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Desiderio under radar

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Paul Desiderio’s draft stock soared following a successful season in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.

Desiderio, the team captain of the University of the Philippines squad that made it all the way to the finals, formally filed his application for the Philippine Basketball Association Rookie Draft late Friday and immediately drew interests from a handful teams.

One of them is Rain or Shine, which is set to lose gunner Chris Tiu to retirement.

“If Chris’ decision on his retirement will not change, then Desiderio is an option for us at sixth (pick),” said head coach Caloy Garcia, adding that they are holding the sixth and eighth picks in the first round after shipping Jericho Cruz to Talk ‘N Text earlier this year.

“Chris and the management have agreed for more time until 15 December. I think we have enough time to make a decision on whether to find his predecessor because the draft is still on the 16th.”

“If he retires for good, then Desiderio is a possible choice.”

Garcia believes Desiderio will be a big addition to Rain or Shine, especially with the kind of leadership he showed in the Fighting Maroons’ emotional championship run.

Desiderio was a man on a mission in his final year as he averaged 13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals to engineer the Fighting Maroons’ first finals appearance in 32 years.

Although the Diliman-based squad surrendered to heavy-favorite Ateneo de Manila University, the heroics and leadership of the 21-year Desiderio obviously sparked his draft value.
“Desiderio played great in his last year in UAAP,” Garcia said.

“He poured it all for UP in his last hurrah. His draft value got up because of that.”
Garcia, however, believes that he might not catch CJ Perez, Ray Parks and Robert Bolick on top, who are all locked to go 1-2-3 in the draft based on the pronouncements of coaches and team managers.

“I think those three are already locked for the first three picks. The order will depend on the teams (Columbian, Blackwater and Northport), but they will be surely going first, second or third,” he said.

“Teams are still deciding as of now but who knows, they might tap surprise picks.”

“If Phoenix and Meralco do not take Desiderio, then we might take him being the best possible talent at sixth pick. That pick is our best pick so he’s our possible choice.”

Aside from Desiderio, also in contention for first round prospects are Abu Tratter, Bong Quinto, Michael Calisaan, Trevis Jackson, Javee Mocon and Jayjay Alejandro.

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Celtics feel the Heat

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JIMMY Butler provides leadership down the stretch for the Miami Heat. GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — The Miami Heat turned it up in the second half, rallying again for a 106-101 victory over the Boston Celtics and a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

Trailing by 17 in the second quarter and down 60-47 at halftime, Miami thrashed the Celtics, 37-17, in the third quarter and held on for the victory.

Bam Adebayo scored 15 of his 21 points in the Heat’s blistering third quarter.

The Celtics, who let a big lead slip in a 117-114 Game 1 overtime defeat on Tuesday, regained the lead in the fourth quarter and were up, 94-89, with 4:25 left to play.

But the Heat chipped away with a hook shot from Adebayo and a steal and dunk by Jimmy Butler.

Goran Dragic followed up two free throws with a three-pointer over Boston big man Daniel Theis that put the Heat ahead, 100-95, with 1:42 remaining and Miami powered to the finish line.

“We came here to these playoffs trying to win a championship,” Adebayo said.

“We keep stacking these wins and hopefully we get to that point.”

“Right now, 2-0, we’ve got to keep stacking those wins.”

Dragic finished with 25 points, and Duncan Robinson added 18 points, all on three-pointers.

Adebayo added 10 rebounds and four assists, Jimmy Butler had 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals.

“We like to make it hard for ourselves,” Butler said of the Miami “comeback kids.”

In fact, the Heat got off to a brisk start making five of their first six three-point attempts.

After a close first quarter the Celtics surged ahead in the second period, only for the Heat to make the needed adjustments at halftime.

“You get to the conference finals, it’s not all about you,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“Boston had a lot to say about how that first half was going. That was them putting us on our heels.”

Kemba Walker broke out of his scoring slump with 23 points for the Celtics. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum scored 21 apiece.

But Brown missed a three-pointer that would have tied it with 15 seconds to play and 20 Celtics turnovers led to 26 Miami points.

“They out-played us,” Walker said of the Heat’s third-quarter surge.

“It’s really unacceptable on our behalf. We didn’t continue to do the things that we did to get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable and those guys took advantage of it.

“They played hard — a lot harder than us. We fought our way back, but just too many mistakes.”

The Heat will try to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series in game three on Saturday in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando.

The Celtics will go into that one knowing that no NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a series and that might have contributed to tension in the locker room after the defeat.

“Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the shouting that could be heard from Boston’s locker room post-game.

Walker wouldn’t be drawn on reports that Marcus Smart let fly before storming out.

“It was nothing,” Walker insisted, adding when pressed, “we’ll be fine.”

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Neil banks on experience

Ian Suyu

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NEIL Etheridge vows to power Birmingham City FC to prominence. GLYN KIRK/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Neil Etheridge will use his experience to his advantage when he sees action for Birmingham City FC in the English Football League.

Speaking at the CPT Crossover Podcast late Thursday, Etheridge, the star goalkeeper of the Philippine Azkals, said he is ready to play for his new club using the experience he gained after becoming the first Filipino to play in the Premier League.

“It’s all about Birmingham’s consistency over the season. There would be bumps in the road and the championship would change so quickly,” said the 30-year-old stopper, who is the remaining active member of the Azkals squad that essayed the “Miracle of Hanoi” back in 2010.

“Hopefully, I can bring that experience here at Birmingham together with the senior players that I am joining in the dressing room.”

Etheridge played a key role in the success of Cardiff City FC in recent years, guarding the post with authority in its promotion-winning season in 2017 and in its Premier League campaign in 2018 to clinch the club’s Best Player of the Year honor.

But his performance took a dive this year as he lost his spot in the rotation due to hamstring injury.

Still, the Filipino was considered as one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship League and a major part of Cardiff City’s rebuilding effort.

Aside from him, Birmingham City also acquired the services of veteran Aston Villa and top striker Scott Hogan to fire up its offensive arsenal.

Birmingham finished the season at the bottom of the standings with only 12 wins in 46 matches and Etheridge is looking forward to turn things around.

“I’m ready for it actually. It will be a new experience and a new challenge. I don’t think anyone could argue that I’ve never faced tough challenges in my career,” he said

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Marcial hopeful of IATF approval

Bea Micaller

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Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Willie Marcial is keeping his fingers crossed, hoping for the government to approve his request of allowing scrimmages during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marcial yesterday admitted that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has yet to give them the green light, but they still laid down the groundwork in preparation for the resumption of their 45th season.

Securing the IATF nod seems easier said than done.

In a statement over the weekend, IATF vice chairman Karlo Nograles said the government is not yet confident to allow the resumption of contact sports like basketball, football and boxing due to the rising virus cases.

He said the most they could give is to let them conduct training and conditioning sessions using strict health and safety protocols.

But the PBA still proceeded and mapped out its plans on the resumption of its Philippine Cup.

“We are very confident with our bubble model and the protocols and we are expecting that the government will consider us,” Marcial said.

Multiple sources, however, said the government is tipped to allow the resumption of games.

In fact, the IATF would have a meeting on Thursday next week and the PBA would be formally issued the green light to hold scrimmages on Friday, just in time for the entry of players in the PBA bubble on 28 September.

Marcial said they are open to make some adjustments.

He stressed that if the approval will not come on time, they could move the opening to a couple of days more and could still wrap up the season a week before Christmas.

“I hope so,” he said.

“We’re hoping for the government to give us the approval so we can stick to our original calendar.”

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Restart spells PBA survival

Bea Micaller

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The looming resumption of its 45th season underscores the Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) ability to weather even the strongest storm.

Coaches Yeng Guiao of NLEX, Nash Racela of Blackwater and John Cardel of Terra Firma welcomed reports that the league would be unwrapping the resumption of its Philippine Cup in a bubble setup in Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga on 9 October.

Although the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has yet to formally issue the green light, the coaches believe that what PBA commissioner Willie Marcial and the board of commissioners did is a step in a right direction.

“Nothing but excitement on our part because we are ready to do whatever it takes to resume the season,” said Guiao, who used to serve as governor of Pampanga.

“Everyone in the PBA is working hard to pull off this bubble and NLEX will give its full cooperation for this to be successful just like in the NBA (National Basketball Association).”

Last Thursday, the PBA formally announced the blueprint for the resumption of the season.

Games would be held at the Angeles University Foundation gym while delegates would be housed at nearby Quest Hotel inside the Clark Freeport Zone.

The league would also adopt a tournament format of single-round eliminations with the top four getting twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals. The semifinals would be a best-of-five series while the finals would be a best-of-seven showdown.

Cardel said the staging of the bubble would go down as one of the historic moment in PBA history.

“We are so happy with the news and the whole team is excited to be part of a memorable season,” he said.

Racela, on the other hand, said they trust that the league would successfully pull off the bubble similar to what other countries did in their fights against the pandemic.

After all, the resumption of the season would give a semblance of normalcy to the Filipinos and hope that the country could soon put this pandemic behind.

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Lopes finishes strong in fading light

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VITOR Lopes PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF EUROPEANTOUR.COM

Playing in the final group of the day, home favourite Vitor Lopes secured the first-round lead after closing out an impressive seven under 65 in the fading light at the Open de Portugal.

Chasing the five under par target set by Carlos Pigem earlier in the day, Lopes made a fast start to his round with two birdies and an eagle in his first five holes.

As the last of the afternoon starters Lopes was able to take advantage of the calmer conditions, and recovered from a bogey at the sixth with further birdies at seven and nine to make the turn in a tie for the lead.

It was a lead he would extend with back to back gains at the 10th and 11th holes, before parring his way in through the last of the day’s light to score his lowest career round in a European Tour event.

“I am very happy, it is my best score on the European Tour and we got the round done so I will relax tonight,” said Lopes, who finished tied for 23rd when he last played in the Open de Portugal in 2018,
“It was a windy day and we got lucky not getting the bad weather with the rain, so I was just focusing on hitting greens and fairways, and some putts dropped in. Through 12 I was already seven under so I just kept the same mentality and I could finish it off.”

The Portuguese player, who plays predominantly on the Alps Tour, skipped the last two events in order to take up National spots at both the Portugal Masters and this week’s Open de Portugal.

It was a difficult decision for Lopes, who was performing well on the Alps Tour, and he admitted that he is a man on a mission at Royal Óbidos Spa & Golf Resort after the experience of last week’s tournament helped him to feel at ease.

“It is always a big week playing at home and in a European Tour event. I played last week so this week I am more relaxed, I am a man on a mission to make the most of it because I am currently on the Alps Tour playing but I have skipped two tournaments, and I was doing well on the rankings, so I hope I made the right decision.

I am very happy, it is my best score on the European Tour and we got the round done so I will relax tonight.

Lopes is hopeful home comforts can help him to continue scoring well.

(europeantour.com)

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‘Eric the Eel’ relives Olympic moment

Agence France-Presse

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Eric Moussambani made quite a splash during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. GREG WOOD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AFP) — Twenty years ago, Eric Moussambani became a global star after swimming a 100-meter freestyle alone in the Olympic pool in Sydney so slowly that it appeared he might sink.

Moussambani was the first swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, a Central African nation with a population at the time of less than one million, to compete in the Olympics.

“At the end of the race, I felt grateful above all because at least I had been able to represent my country, because I had managed to finish those 100 meters, which I had never done before,” he told AFP in Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo ahead of the 20th anniversary on Saturday.

Moussambani did not race against the top swimmers, but was instead put in a heat for beneficiaries of an Olympic programme designed to encourage sport development.

In the 100 meters the two other competitors, from Tajikistan and Niger, were disqualified for false starts, leaving Moussambani to swim alone.

He started well enough but in the second lap, his freestyle slowed to a crawl. The 17,000 crowd in the aquatic center in the Olympic Park roared him home in one minute and 52.72 seconds.

The same day, Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband, who would win the gold, set a world record of 47.84 seconds in his semifinal.

Yet Moussambani had made a splash. The global media, fans and sponsors embraced ‘Eric the Eel.’

Moussambani had only recently learned to swim and had never seen a 50-meter pool before arriving in Sydney.

“When I was young, I played basketball,” he said. “I broke my arm, and I had a panicky fear of playing again. I became interested in swimming. When I was about 19, 20 years old, I started to learn with a fisherman because I couldn’t swim.”

When he heard the country’s swimming federation was looking for swimmers he went along.

“I was the only boy, there was a girl too, in the end there were only two of us.”

The trials were held there and then.

“The president of the Olympic Committee at the time, Fernando Minko, wanted to see how we swam, so I dived into the pool and started to move my feet. He told us we were going to the Olympics in Australia.

“It was two or three months away from the opening! There wasn’t even a coach. I asked a man from the hotel to come and coach me. He said okay but from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning because the pool was for the guests.

“I didn’t know what the Olympics were all about,” he said. “I didn’t even know where Australia was.”

Paula Barila Bolopa was Equatorial Guinea’s other entrant in Sydney. She was also out of her depth. Swimming her heat in the women’s 50m three days after Moussambani’s 100 meters, she recorded the slowest ever time in the event, which entered the Olympic programme in 1988.

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Obiena fires up Duplantis

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EJ Obiena cops the bronze medal in the IAAF Diamond League. ANDREAS SOLARO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World No. 1 Armand Duplantis soared with another record-breaking performance in the men’s pole vault competition of the IAAF Diamond League at an empty Stadio Olimpico in Rome early Friday (Manila time).

But there was a special reason behind that feat — EJ Obiena.

The Swedish star admitted that the presence and inspired performance of Obiena fired him up, prompting him to break the 26-year-old record of Sergey Bubka with a vault of 6.15 meters to win the gold medal in this prestigious tournament.

He said he had no choice but to deliver his best after seeing the Filipino sensation tally a season-best 5.80 meters to cop the bronze medal while Ben Broeders of Belgium finished with an identical mark, but took the silver medal via countback.

“You are the reason,” Duplantis told Obiena after what was regarded as one of the most exciting battles this season between the two stars that are tipped to take the Tokyo Olympics by storm.

“You are doing great so I had to jump good for you, man.”

True enough, Duplantis was the star of the show.

The 20-year-old superstar, who already holds the world indoor record of 6.18 meters, surpassed the mark of 6.14 meters achieved by Bubka in July 1994 in Italy.

He made it on his second attempt in a competition he dominated in perfect warm and windless conditions, but without spectators.

“I think I’m still up in the clouds right now,” said the United States-born athlete.

“It’s a surreal, super crazy feeling.”

Duplantis set the world record indoors in February, and had made the outdoor mark his goal with the Olympics and European championships postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was something I really wanted to do, there was a lot of confusion between the indoor and outdoor,” Duplantis said.

Not to be outdone, Obiena was also at his best.

The mark was Obiena’s best since tallying 5.81 meters in a tournament in Italy that gave him a slot in the Tokyo Olympics.

It also puts him on the pedestal as the first Filipino athlete to win two medals in the Diamond League following a historic bronze medal in the Monaco edition last month.

All in all, the 24-year-old star had already registered a total of six podium finishes out of eight tournaments since the start of his season in August.

Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Philip Juico said such achievement shows Obiena’s significant development, where he can now stand his ground against the finest field of athletes in the world.

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French Open limits number of spectators

Agence France-Presse

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The French Open will allow a limited number of spectators unlike this year's US Open AFP/File

PARIS, France (AFP) — The French Open rescheduled for later this month will be limited to 5,000 spectators daily, a reduction from the 11,500 announced by organizers, the Paris police prefecture told AFP on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the French tennis federation (FFT) revealed plans for the 27 September to 11 October Grand Slam to allow 11,500 fans to attend each day, with the Roland Garros venue divided into three independent zones.

French Open organizers in July had originally said they were hoping to accommodate 20,000 spectators per day, around “50 to 60 percent” of its usual capacity.

However, the deteriorating health situation in the country and current French government regulations capping public gatherings at 5,000 forced them into a rethink. The revised number was announced by tournament director Guy Forget just 10 days ago.

The main show courts, Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen, were to be limited to 5,000 spectators apiece with Simonne Mathieu restricted to just 1,500 and no tickets sold for the outside courts.

But just over a week before the competition begins, and only four days prior to the start of qualifiers, organizers face another change in plans amid a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide.

In total, only 75,000 fans will be able to visit over the course of the 15 days — a fraction of the 520,000 who attended the 2019 edition.

The FFT declined to comment immediately when contacted by AFP.

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Osaka skips Roland Garros

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LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Freshly crowned US Open champion Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open with a sore hamstring on Thursday, in a fresh blow to the coronavirus-hit Grand Slam which is already missing world number one Ashleigh Barty.

Japan’s Osaka made the announcement just days after lifting her third major title behind closed doors at the US Open in New York, the first Grand Slam tournament possible since the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play the French Open this year,” Osaka said in posts on Instagram and Twitter. “My hamstring is still sore so I won’t have enough time to prepare for the clay — these two tournaments came too close to each other for me this year.”

The French Open is due to start on 27 September at Roland Garros, rescheduled from earlier in the year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The withdrawal of third-ranked Osaka means Roland Garros will be missing two of the world’s top three, after reigning champion Barty said earlier this month that she wouldn’t return to defend her title.

The Australian said she feared participation still carried health risks, and she had not been able to train with her coach because of the state border closures in her home country.

Osaka’s announcement also came just hours after French Open organizers were forced to slash daily attendance from 11,500 to 5,000 as coronavirus cases surge in France.

On Sunday, Osaka rallied from a set down to beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the US Open women’s final, adding a third major trophy after her 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open triumphs.

The 22-year-old was the first woman to win the US Open singles final from a set down since 1994, and the victory moved her to third in the WTA rankings.

She also became the first Asian player to win three Grand Slams, overtaking China’s Li Na on two.

Osaka pocketed $3 million for the victory, another big haul for the player who in May was reported by Forbes to be the highest paid female athlete in the world, the magazine calculating her earnings over the prior 12 months at $37.4 million (34.3 million euros).

Osaka, who has never made it out of the third round of the French Open, did not say when she will play next.

She did assure her fans they would see her “sooner than later.”

In addition to her on-court excellence, Osaka was in the spotlight in New York for her activism on behalf of racial justice.

During the Western & Southern, also held at Flushing Meadows, she boycotted her semifinal match to express solidarity with athletes in other sports protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin.

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