EXCLUSIVE BLOG: How to celebrate a Mosconi Cup victory by 2013 Team Europe winner Darren Appleton

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When Europe strolled to an imperious 11-2 victory against fierce rivals USA in the 2013 Mosconi Cup, history had been written.

Never before had a European side cruised to such a win in the history of the competition, yet Johan Ruijsink’s men had done it – and on American turf too.

The fact that it was Europe’s fourth title in a row – and in the 20th year of the tournament – meant one thing: the players needed to celebrate.

But just how did the European squad come to terms with such a win? And how did they decide to toast their victory?

2013 winner Darren Appleton exclusively tells www.vaishalibhardwaj.com what he did – and how he felt – in the days following the team’s momentous Mosconi Cup triumph.

Apr 23

T.J. Jones signs tender with Lions

Wide receiver T.J. Jones signed his restricted free agent tender on the first day of the Lions’ offseason program.

The Lions made the announcement on Monday afternoon. Jones was tendered at the lowest of the three levels earlier this offseason and stands to make a little more than $1.9 million during the 2018 season.

Jones made the first six starts of his NFL career last season and set career-highs with 30 catches and 399 yards in his 14 overall appearances with the team. He’s played 27 games for Detroit over the last three seasons and will return to a complementary role alongside Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.

“I’m excited about it,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of momentum coming out of New York from people who have seen what we’ve done there, and there are people in New Orleans who are looking forward to using the platform to advocate on their behalf.”

Which means NFL players could be in the halls of another state house or university before long, with attentive audiences waiting.

“That was another playoff game. That was just tough, physical for 48 minutes,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

One more win Wednesday night at Minnesota and the Nuggets will end a five-year playoff drought.

The Trail Blazers have lost four straight but still harbor hopes of clinching the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

“At the end of the day this team is going to make a shot. I’m not worried about that,” said Jusuf Nurkic, who had 20 points and 19 rebounds. “We have one more at home (against Utah) and it’s probably going to be for the third spot. We’re going to fight for that.”

The Nuggets kept their season alive thanks to Nikola Jokic’s 10th triple-double of the season and a stifling defense on a night their starters made just 22 of 61 shots.

“I told them at halftime, I was honest, I said, `Fellas, if we lose, we’re out.’ I knew some of these other teams had won games. And I felt we played like our lives were on the line,” Malone said. “It wasn’t pretty, but I thought our defense was phenomenal.”texans_130

Apr 21

Raptors hold off Pistons 108-98

VanVleet was out with lower back tightness, and Ibaka had the night off to rest for Toronto.

The game didn’t mean much in terms of seeding in the East, but Toronto (59-22) now leads Golden State (58-23) by a game for home-court advantage in a possible NBA Finals matchup.

Manziel, 25, completed 13 of 32 passes for 136 yards and an interception in a 17-13 loss to the Chiefs in the last game he played. He has not played the past two seasons.

Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier scored for San Jose. Martin Jones allowed five goals on 19 shots before being replaced by Aaron Dell to start the third period.

The Sharks started strong in the second period and held Minnesota without a shot for more than eight minutes. But the Wild then struck twice within less than a minute midway through the period to take control.

Granlund started it with a wrist shot for his 21st goal before Zucker took over with two goals of his own, giving him 33 on the season and the Wild coasted from there to the victory.

“We didn’t play too well,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “We should have played better. Disappointing. I think over 82 games in the season we had a pretty solid year to make the playoffs.”

The 49ers announced they have signed linebacker Korey Toomer to a one-year deal.

“We’re excited to add a talented player like Korey to our defensive unit,” 49ers General Manager John Lynch said, via quotes distributed by the team. “Korey is a good fit for the ‘stack linebacker’ position in our scheme, and he provides our team another good football player with plenty of NFL experience in similar systems.”

Toomer, 29, entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2012. He has spent time with the Seahawks (2012-13), Cowboys (2014), Rams (2014), Raiders (2015) and Chargers (2016-17).

In 46 career games, Toomer has 115 tackles, two sacks, one interception and five forced fumbles. He also has added 14 special teams tackles.

The way Chiefs general manager Brett Veach sees it, why wait?texans_113

Apr 19

Saints hoping draft goes as well this year as last

No team had a better draft than the Saints in 2017. Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore became the first teammates to sweep the AP Rookie of the Year awards since 1967.

Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alex Anzalone and Trey Hendrickson proved big contributors, too.

But the Saints don’t have as many picks — or draft as early — as they did in 2017. Their first pick this year is No. 27, and New Orleans’ next choice after that is No. 91. Six of the Saints’ eight choices are third-day picks.

A Beckham deal would go straight to the top of that star-studded marquee, and wide receiver is a need for the Rams after they failed to re-sign Sammy Watkins. But two factors make such a move undesirable and unreasonable for the Los Angeles.

Adding Beckham to an already volatile personality mix with Peters, Talib and Suh might be much too much to handle. The Rams also need to worry about paying Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the NFL, what he wants beyond 2018. Taking on another contract concern from the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, in which Beckham was selected one spot ahead of Donald, would put the Rams in a tough situation with running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff needing big deals, too, in the near future.

But what begins now for San Antonio after Monday’s 98-85 win over the Sacramento Kings is one final push to improve playoff seeding Wednesday when the Spurs face the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Arena. As it stands, the Spurs can finish anywhere between fourth and eighth in the Western Conference standings with one game remaining in the regular season.

“It feels good,” said Rudy Gay, who came off the bench to record a team-high 18 points as one of five Spurs to score in double figures. “It feels great, actually.”

The Spurs currently sit at sixth in the standings, and with a victory over New Orleans, they’re assured at least the No. 5 seed but could move up to fourth depending on the outcomes of other games in the conference.

For a franchise that tied the Portland Trail Blazers on the NBA’s all-time list for the second-longest streak of consecutive postseason appearances — and had captured back-to-back 60-win seasons in the previous two years — the Spurs expressed sincere relief in finally clinching the latest berth. Typically, at this time of the season, the Spurs are resting players in preparation for the playoffs.texans_096

Apr 17

Who had the best sneakers of Week 25 in the NBA?

With his season-long #LeBronWatch campaign featuring two surprises this week, Cavaliers All-Star LeBron James once again continued his dominance both on the court and with his shoe game.

Nike has made more than 10 special editions of his latest signature model, the LeBron 15, highlighting everything from classic Nike brand stories to colorways and themes from past LeBron shoes, and even tributes to some of James’ favorite Swoosh sneakers from his childhood.

As the Cavs played host to the Washington Wizards earlier in the week, James caught everyone by surprise with a nod to his very first sneaker.

Last night, I had no choice but to go back to where it all started for me in 2003 with the Air Zoom Generation, James captioned on Instagram. Felt like I was actually back in the original while on the floor. Crazy!

Last but not least, Clippers center Montrezl Harrell has continued to have fun with his Kickstradomis-customized sneakers, donning a pair of red and blue Air Jordan 29s featuring none other than Homer Simpson in his classic WooHoo! pose along the side.

Check out all of the best sneakers spotted in the NBA this week, and vote for your favorite pair below.

Sometimes this talent distribution can change rapidly, reflecting a trend or a truth about what’s going on in baseball. For example, when home runs became a powerful point of differentiation among players after the end of the dead ball era, which had been mostly about batting average, the smaller players at second and shortstop didn’t add as many homers as the generally larger outfielders did. Same goes for third basemen, the hot corner being considered more of a defensive position than it is today.

Another trend is the decline in difference between players on the hard and easy side of the defensive spectrum. While the importance of talent up the middle to a team was always something you heard in baseball, it has been only since Moneyball that the WAR contribution from the middle positions (C, 2B, SS, CF) has finally caught up to the value from the corners.cardinals_014

Apr 14

Hitter or pitcher? Why Shohei Ohtani’s fantasy value is best on the mound

Hey hey, Shohei! You’re No. 1 on the Player Rater!

Through one week — OK, 11 days (or the length of the ESPN first “week”) — no star in fantasy baseball has shined brighter than Shohei Ohtani’s, the Los Angeles Angels’ hitter/pitcher. And he’s worthy of that dual label, having already provided sizable contributions on both sides of the ball: He’s tied for fifth in the majors in home runs (3) on the hitting side, and stands alone in third in strikeouts (18) on the pitching side.

If you’ve been watching, you’ve seen what’s behind it: A splitter that has been positively filthy, one that he has thrown 32 percent of the time overall and 48 percent in two-strike counts, making it his put-away pitch. Ohtani’s splitter has been worth 3.7 runs above average per FanGraphs, making it the eighth most-valuable individual pitch thus far, behind only Sean Manaea’s four-seam fastball (6.7), Jameson Taillon’s four-seam fastball (5.4), Chris Rusin’s four-seam fastball (4.9), Ian Kennedy’s four-seam fastball (4.8), Luis Severino’s slider (4.2), David Price’s cutter (4.1) and Gerrit Cole’s four-seam fastball (3.8). Ohtani’s splitter also generated 16 swings and misses on Sunday, which is tied for the most by any pitcher’s splitter in a single game since 2009, which is the first season for which our internal pitch-tracking tool has data.

“Denver’s a punter’s paradise,” King (Marquette, not Peter) said. “The ball definitely travels a lot further. I’ve always enjoyed punting out here in the altitude just because the ball travels further.”

Of course, there’s more to special teams success than just being able to kick the tar out of the ball, and the Broncos coaches are going to have to work to get King used to the difference to keep him from just blasting everything through the end zone.

But getting King (Marquette, not Peter) for a three-year, $7 million deal seems like good business, since he was already one of the league’s strongest punters (and fun, which it’s important to remember the game is still allowed to be).

Gettleman might be looking to duplicate the formula he used to build Carolina into a Super Bowl team with Cam Newton and a powerhouse defense leading the way. Expensive wide receivers were never part of the Panthers way under Gettleman.texans_015

Apr 12

Towns helps T-wolves top Grizzlies 113-94, closer to clinch

The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up another important win to keep pace in this relentless Western Conference race.

Their quest to end the franchise’s 14-year absence from the playoffs still isn’t finished.

Teague missed six of his first eight shots, but he helped the Wolves pull away with a four-point play in the early portion of the third quarter. His lob found Andrew Wiggins for a soaring dunk about three minutes later. Gorgui Dieng sank his second 3-pointer of the night soon after for a 75-63 lead. Butler gave the Wolves a 98-83 lead midway through the fourth quarter with a hustle to finish a fast break with a layup.

The Wolves brought energy and crisp ball movement, but they clearly carried some pressure with them during an ugly start filled with turnovers and misfires. They made only four of their first 16 shots from the field, and boos circulated in the arena as Omari Johnson’s jumper put the Grizzles in front 24-14. Butler missed a short bank shot as he was fouled and bricked the first free throw, too, causing him to growl in disgust as he reached the bench early in the second quarter.

The Wolves, though, used a 20-4 run to lighten the mood a little in the arena. Derrick Rose (13 points), Dieng (11 points) and Tyus Jones (eight points) combined to produce a solid output from the second unit.

That approach has been working so far.

“I’m feeling great now,” Smith said, via the team’s website. “Actually, I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been in a while. I’ve taken this offseason to get back into it a little early and try to take care of my body a little more. I’m just doing the little small [rehab] things and I just feel awesome right now.”

There are several things that would aid the Cowboys offense in 2018, including having Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup for a full season. A healthy year for Smith is right at the top of the list as well, so people in Dallas will be hoping these early results foretell good things for the months to come.

Rest assured, the teams interested in drafting Jackson will make time to find out more about his special talents. The teams that are out on him won’t do their due diligence, anyway. Of course, the notion also could have been put out there by more than a few Jackson suitors in an effort to make him last longer on the board for their drafting purposes.patriots_115-223x223

Apr 10

Tony Romo lands nomination for Sports Emmy

After just one season as the top color man for CBS Sports’ NFL coverage in 2017, Tony Romo has been nominated for an Emmy award.

The broadcasting giant announced this news on Wednesday.

According to 247 Sports, Romo will be competing against Kirk Herbstreit, John Smoltz as well as fellow CBS peers Gary Danielson and Brad Nessler for the award.

Of course, one of the reasons Ballard might feel this way is that in the end the Colts came out smelling like roses. Instead of landing the offensive coordinator of the team that lost Super Bowl LII, they signed the offensive coordinator of the winning team, former Philadelphia Eagles coach Frank Reich. Still, it’s pretty interesting that the team that was most impacted by the situation that triggered this potential change didn’t want it to begin with.

Fast forward a couple months and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden had this to say when asked if the team is now better off with Smith.

Yeah, without a doubt, Gruden said, per John Keim of ESPN. I don’t want to compare two players, but we’re always trying to be better at every position. We got better. Alex’s experience is well-noted, and his record the last five years is what it is. You could argue that all day, but we feel very good.

These remarks must be a bit of a gut punch to Cousins, who did the team no wrong while patiently playing under franchise tender for the last two seasons.

But ultimately, Washington allowed Cousins to walk. Accordingly, the Redskins made a smart move in acquiring Smith who would have been snatched up quickly by any team in need should he have officially hit the trade block.broncos_023-500x500

Apr 07

Jawuan Harris is’focusing on baseball’ but does Rutgers coach Chris Ash expect him back in 2018

Jawuan Harris started five of the 11 games he played in last season for Rutgers, totaling 41 tackles and tying for the team-lead with three interceptions from his safety position.

But while Harris has two years of college-football eligibility remaining, his focus is on baseball right now.

But what does his future hold when the season is over, I don’t know yet. We’ll just let it go and see how it plays out.”

During spring camp the past two years, Harris would typically work out with the Rutgers football team for the first 45 minutes of a spring practice and then focus on his baseball and academic commitments.

That’s not the case this spring. The fact that Harris — a football-scholarship player — isn’t participating in football activities may be the strongest indication that he’s not being counted on to contribute next fall.

He was with us a little at the beginning of the semester,” Ash said, (but) then kicked into baseball and he’s been full-time baseball.”

The Devils enter Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against the Pittsburgh Penguins riding a three-game winning streak.

They continued that run on Tuesday when they rallied for a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and when Stefan Noesen scored the winning goal with 1:33 left in regulation, Hall said he was jumping on the bench.

Regardless of how the final six games of the season play out, there’s no questioning the Devils’ motivation to finish what they started.

Everybody was really motivated, and it’s a good thing, forward Nico Hischier said. You really see that it’s a team that cares and a team that really wants to make the playoffs. I think we’re on a good way, but six games left. It’s in our hands now, and we’ve got to play our game.patriots_051-223x223

Apr 07

Jets CEO ready to get involved in draft process now

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam made himself visible when his coaches and scouts were watching pro days for the top prospects last month.

Now the guy who runs the Jets is ready to join the fray, as the ultimate decision-makers are wont to do when it comes to quarterbacks.

For a proud franchise like Big Blue trying to rebound from a disastrous 3-13 season, obtaining a boat-load (pardon the pun) of draft picks in return for OBJ would be a smart play. The team has plenty of holes to fill on the league’s second-worst defense statistically, not to mention an offensive line that struggled in the run game and at times in pass protection.

There’s no doubt Beckham can be productive in Shurmur’s offensive system that was so effective for the Vikings last season (without a $20 million-per-year receiver). But Beckham also could be a major headache with his contract, his love of the limelight and his often poor decision-making on and off the field.

That’s the juggling act a team faces with a player such as Beckham. Is he worth the drama he invariably brings? You’re hoping he changes his M.O., but that might not happen until several years down the road. It’s hard to see him changing now as a 25-year old who clearly likes to party and hang out with celebs.

The Ravens opened a Wednesday press conference with outgoing General Manager Ozzie Newsome, his impending replacement Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh with the announcement that Robert Griffin III will be joining the team as a backup quarterback.

“One of the things we brainstormed was, ‘Well, we’re going to get picks (for Smith). Let’s go after a corner that maybe we can’t get in the free-agent market or the draft.'”

Speaking of free agency, the Reese’s Senior Bowl in late January proved as valuable a chance for franchises to begin laying the groundwork for upcoming veteran signings as it was for scouting college players. With no fear of league repercussions for tampering, agents and executives that met face-to-face in Mobile continued to make such headway in negotiations that free-agent deals featuring specific contract terms began surfacing the day before the actual start of the NFL’s signing period.texans_071

Apr 05

Reggie Bush Won’t Encourage Son to Play Football Due to Injuries

Former USC standout and NFL running back Reggie Bush isn’t particularly bullish on the idea of his son growing up to play football one day.

I’m not going to encourage him to play football, but I will definitely support him whatever he does, Bush said, per TMZ Sports.

Bush noted he would be extremely happy if his son plays another sport and explained of football it’s not a matter of if you get injured, it’s a matter of when.

A year later, there will be higher expectations for Mitchell Trubisky entering his sophomore season, and the 2017 No. 2 overall pick will have a lot more support. New head coach Matt Nagy worked magic with Alex Smith in Kansas City, and new receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton will team up with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to become one of the best young arsenals in the league.

If returning wideouts Cameron Meredith and Kevin White can stay healthy, that receiving corps will be loaded for the relatively well-protected Trubisky, who completed more than 67 percent of his passes in the final month of his rookie campaign.

That same month, the Bears defense surrendered just 13.6 points per game to finish the season with a top-10 ranking in both points and yards allowed. Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller return to a talented secondary, positioning that unit for a strong 2018 campaign.

If Trubisky can continue to progress and third-year linebacker Leonard Floyd can put it together, the Bears could become a wild-card team in 2018.

But at least the Rams know what they’re getting themselves into. Other teams are taking even bigger risks. They just don’t know it yet because it isn’t as obvious.

Those teams are making the NFL’s favorite bad gamble: the no-risk risk. They’re trying to somehow get better by getting rid of their best players. The dreaded culture change. The rebuilding project that is driven by personalities, not potential. The play-it-safe-and-guarantee-mediocrity gambit.patriots_150-223x223