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Bielema excited for challenge of SEC at Arkansas

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Bielema excited for challenge of SEC at Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema watched from afar in April as Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long handled the difficult circumstances surrounding Bobby Petrino's firing, liking what he saw so much that he wrote Long a letter of support a few months later.

Bielema also liked what he heard from Long earlier this week during a clandestine meeting in New York, eventually agreeing to become the Razorbacks' long-term replacement for the scandal-ridden Petrino.

The former Wisconsin coach was introduced in Fayetteville on Wednesday, bringing an end to a nearly eight-month search for Arkansas - which fell from the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference to also-ran in its season in limbo under interim coach John L. Smith.

The Illinois native takes over a program hit hard by the turmoil following the ouster of Petrino, who was fired for hiring his mistress and initially lying about her presence during an April 1 motorcycle accident. Arkansas began the season ranked in the top 10 before stumbling to a 4-8 finish under Smith, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

``I truly believe that truly successful men are more defined during their times of adversity than during their times of success,'' Bielema said. ``... I know they wanted to have more success and go to a bowl game, and I know they wanted to achieve all the things they felt were in front of them at the end of the year.

``But they persevered.''

Bielema will receive $3.2 million annually for six seasons, leaving behind a Wisconsin program he led to a 68-24 record over the past seven seasons. The 42-year-old coach said he won't coach the Badgers in their third straight visit to the Rose Bowl.

``I just felt it was time for me to try and spread my wings and fly a little bit further,'' Bielema said.

Long said he interviewed four candidates for the job, though Bielema was his first choice. The athletic director said he first met Bielema when he was an assistant coach at Wisconsin in 2005, but it was his September letter of support following Petrino's firing that caught his attention.

Long first attempted to make contact with Bielema following Wisconsin's 70-31 win over Nebraska on Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game. The two talked Sunday before eventually meeting into the late hours of Monday night as Long neared an end to the lengthy search that he said included plenty of ``ups and downs.''

``I'm very relieved,'' Long said.

Long said he had no indication from Bielema or his representation before Sunday that the coach might be interested in the Arkansas job. He only had the coach's letter - one of ``three or four'' he received from coaches relating to the difficult decisions surrounding Petrino's firing and Smith's hiring as interim coach.

``I still have the letter,'' Long said. ``That impacted me ... It meant a lot to me. He sent along with it a couple of things he believed in coaching. It had an impact on me.''

After sleeping on his discussions with Long, and considering the challenge of taking on the powerhouse of the SEC, Bielema accepted Arkansas' offer Tuesday. He met with his former players at Wisconsin on Tuesday night, introducing himself to the Razorbacks on Wednesday afternoon before his introductory news conference.

``I left a great place,'' Bielema said. ``I left a place that gave me my first opportunity as a head coach. One of the things I really believe in as a coach is if you can leave the place in a better place than where you were you should feel good.

``We gave them three straight Big Ten championships. It had never been done before. ``

Bielema wouldn't put a timetable on success at Arkansas, but he did say he would embrace the underdog role after the Razorbacks' lowest win total since 2005.

He said consistent turnover on his coaching staff at Wisconsin, and the ability to pay his assistants more at Arkansas, played a role in his decision to leave the Badgers - where he was Barry Alvarez's hand-picked successor following the 2005 season.

Bielema grew up on a hog farm in Illinois, a fact that brought out hearty laughter from the gathered crowd of Razorbacks faithful Wednesday in the Broyles Center.

A host of Arkansas' returning players were included in the crowd, each expressing surprise and satisfaction with their new coach.

Bielema promised to bring a balanced offensive attack to a school that's become accustomed to record-setting passing offenses - along with lackluster defensive performances - since Petrino's hiring in 2007.

``He really relieved a lot of tension in that team meeting about 30 seconds into speaking,'' Razorbacks center Travis Swanson said. ``I know there was a lot of tension for all of us not knowing who he is as a person, but as soon as he came in there he made everyone feel comfortable.''

Beyond the Scoreboard: WNBA names new commissioner

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USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the Scoreboard: WNBA names new commissioner

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

 

TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST, CLICK HERE

 

  • Ted Leonsis is the owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, and Capital One Arena and has a plan to get the D.C. punk band Fugazi back and playing together. Leonsis said that he would compensate the band, and make a major donation to local charities around Washington D.C. in their names. Fugazi hasn’t been playing together since 2003, however the four members were recently reunited due to a museum exhibition called “Action. Reaction. Action: Visualizing Fugazi” at the Lost Origins Gallery in D.C. According to WTOP, the exhibit fittingly explored the impact of the band, both as musicians and activists. Whether or not the punk band reunites, their activism has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars thanks to their fame and keenness for charity.
  • The WNBA officially has a new commissioner. Last week, the league named Cathy Engelbert, current CEO of Deloitte and the first woman ever to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S., to the role with a start on July 17. Engelbert, who played college basketball at Lehigh, becomes the fifth top WNBA exec in the league’s history, following Val Ackerman, Donna Orender, Laurel Richie, and Lisa Borders. One thing Engelbert “will have to deal with relatively quickly,” according to SportsBusiness Journal, is the current CBA, which expired after this season. “Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” The WNBA took seven months to name its new leader, but it was worth the wait.
  • It’s graduation season, and we’d like to suggest a gift. Our Sport Business Handbook recognizes the last 50 years as the formative era of the modern sport business industry. As colleges and universities graduate their 2019 classes of aspiring career professionals, this is a rare opportunity to hear from some of the industry’s most influential players. Consider that according to Forbes and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the U.S. Sports Industry will be an $80 billion annual category by 2022. Job growth across all sports-related industries is expanding at over 12 percent annually — more than double the national job market. In markets like Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Miami, Dallas, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, sports-related job growth is increasing at or above 20% annually. The global sports industry is estimated to be a $1.3 trillion category. Sports media is the fastest-growing segment of the industry. As a subset of that, legalized sports gambling represents a multi-billion-dollar category poised to grow exponentially, as evidenced by casino and mobile sports betting legalized in Iowa last Monday. So if you have a child poised to join the workforce post college, they could do a lot worse than a career in sports.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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USA Today Sports Images

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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