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Tide's kid stars Yeldon, Cooper prep for huge game

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Tide's kid stars Yeldon, Cooper prep for huge game

MIAMI (AP) T.J. Yeldon opened his Alabama career by rolling through Michigan's defense for 111 yards, and fellow freshman Amari Cooper took note.

Performing in the face of huge crowds and big, fast college defenders wasn't so hard after all, he figured. It's still football.

``He was like, `Oh, this is easy,''' Cooper said. ``I didn't have a big game that day, but I could see it was easy.''

Cooper didn't break out as a freshman star until later for the Crimson Tide. But both have shined this season and get their biggest opportunity on Monday - against the terrific defense of top-ranked Notre Dame with a BCS championship on the line.

The tailback Yeldon and receiver Cooper have already put up nice numbers and plays that helped put the Tide into this position.

Alabama beat LSU on Yeldon's 28-yard screen pass in the last minute. Cooper's late 45-yard touchdown catch was the final score of a 32-28 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship, when Yeldon ran for a season-high 153 yards.

Kids today.

It's nothing unusual for Nick Saban to call on the youngsters to play pivotal roles. Yeldon follows 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and 2011 finalist Trent Richardson in a string of quick-learning tailbacks.

And Cooper is challenging Julio Jones' freshman receiving records for Alabama.

``Coach Saban always says, `If you're good enough, you're old enough,''' Cooper said. ``If you're good enough to play and you show the maturity, then they'll allow you to do that.''

Their freshman finale will be the biggest test to their maturity.

Yeldon has run for 1,000 yards as Eddie Lacy's backfield-mate even though he hasn't started a game. Together, they lead a running game that has produced 35 touchdowns and 225 yards a game.

They'll face a sturdy front seven on a defense that has yielded just two rushing touchdowns in 12 games.

Both freshmen spoke to reporters for the first time this season at Saturday's BCS media day because Saban doesn't allow freshmen to do interviews - title game rules force them to be available. Their abilities have been on display all season, though.

Lacy, a junior, has worked through nagging early-season injuries to rush for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns. Alongside him, Yeldon's 6.5-yard average per carry is tops among the SEC's 15 leading rushers.

Both Yeldon and Cooper enrolled a year ago and went through spring practice. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Yeldon capped it with an MVP performance in the spring game that didn't just impress fans but teammates.

``I didn't really know much about him because he hadn't really been running much with the (starters) in the spring,'' Alabama center Barrett Jones said. ``I was just kind of like, `Who is this guy?' T.J. is just such a freak specimen.''

Surrounded by cameras and tape recorders, Yeldon acknowledged that he's ``not really a people person.''

``I don't even like talking,'' Yeldon said, meaning Saban's policy probably came as a relief.

As for playing before millions for college football's biggest prize, he doesn't offer much insight.

``It's very exciting, but I don't know how to explain it,'' said Yeldon, who has received occasional postgame counsel from both Richardson and Ingram. ``It's pretty fun.''

Cooper lets his excitement show a little more. He said he's spent time this week envisioning himself making big plays, but added he always does that before a game.

``It's a great opportunity,'' Cooper said. ``That's what we've worked so hard for all our lives. It's a great opportunity and I'm happy to be able to showcase it here in Miami for the national championship.''

He has 53 catches for 895 yards and a school freshman record nine touchdown catches. Cooper needs five receptions and 29 yards to break Jones' marks set in 2008, and the Atlanta Falcons receiver is a fan.

``He's a great player,'' Jones said on Friday. ``He's just got to stay focused and continue to do what he's doing. Stay humble, stay humble and keep working. The sky's the limit, especially coming from a program like Alabama because you know he's going to be coached great there and (know) how to handle success.''

After all, Ingram won the Heisman as a sophomore. If Lacy leaves for the NFL - he said Saturday he will make up his mind after the game - Yeldon would be the lead man with whoever takes over his ``backup'' role.

Cooper will be joined by fellow freshman Chris Black, who was a little more highly rated but missed the season with an injury.

``It's going to be pretty scary for the defenses that are going to be defending us,'' Yeldon said.

---

AP Sports Writer George Henry in Flowery Branch, Ga., contributed to this report.

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Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

While a number of teams are fighting to be the favorite heading into the NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up a key endorsement from Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant.

When asked who he thought will win it all this year, Durant chose the Clippers defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals and upsetting the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. 

"They're just so deep," Durant said of the Clippers on “Play For Keeps” podcast. "They haven't had their whole team together at once for a long period of time yet, and that talent is just undeniable. When you have [Paul George] and Kawhi [Leonard] at the wings, that's what you need to win is wings. You got those two at the wings, arguably top three, top four at the wing position on one team."

So far in Orlando, the Clippers have gone 1-2 after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and falling to the Lakers and Phoenix Suns. As of now, they hold the two-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and would face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. However, they are currently just a half a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets with five seeding games remaining.

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The Lakers clinched the one-seed last week and are up six games in the standings over their cross-town rivals.

ESPN’s playoff odds gave the Clippers a 10% chance of winning it all. They ranked third behind the Bucks with a 49.7% chance and the Lakers at 18.7%. 

Durant chose Los Angeles over his own team, the Brooklyn Nets, who are also in a good position to make the playoffs as the current seven-seed in the East Conference. However, the Nets are playing in Orlando without eight players including a number of starters like Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Durant, who missed the entire regular season after tearing his Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals.

If his team retains the seven-seed heading into the playoffs, they would likely face the Toronto Raptors, who Durant projected would fall to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But regardless of seeding, Durant acknowledged it’s still anyone’s game.

“I hate doing that s---,” he said about predicting a winner. “You never know what could happen – you seen that with us last year.”

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Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Last night, the Orioles sent outfielder DJ Stewart to the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Bowie after an 0-for-14 start to the season. The move got the roster down to 28 players ahead of the deadline.

But even with Stewart now down and the roster full, it’s natural to be curious where the organization's most pro-ready prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is and why he hasn’t been called up yet. 

The Orioles have four outfielders on the 28-man roster currently: Austin Hays, Dwight Smith Jr., Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. They’ll have to make another roster move in the coming days, when pitcher John Means comes off the bereavement list, too.

Still, there is a natural curiosity about what the International League’s Most Valuable Player from a year ago could accomplish at the major league level. 

Last year at Triple-A Norfolk, Mountcastle slashed .312/.344/.527 and had 25 home runs in 127 games. While he predominantly played the corner infield spots, he played the outfield for the first time in his professional career.

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Now, the Orioles want to develop him as a corner outfielder. 

What Mountcastle’s time at the development site shows, however, is that they value the camp more so than regular games for him right now. 

With Hays and Santander in center and right field, the two options for left field are Mullins and Smith, who are batting .083 and .167, respectively. Neither is getting on-base at a clip better than .250. In terms of hindrances to Mountcastle’s job in the major leagues, there aren’t many right now. 

The Orioles are carrying three catchers, which is one area the eventual roster move could come from when Means is back on the roster, but until Mountcastle comes up, those questions won’t be quelled. 

The team has already acquired an extra year of club control by keeping Mountcastle down for the first week of the season, meaning the reasons for keeping him down at this point relate strictly to his development. 

That means he’ll be in Baltimore once the Orioles think he’s ready to play major league defense and take major league at-bats. 

As for when that is, however, is solely up to the organization at this point.

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