB for a ruling "doesn't mean that a union is right for this university or this school."

"I think that distinction needs to be made, too," he added. "Just because you're an employee doesn't mean that a union is the right avenue, especially in a scenario at Northwestern where ... most guys on the team agree that we've been treated very, very well here. With that being said, I just don't think that's the direction we need to go in."

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Associated Press writer Tom Raum in Washington contributed to this report.

8-year-old girl befriended by hoops star dies

DETROIT (AP) When Michigan State was fighting to stay afloat despite a succession of injuries to key players, Lacey Holsworth was there.

When the team rebounded to win the Big Ten tournament, the 8-year-old from St. Johns, Mich., was there.

And as the cold-shooting Spartans bowed out of the NCAA tournament at the hands of eventual champion Connecticut one win short of the Final Four, she was there.

Now, Lacey is gone.

The little girl affectionately known as "Princess Lacey" finally succumbed to the cancer that she battled since 2011. Her father, Matt Holsworth, said Lacey died at their home late Tuesday "with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms."

Lacey met Michigan State star Adreian Payne during one of her hospital stays, and their friendship quickly blossomed. The little girl became known to legions of basketball fans, cheering on Payne and the Spartans on Twitter as they became a popular pick to win it all this season.

"Words can't express how much I already miss Lacey," Payne said in a statement released by the school. "She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life. She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I'm a better man because of her."

When it was Payne's turn to be honored during Senior Night, the 6-foot-10 center scooped up Lacey and carried her around the court. He did it again in Indianapolis after Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament, and the little girl with the blond wig was there when he took part in a recent slam-dunk competition.

And there she was at the Michigan State basketball banquet last month, standing next to coach Tom Izzo, who put his arm around her as he addressed the hundreds of players, families and others in attendance.

His message: What Lacey was going through put his team's injury woes in perspective.

"I've learned they're minor injuries when you look at life," said an emotional Izzo, who paused to gather himself. "One of the greatest things I've done in my 30 years here" was seeing Payne interact with Lacey during a hospital visit.

"Watching that moment, I could never teach that. I could never coach that. I learned from him," said Izzo, who said Lacey became the team's inspiration.

Former Detroit coach and longtime ESPN announcer Dick Vitale pledged to raise $250,000 toward cancer research over the next month and present a check in that amount in Lacey's memory during his annual gala to benefit The V Foundation for cancer research on May 16 in Sarasota, Fla.

"I talked to Matt (Holsworth) this morning. I promise you that we are not going to let her die in vain," said Vitale, who was thrilled to have Lacey attend his gala last year.

"I was just crushed" when he found out about Lacey's death Wednesday morning, Vitale said. "They should take Lacey's picture and when they define courage it should have her photo right next to it."

Lacey watched Michigan State's NCAA tournament run from the stands. After Payne scored a career-high 41 points to help Michigan State beat Delaware in its first tournament game, Payne talked as much about what his performance meant to Lacey as it did to the Spartans.

"It's like having a family member who's really sick," he said. "The only thing you can do is play basketball. You can't be there with them. Just knowing that when I play well, it makes her happy. It feels like I'm doing something, in a way, to make her feel better."

Back pain while dancing in 2011 led to the discovery of a football-sized tumor that had engulfed her kidney. After another tumor wrapped around her spine, her father had to carry her into a hospital on Dec. 28, 2011. She lost feeling below her belly button and couldn't walk on her own for several months, a long stretch that included the first of many visits from Payne.

Still, Lacey almost always was smiling when she was seen in public.

"She loved unconditionally and without hesitation," said Matt Holsworth, who asked that others continue her legacy by doing the same.

In a statement, Izzo said: "Princess Lacey has taught us all an incredible lesson about love, strength and toughness. We can all learn from her on how to handle adversity with class and dignity. ... At just eight years old, she has given us all a lifetime of memories."

Lacey is survived by her parents, Matt and Heather Holsworth, and three brothers: Will, Mitchell and Luke. A memorial service is planned for April 17 at Breslin Center, Michigan State's arena in East Lansing.

Jayhawks center Embiid declares for NBA draft

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Kansas freshman Joel Embiid is entering the NBA draft after a breakthrough season that ended with a stress fracture in his back that kept the 7-footer out of the NCAA tournament.

Embiid had been mulling whether to return for his sophomore season for weeks. He said during a news conference Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse that he reached his decision Sunday.

"I just want to thank the coaching staff, my teammates, the fans, my mentor, everybody that has helped me through my journey," said Embiid, who was accompanied by coach Bill Self.

Embiid, who some believe could go first overall, said he discussed his decision with Self, his family and the Timberwolves' Luc Mbah a Moute, a fellow Cameroonian who discovered Embiid at one of his camps and helped bring him to the U.S. when he was in high school.

"Hakeem Olajuwon called me and I talked to him a little bit. I talked to Luc, my mentor. I talked to Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers," Embiid said. "They didn't tell me what to do, they just gave me the advantages and disadvantages."

Embiid, who grew up playing soccer and volleyball, only decided to pursue basketball a few years ago. He started to blossom as a senior at The Rock School and ultimately chose to attend Kansas, where he arrived with less fanfare than fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden.

In many ways, Embiid out-performed both of them, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds while blocking 72 shots and earning Big 12 defensive player of the year honors.

"I don't think anybody could say Jo was making a poor decision by entering the draft," Self said. "Under almost all circumstances this would be the obvious choice to make. The thing with Jo, what he was weighing was he's still so young in the sport."

Still young, period. And that youthful exuberance endeared him to Kansas fans.

"I really love this place. The fans are crazy, just watching them before every game," he said. "For me, it means a lot that they showed me nothing but love. I'll miss this place."

Embiid hurt his back while landing awkwardly during a game late in the season, and missed the Jayhawks' final two regular-season games and the Big 12 tournament. He also missed a victory over Eastern Kentucky and a season-ending loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament, after which he said that he would have been able to play had Kansas advanced to the second weekend.

"My back is fine," Embiid said Wednesday. "I'm close to being 100 percent."

Even though he is still raw, many projects have Embiid joining Wiggins in going among the first three picks in the June draft. Embiid's natural athleticism, court savvy and an ability to hit mid-range jumpers have made scouts salivate all season.

"I think it's going to be hard. I think Jo's in for a fight. But I think it's going to be a fun fight," Self said. "The jump from college to the NBA is not quite as easy as what a lot of people portray it to be. Just because you're drafted high doesn't mean you're necessarily ready to play. Jo's goal obviously is not only to be drafted high but be a big-time player."

Self has already signed two five-star prospects for next season in Kelly Oubre, a talented swingman who should help fill Wiggins' shoes, and Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-8 forward from Chicago and the Naismith high school player of the year.

The question now is whether another five-star prospect, Myles Turner, will join them in Lawrence. The 6-11 center from Euless, Texas, is expected to pick among Kansas, Duke and several other schools, but has said he was waiting on Embiid's decision before choosing his school. Alexander tweeted at Turner to sign with Kansas shortly after Embiid's announcement.

Either way, the newcomers will join a team that returns three starters who helped Kansas win its 10th straight Big 12 title and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"Andrew was easy, because we knew before Andrew got here what the situation more than likely was going to be. Jo, it wasn't quite that," Self said. "What makes it tough is preparing when you don't know that you're going to lose. We've got good enough players in our program, we've said that all along. Our expectation, our goals won't vary at all."

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AP freelance writer Geoffrey Calvert in Lawrence, Kan., contributed to this report.

MLB names reliever awards after Rivera, Hoffman

NEW YORK (AP) Now that they're no longer receiving awards, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are getting their names on some.

Major League Baseball said Wednesday it created a "Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award" and a "Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award."

Rivera, a 13-time All-Star, retired after last season with a record 652 saves. Hoffman, a seven-time All-Star, retired after the 2010 season and is second with 601 saves. Both spent their entire careers in one league.

The new honors replaces MLB's "Delivery Man of the Year Award," which was given to one winner annually from 2005-13. It will be voted on by nine retired relievers, with Rivera and Hoffman joined by Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Rich Gossage and Bruce Sutter along with Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner.

Canucks make Linden president of hockey operations

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) Former Canucks captain Trevor Linden has been hired as Vancouver's president of hockey operations.

The announcement came a day after the Canucks fired president and general manager Mike Gillis.

Linden played 19 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Canucks, and led them to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, where Vancouver lost in seven games to the New York Rangers.

He scored 375 goals and added 492 assists in 1,382 career NHL games.

Linden says he is "passionate about the Canucks and I want to win - just like our fans."

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