From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Manti Te'o tried to put one of the strangest sports stories in memory behind him, insisting he was the target of an elaborate online hoax in which he fell for a fake woman created by pranksters, then admitting his own lies made the bizarre ordeal worse.Whether his off-camera interview with ESPN was enough to demonstrate that the Notre Dame star linebacker was a victim in the scheme instead of a participant is still an open question.The most important judges of the All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist may be pro football teams. Te'o has finished his coursework at Notre Dame and is preparing for the NFL draft at an elite training facility in Florida, where the 2-hour interview was conducted late Friday night.ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap said that the 21-year-old Te'o answered all his questions in a calm voice, and tried to clear up the mysteries and inconsistencies of the case.Among the highlights:-- Te'o denied being in on the hoax. "No. Never," he said. "I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this."-- Te'o provided a timeline and details of his relationship with Lennay Kekua, his virtual sweetheart, who went through an array of medical calamities before "dying" of Leukemia in September, just hours after Te'o got real news of his grandmother's death.-- He acknowledged that he lied to his father about meeting Kekua in person, then exacerbated the situation after her supposed death when he "tailored" his comments to reporters to make it sound as if their relationship was more than just phone calls and electronic messages."I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet, and that alone -- people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn't meet her, as well," Te'o said. "So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn't think that I was some crazy dude."In the same part of the conversation, Te'o said: "Out of this whole thing, that is my biggest regret. And that is the biggest, I think, that's from my point of view, that is a mistake I made."-- He detailed the confusing phone conversation he had on Dec. 6, when the woman who was posing as Kekua contacted him and told him one last hard-to-believe story about how she had to fake her own death to evade drug dealers. Te'o said it left him piecing together what exactly was going on over the next few days, when he was bouncing from interview to interview while taking part in the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York on Dec. 8 and another awards dinner in Los Angeles the next night. He mentioned his girlfriend in interviews at least three times over that period.-- Even after he went to his parents, coaches and Notre Dame officials with the story by Dec. 26, and the school provided an investigation that it says corroborated Te'o's version by Jan. 4, the player told ESPN that it was not until Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him Wednesday and confessed to the prank, that he finally believed Kekua was not real. Schaap said that Te'o showed him direct messages from Twitter in which Tuiasosopo admitted to masterminding the hoax and apologized.Schaap remarked to Te'o earlier in the interview that he still talked about Lennay as if she existed."Well, in my mind I still don't have answers," Te'o replied. "I'm still wondering what's going on, what happened."Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since Deadspin.com broke the news of the hoax on Wednesday and identified him as being heavily involved.At the Tuiasosopo house in Palmdale, Calif., the family did not answer the door Saturday. The AP learned Saturday through public records and interviews a house on the street as the Tuiasosopo's that Te'o had flowers delivered to after Kekua "died" was once lived in by Ronaiah. The residents now? A family named Kekua, though they've never heard of a Lennay Kekua.Whether Tuiasosopo ultimately confirms Te'o's version of the story will go a long way toward determining where this saga is headed.In the interview with ESPN, Te'o implied that he was not holding a grudge against Tuiasosopo."I hope he learns," Te'o said. "I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."Te'o was the emotional leader and best player on a Notre Dame team that went from unranked to playing for the program's first national championship since 1988. And Te'o's tale of inspired play while dealing with a double-dose of tragedy became the theme of the Irish's unexpected rise and undefeated regular season.Not until Te'o and the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS championship did the good times end. The Crimson Tide won in a 42-14 rout on Jan. 7, the hoax was then exposed and suddenly the dream season was tarnished.So far no law enforcement agencies have indicated they are pursuing a criminal case in the scam, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a news conference earlier this week said the university was going to leave it up to Te'o and his family to pursue legal action.Bennett Kelly, founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said a criminal case of fraud against the perpetrators probably wouldn't work because it appears they took nothing of value (money or other items) from Te'o. The player said at one point the fake girlfriend asked for his checking account number but he declined.A civil suit would be difficult as well, Kelley said."It's not as easy as it's often portrayed," Kelley said. "The context has to be outrageous. There usually has to be some kind of physical manifestation. It can't just be that it was a bummer."Swarbrick said from the start that it didn't seem as if laws were broken or NCAA rules violated. He had publicly encouraged Te'o to give his side of the story."Manti put this to rest for me and the University long ago," Swarbrick said in a text message to the AP on Saturday. "I am just glad that everyone (at least everyone open to the facts) now knows what we have long known -- that a great young man was the innocent victim of a very cruel hoax."While fans and the members of the media might not be satisfied with where Te'o has left it, he won't necessarily be compelled to answer to them -- just to potential employers starting in February.At the NFL combine, Te'o will have his physical skills and fitness tested, and he will be interviewed by NFL executives and coaches. He has been projected as a potential first-round draft pick. If his involvement in this hoax sets off red flags for teams and it causes him to slip in April's draft, it could cost him millions of dollars.Said former Dallas Cowboys general manager and NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt: "Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there'll be a lot of people investigating just what took place."
Coby White’s second straight 3-pointer splashed through the net — a three that, combined with a Ryan Arcidiacono long-ball, capped a 9-0 run to give the Bulls a one-point lead over the Bucks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to play.
For the second time in five days, the Bulls had an opportunity to knock off the Bucks, an Eastern Conference champion contender.
Then, reality hit. Or the starters returned. At this point, that’s one and the same.
Here’s all you need to know about where the Bulls’ rebuild stands as 'Year Three' fell to a 4-10 start following the Bucks’ 115-101 victory: Coach Jim Boylen admitted he considered riding a bench unit down the stretch over one that featured Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.
“They have a guy that they can go to that can get them a bucket, which is what good teams have,” Boylen said, referring to the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I’ve been on those teams. We’re figuring out who that guy is and we’re learning to play that way. We’re not there yet.”
Boylen then supported his beleaguered core players, because that’s what he’s paid to do. But the sobering reality of the Bulls’ current fortunes didn’t just play out in LaVine’s stat line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, or Markkanen’s 9 points on 2-for-12.
It played out when Boylen indeed returned to LaVine and Markkanen with 5:04 remaining, and the Bucks leading 103-99. From that point, the Bulls didn’t score another field goal.
Markkanen sank two free throws but missed a driving layup and 13-foot jumper. LaVine committed a turnover, missed a layup and a 3-pointer.
Game, set and match.
“They got the MVP over there. He did his thing. And we didn’t,” LaVine said. “It’s going to be tough when your leading players, me and Lauri, don’t perform at our level. You can understand that. You’re missing a lot of points and a lot of plays. We understand we have to pick it up.”
What’s that they say? Recognition is the first step towards recovery. The Bulls have to hope so, especially after Markkanen admitted his slump is affecting him mentally.
“It’s frustrating knowing I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not even not hitting 3s but missing layups and dunks,” he said. “I have to keep my head up knowing that you work too hard for this not to turn around. Keep working and I know it’s going to turn around.
“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half. I tried to switch it up and make the plays for the team. That’s how you get out of your own head. I have to stay aggressive. Create contact and then finish every shot. Not getting out of it too early or anything like that. I’ve done my film study. Put the work in and I know it’s going to turn around.”
At one point, Markkanen actually missed two dunk attempts on the same possession. Following the second, he rolled his eyes toward the United Center roof as if to say, 'What’s next?'
Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He missed all four three-pointers he attempted versus the Bucks.
“Just try to get an easy bucket and lay it in. But having two 7-footers there, I know it’s going to be blocked so I tried to go up quick and end up missing it,” Markkanen said of the dunk sequence. “It was frustrating. I know I can play better. It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”
Antetokounmpo made 13 field goals, equaling the total of five Bulls starters. How do you say 'ouch' in Greek?
“What I’m going to do is I’m going to support those two guys. I’m going to coach them like I always have. I’m going to show it to them on film and we’re going to work on it in practice. We’re going to get them to understand that we believe in them, we value them and that we need to do better,” Boylen said. “It’s all part of this process. We’re slugging uphill right now. We gotta keep slugging. That’s all I can say.”
Boylen said he returned to LaVine and Markkanen because he still believes in them. He has to say that and he has to believe that. The rebuild is structured for them to shine.
It’s not currently happening.
“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He has basically played two years. I’m going to keep developing them to come in and learn how to win games. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”
Raising LaVine’s absence to an ACL injury and subsequent rehab is a curious approach from Boylen given that LaVine has been fully healthy and rehabbed for quite some time. But again, he has been placed in a position where he has to protect their play and lack of production in big moments.
The Bulls are a long way away from respectability at this point.
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com
For the second time in less than a week, the Bulls played the Bucks close, but came up just short — this time falling 115-101 at the United Center. Three observations from a soul-crushing loss:
Daniel Gafford: Free man
If I dumped all the expletives I have written in my notebook about Daniel Gafford from this game, you’d never read another article under this byline.
So, while I catch my breath, here are the hits:
Rejoice. Daniel Gafford is free. pic.twitter.com/Yf9m8YKh9I— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 19, 2019
DANIEL GAFFORD FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR pic.twitter.com/lIXJzdnezQ— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 19, 2019
Lol at Giannis thinking he can float it over Gafford pic.twitter.com/sY7vW0aI9j— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 19, 2019
Gafford ended the game a -4 in 20 minutes, but it’s hard to overstate the impact he had on a particularly electric Bulls bench in this one. He was every bit the gumptious, brick-bodied big that Jim Boylen billed him as, and so much more. Every second without the ball in his hands on offense, his feet were moving — setting screens and leveraging rebounding position. In the air, every shot, pass or lob within five feet of him seemed to find his hands, and then — rather violently — the bottom of the net.
At one point, en route to his team-leading 16 first-half points, a fan behind me exclaimed: “Him and Giannis are going at it!” In reference to… Daniel Gafford. What a night.
Gafford ended his stellar breakout performance with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and approximately 2.716 million hearts stolen, on 10-of-12 shooting.
The three-guard lineup provides a spark
At the very beginning of the season, Boylen’s utilizing of a three-guard lineup (Kris Dunn-Coby White-Ryan Arcidiacono) was widely panned. Tonight, that group — with contributions from Thaddeus Young and a combination of Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford at the center spot — proved their mettle.
In the first half, that lineup catalyzed a 20-8 run that pulled the Bulls from down nine with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter to up two with 8:05 to go in the second. In the fourth quarter, a torrid stretch by Arcidiacono and White vaulted the Bulls from down 98-90 to up 99-98 in a matter of 66 seconds, sending the UC in a frenzy not seen in quite a while.
The Bucks pulled away from that point on, but this lineup showed something tonight — so much so that Boylen closed with White and Arcidiacono both on the floor along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. (Stunningly absent was Tomas Satoransky, who logged only 18 minutes tonight after coming out of the gate aggressive, offensively.)
Arcidiacono was on every loose ball in sight. White was a blur in transition and coming off screens and dribble handoffs. Combined, they shot 7-of-11 from long distance. Maybe Boylen is on to something.
Bulls melt down the stretch
The Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run after that aforementioned White-Arcidiacono blitz. For most of the game, the Bulls were able to hang around despite being out-shot from three and on the wrong end of a 35-14 free throw disparity, but their energy waned late in the game. Despite miraculously out-rebounding the Bucks 50-48, out-scoring them in the paint 50-46 and competing defensively throughout, the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch (they failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes), and it ultimately cost them.
The blame is shared in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 6-of-28 from the floor (only 0-of-4 in the fourth) and were largely outplayed by the bench unit.
In a performance reminiscent of last Thursday’s in Milwaukee, the Bulls appeared to everything necessary to win on Monday. But they didn’t. Now, with a record of 4-10, the heat is on.
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com