New York Giants: Saquon Barkley avoids going into specifics about comeback

Saquon Barkley’s comeback is one of the top storylines of the season for the New York Giants, but as of now, no one knows exactly when that date is going to be. An ACL tear, after all, is a major injury to recover from. As a key piece in the franchise’s future, the Giants aren’t in any mood to rush Barkley back and risk another injury that would keep him out for a long period again.

Figures associated with the Giants have said multiple times this offseason that the decision on Barkley’s comeback date is being left in the hands of the team doctors rather than the coaches. Barkley himself has kept to that same tune. During an interview with the Rich Eisen Show, Barkley didn’t have much to say when it comes to whether or not he’ll be on the field for the season opener.

Saquon Barkley unsure about return date

“Those are conversations I actually haven’t had yet, so far,” Barkley said when questioned directly about what his week one status would be. “The focus is, you know, take it one day at a time and kinda go with the flow and listen to your body… And listen to your trainers.”

“I think I know better than that,” he added, when asked to say something about the injury.

Much of the interview would go the same way, keeping the same tune that’s been maintained for most of the offseason. According to Barkley, his focus is on listening to his body – and his body is only speaking to him one day at a time.

Given that, we can expect the speculation to continue right up to the start of the season. Anyone hoping for a confirmation that Barkley will indeed be on the field from the start of the season will walk away disappointed, but at the very least, we know the Giants aren’t taking Barkley’s health lightly and risking another injury soon into the season.

New York Yankees Recap: Yankees make a statement shutting out the Astros in game one

Tonight the New York Yankees met up with the hated Houston Astros at a packed Minutemaid Park in Houston for the first game of a three-game set. Nestor Cortes Jr. was on the mound for the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi for the Astros. If there are two teams in baseball that don’t like each other, it’s the Yankees and Astros. It was proven that the Houston Astros cheated in the 2017 season and postseason. That cheating may have cost the Yankees a trip to the World Series and Aaron Judge an MVP award that instead went to the Astros Jose Altuve.

In the first inning, Odorizzi faced the Yankees DJ LeMahieu, who ground out to left. Aaron Judge singled. Gary Sanchez singled for back-to-back singles. With men on first and second and one out, Giancarlo Staton hit into a double play to end the threat. Jose Altuve led off the bottom by being tagged on running for first. Myles Straw ground out to second. Michael Brantley lined out to Gardner in second. No score.

At the top of the second, Gleyber Torres faced off against Odorizzi and singled to center. Rougie Odor always singing for the fences stung out swinging. Gio Urshela singled. Brett Gardner, who has not hit well off of Odorizzi, flew out to left-center. Tyler Wade, with two on and two outs, popped out to left to leave two on. At the bottom, Yuli Gurriel flew out to Judge in right. Yordan Alverez lined out to first. Kyle Tucker got a ground-rule double bouncing into the bullpen. Abe Toro looped to Judge. No score.

The top of the third saw the top of the lineup for the Yankees. LeMahieu tapped out to first. Judge lined out to center. Sanchez lined out to third to end the half. At the bottom, Jason Castro lined to LeMahieu. Robel Garcia walked for the first walk of the game. Altuve skied to center. Staw flew out to Wade in left. No score.

Giancarlo Stanton struck out at the top of the fourth inning, tipping it into the catcher’s glove. Gleyber Torres got his second hit of the night to left. Rougie Odor .300 over his last seven games ground into a force out. Urshela smoked back to Odorizzi for a single. Gardner got a two-run double driving in Torres and Odor for the two-run lead. Wade chased for the final out. At the bottom, Brantley struck out. Gurriel popped out to second base. Alverez singled to second with a poor transfer to Voit. Tucker, with one on and two outs, flew out to Gardner in center. New York Yankees 2 Houston Astros 0.

The fifth inning saw the top of the lineup for the New York Yankees. LeMahieu ground out. Judge flew out to foul territory in right. Sanchez popped out to short. At the bottom of the fifth, Toro facing Cortes Jr., struck out swinging. Castro ground out to first. Garcia walked, and that was the end of the night for Cortes jr. For the first time as a starter pitched into the fifth inning and had a season-high 69 pitches. He was replaced by Lucas Luetage, who faced Altuve, who Luetge fanned out. Yankees 2 Astros 0.

The top of the sixth inning was led off by Giancarlo Stanton, who flew out to Brantley. Torres, with two hits on the night, hit into the infield for that second out. Odor struck out swinging. At the bottom, Straw against Luetge ground out to short. Brantley popped out to Urshela. Gurriel ground out to third to end the inning. New York Yankees 2 Astros 0.

The seventh inning was led off by Urshela, who was two for two on the night, slow rolled to third but couldn’t beat it out. Gardner worked a walk. Wade hit a double down the left-field line with Gardner moving to third base. LeMahieu, with two on and one out, hit the 10th pitch of the at-bat up the left-field line driving in two Yankee runs. Aaron Judge singled to third. With men on the corners and one out, Sanchez faced the new pitcher Brandon Bielak and ground out to second for a double play, but the Yankees picked up another two runs. At the bottom, Alverez struck out. Tucker doubled. Toro flew out, and Castro lined out to first to end the inning. Yankees 4 Astros 0.

The eighth inning was led off by Stanton, who ground out to third. Torres chased for the second out. Odor hit one into center over short Altuve’s head for a single. Urshela flew out to left to end the half. Robel Garcia led off the bottom of the eighth by Garcia, who struck out against Green. Altuve flew out to Gardner in center. Straw ground out to short to end the inning. New York Yankees 4 and the Houston Astro 0.

At the top of the ninth inning, Brett Gardner tapped out to the pitcher. Wade got thrown out on a ground ball to short. LeMahieu smoked on up the middle. Judge got his career 500th hit. Sanchez struck out to end the half. With the last licks on the Astros, Michael Bentley led off against the Yankees closer Jonathan Loaisiga and rolled to second for the first out. Yuli Gurriel ground out to second. Yordan Alverez struck out on a 100 mph fastball by Loaisiga to end the game in a shutout.

The final score was the New York Yankees 4 and the Houston Astros 0. The winning pitcher was Lucas Luetge, and the loser was Jake Odorizzi.

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Friday’s loss at Indiana

A hard-luck travel saga brought about by inclement weather gave way to a tough loss for the New York Liberty on Friday in Indianapolis.

Facing an Indiana Fever squad whose jerseys resembled the aesthetic from the Netflix series Stranger Things, the New York Liberty got trapped in the Upside Down before they made it to Hawkins.

Behind 18 points each from Kelsey Mitchell and Danielle Robinson, the Fever (3-16) earned consecutive wins for the first time this season, topping the Liberty by an 82-69 final at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Friday night. New York (10-10) only arrived in Indianapolis hours before game time, as their Thursday flight out was canceled due to heavy rains. The Liberty scored 28 points in the first quarter in building a five-point lead but struggled from there on out, dropping back to .500 and ending a brief two-game winning streak.

Despite the loss, the Liberty did take two of three meetings from the Fever this season. New York will wrap up its pre-Olympic break slate on Sunday afternoon at home against Connecticut (2 p.m. ET, YES/ESPN3)

ESM has three silver linings in defeat…

3rd Star: Sami Whitcomb

10 points, 5 rebounds

Though it was a tough shooting day for Whitcomb (4-of-11 from the field), she did receive some good news in the midst of the Liberty odyssey. She is set to join Betnijah Laney in Las Vegas for the All-Star Game festivities, competing against former Seattle teammate Jewell Loyd, as well as Jonquel Jones and Allie Quigley, in the exhibition’s three-point competition. Whitcomb leads the league with 55 successful triples.

2nd Star: Kylee Shook

13 points, 6 rebounds

Teaming up with Reshanda Gray to hold notable Liberty killer Teaira McCowan in relative check (6-of-13 FG), Shook earned a new career-best in scoring. If anything, the Liberty’s rebounding efforts against Indiana can be commended. After getting outgained 45-28 on the glass in their first meeting, the Liberty won Friday’s battle by a 38-32 tally. Alas, turnovers proved to be the difference, as New York lost the ball 20 times.

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

Laney reached her customary 20 points under less than ideal circumstances, but she did provide a quantum of revenge to one of her many former employers. Though Indiana cracked down on her for the remainder of the game (a task made all the more difficult by the loss of Bec Allen to Australia’s Olympic prep), the Liberty’s early surge was fueled by 13 early points from their All-Star representative. New York is 7-5 when Laney reaches at least 20 points.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Why Evan Engram will bounce back in 2021

New York Giants, Giants, Evan Engram

Entering the 2020 NFL season, PFF had New York Giants tight end Evan Engram ranked as the twelfth-best tight end in the NFL. This ranking set some high expectations for Engram that the Giants’ pass-catcher ultimately failed to reach. Engram was selected to the first Pro Bowl of his career in 2020, however, this was a season filled with dropped passes and year-long struggles for the fourth-year tight end.

Evan Engram dropped 11 passes this season, a statistic that overshadowed any highlights that the tight end put together. Six of the eleven interceptions thrown by Giants quarterbacks came on plays targeting Engram. At times, it felt like Evan Engram was a bad-play magnet. However, there were some games where Engram reminded fans why he was once a first-round draft pick.

Engram is good, just misused

For example, Evan Engram posted a single-game career-high 129 receiving yards versus the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12. Engram hauled in six receptions in this game, including two receptions of 40+ yards.

This game demonstrated that Engram is best used as a deep-receiving weapon. When going vertical, Evan Engram can be a true playmaker. He and Daniel Jones connected on a few deep bombs this year, like the wheel route down the right sideline against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Unfortunately, the Giants did not have Evan Engram running vertical routes that freqeuently in 2020. In Jason Garrett’s offensive scheme, the tight end’s main job was to be a reliable pass-catcher underneath, mainly in the 0-10 yard range, center of the field.

69 of Evan Engram’s 109 targets came between 0-10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Only six of his targets were on passes 20+ yards downfield (PFF). Evan Engram is one of the fastest tight ends in the NFL. It is malpractice for him to be used purely on hook routes five yards from the line of scrimmage. Let Engram put that 4.42s 40-yard dash to work and get downfield.

This upcoming season, Evan Engram’s role should change significantly. The addition of Kyle Rudolph will allow the Giants to use Evan Engram as more of a vertical receiving threat while Rudolph plays the role Jason Garrett placed Engram into in 2020.

Kyle Rudolph underneath

Kyle Rudolph has not dropped a pass in the last two years and is incredible at making contested catches. Rudolph’s contested catch rate since 2016 is 51.9%. Compare this to Evan Engram’s career contested-catch rate of 32.1%, and it’s easy to understand why Kyle Rudolph could be one of the Giants’ most valuable offensive weapons.

Kyle Rudolph is a perfect fit for the Giants’ offense. He is a reliable tight end that can catch the ball underneath while Evan Engram gets open downfield. These two will complement each other perfectly as Evan Engram has a bounce-back season in 2021.

Should the New York Jets look into WR N’Keal Harry?

n'keal harry, jets, patriots

Would the embattled first-round pick from New England fit into the New York Jets’ receiver evolution? ESM investigates.

Could an enemy of the New York Jets’ greatest enemy become their friend?

Wide receiver N’Keal Harry entered the NFL with a fair amount of hype as a 2019 first-round pick (32nd overall) of the New England Patriots. Fresh off three dominant seasons at Arizona State, the 6-foot-4 Harry was set to pick up where the (temporarily) retired Rob Gronkowski left off, serving as a big downfield target for Tom Brady. Alas, injuries ate away at his rookie season and he struggled to find a role in the post-Brady era.

Through two seasons, Harry has tallied 414 yards on 45 receptions, the latter tally being worst amongst first-round skill players. Those are tough numbers for the final pick of the 2019 first round, chosen before second-round standouts like A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.

It appears that Harry is looking to hit the reset button before his third season gets underway. His agent Jamal Tooson released a statement detailing their desires for a trade.

“Through two seasons, he has 86 targets, which obviously hasn’t met the expectations the Patriots and N’Keal had when they drafted a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college,” Tooson’s statement, released on Tuesday, reads in part, per ESPN. “Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That is why I have informed the Patriots today I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”

With Harry on the block, should the New York Jets inquire? ESM investigates…

The Case For Harry

What Harry could use right now is a stable situation where there’s relatively little to lose.

A change of scenery to such a locale helped fellow first-round receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo, 2014) reclaim the narrative on his NFL career. Watkins was in a bit of a different situation, as injuries derailed his career in Orchard Park. After a tough third season marred by injury, Watkins was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams and later caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. Through those destinations, Watkins rediscovered his spark as a supporting piece on a contender. By the 2019-20 postseason, he was a vital contributor to a Super Bowl run. He recently earned himself a new contract in Baltimore (one-year, $6 million)

Alas for fans of green New York football, their “nothing to lose” situation stems from no one expecting anything out of them as they prepare to write the next chapter of their rebuild anthology. But they provide what Harry appears to be looking for: opportunities and relative peace.

The Jets’ offensive revolution this offseason yielded receiving building blocks of both the rookie (Elijah Moore) and veteran (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) variety. While, on paper, Zach Wilson has a better arsenal to work with than anything granted to Sam Darnold, there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver in this group yet. Adding Harry, a receiver with something to prove, could intensify an already-firey and potentially high-octane receiver situation in New York.

Additionally, the Jets have some day three draft pieces to work around if they were to inquire about Harry. A deal for the receiver likely wouldn’t cost, say, the 2022 second-rounder gleaned from the Darnold deal with Carolina. The Jets currently own three picks in the next spring’s sixth round, the extra pair stemming from trades of Steve McLendon (from Tampa Bay) and Jordan Willis (San Francisco).

The Case Against Harry

An arsenal of receivers with something to prove sounds delightful in a relative gap year. No one expects the Jets to do much in 2021, but the year can serve as an explosive coming attraction for what’s on the horizon for the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. Davis, Moore, Cole, as well as returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims, have a chance to prove their mettle as top targets.

At what point, however, does one have too much of a good, yet uncertain, thing?

The Jets did a solid job of avoiding co-authorship on redemption stories this offseason. Attempting to ghostwrite such a tome was one (of many) reasons the Le’Veon Bell gambit didn’t work out. Sure, they brought in some potential comeback stories…such as former San Francisco rusher Tevin Coleman…but those are ones they can not only afford (Coleman’s deal is a $2 million single season) but can stage with relatively little fanfare.

The Jets have enough things to worry about as they get to work in trying to snap a playoff drought that’s by far the longest in pro football. Adding a rare Bill Belichick washout just adds unwanted attention to what they’re trying to build.

The Verdict

Trades between the Jets and Patriots are rare, but there is precedent…the recently retired Demaryius Thomas began the final stages of his NFL journey through a 2019 deal and the teams swapped picks during the 2020 proceedings. Those picks have thus far netted James Morgan, Cameron Clark, and current rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen.

That alone should probably scare the Jets off in terms of bartering with New England. But even if you’re not superstitious, the Jets’ receiver room is fine as it is. Sure, if Harry emerged as a superstar in New York…succeeding where the almighty Belichick failed…it’d be fun to leave that lingering over the heads of Patriots fans. But, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, the Jets aren’t in any position to make moves out of spite.

If the Jets were in a further position of need when it came to receiver…i.e. the early stage of last season when Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith were their top targets…it would’ve been understandable for them to rise to the occasion and send a pick or two over before Harry potentially hit the free agent market after final training camp cuts. But, frankly, Harry isn’t the Patriot they should have their eyes on. If anything, the team would be better served to try and land one of the New England backups (preferably Brian Hoyer) to serve as Wilson’s understudy and/or mentor.

Harry should find some takers, but it doesn’t make sense for the Jets to expedite the process right now.

Verdict: Pass

Should the Jets keep an eye on Harry? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

LOTTERY-BOUND I 10 lottery teams eye Auburn star I Bruce Pearl to NBA teams: Sharife Cooper is a ‘once-every-10-year’ point guard

knicks, sharife cooper

There are two particular big games in Sharife Cooper’s young career that convinced his coaches he’s going to be an elite point guard in the NBA.

In 2019, with McEachern’s perfect season on the line, Cooper led the Indians to a come-from-behind win against his AAU teammate-turned rival BJ Boston and Norcross in the state semifinals.

“I’ll always remember playing against Norcross in the state semifinals during his junior year,” McEachern coach Mike Thompson told Empire Sports Media.

The game was a rematch of the previous year’s quarterfinals, where Norcross knocked off Cooper’s team. It looked like a deja vu was in the offing.

“At halftime, we’re getting beat. He and Isaac (Okoro) were not playing very well. Sharife had not played well in his freshman or sophomore year in the last game that we had. And I wore him out really bad. I got on him as hard as I’ve ever got into a kid at halftime,” Thompson recalled.

Then something happened. Cooper turned on the switch button.

“He looked me in the eye and took everything that I’ve said. He went out and dominated the second half against Norcross and took us to the state championship. And we won the state championship,” Thompson said.

Cooper willed the Indians to an epic 66-62 win. He led the scoring with 26 points while Okoro, his partner-in-crime and the fifth pick in last year’s NBA Draft with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had 18 after the duo combined for only eight in the first half.

“[Sharife] was very coachable and I was always excited for him because I felt like that was the time he took the most pressure-packed moment and he turned into the very best player in that situation. That I will never forget,” Thompson said.

That year, the Indians went undefeated in 32 games for McEachern’s first state title in school history and became the first undefeated team in the highest Georgia classification since 1995. Cooper averaged 27.2 points, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 steals per game in an MVP season that spilled over several tournaments after that historic run. Prior to his stellar high school career, his AAU team went undefeated during his middle school.

Fast forward to January of this year, Cooper’s much-anticipated college debut after missing Auburn’s first 11 games due to eligibility issues.

“Players of less character and less commitment to the team would have walked away,” Bruce Pearl told Empire Sports Media.

“He came in everything that he was allowed to come to. He was 100 percent supportive of his teammates throughout that process. And I tell you what, that is rare. That fervent leadership with nothing to be gained by him. He was gonna stay ready.  He missed 72 days of practice. And the night before we played Alabama, an early afternoon game, he found out he was eligible and he came out the next day. He scored 23 in the second half in his first game.”

Cooper is a hooper. Without a single practice in the last two-and-a-half months, he was thrown into the fire but still dominated the game. He overcame a jittery start and ended up with a game-high 26 points and nine assists in a narrow 94-90 loss to in-state rival Alabama.

Right at that moment, Pearl saw up close how special Cooper is. He was as good as advertised.

“Sharife is a once-every-ten-year fast-breaking, playmaking, transition, and ball-screen floor general with his ability to make plays for himself and others,” Pearl said.

Cooper supercharged a lethargic Auburn offense. He produced 39.6 points per game via his own scoring or assists, the best in all of the college basketball last season, per Synergy. He tops all guards in the upcoming NBA Draft in points created via assists, per Shot Quality.

In the 12 games that Cooper played, Auburn averaged 83 points while its offense sputtered and coughed up only 72.5 points in 15 games without him. 

 

“He had a pied piper effect. He has the ability to bring other guys along with him which is great for a point guard,” Pearl said.

Ira Bowman, Pearl’s assistant coach and the guy assigned to Cooper during his time in Auburn, marveled at the point guard’s effect on the team.

“[Sharife] is one of those guys who see what the group needs. He is the guy that’s gonna be vocal when he needs to. He’s a leader by example guy but he’s a guy that brings people together. There are guys who are good distributors, good playmakers but he’s the type of guy that makes people around him really, really good,” Bowman told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.

“Sharife is a unique player. I’ve been in the SEC for five years but I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve been around and he’s a sponge for the game. He has certain God-given gifts that you can’t teach. His ball-handling, his passing, his vision, his leadership are unparalleled.”

The NBA Playoffs saw how Trae Young made Clint Capela a lob threat, how Chris Paul unlocked Deandre Ayton. Cooper had the same effect on every team he’s played with, from AOT in the AAU circuits to McEachern and Auburn.

“If you look at Isaac Okoro, who was the fifth pick in last year’s Draft, he’s a much different player when he was playing with Sharife. You talk about BJ Boston, looking at a lot of these mock drafts they have him in early second round. But when he played with Sharife, he was a Top-5 player in his class. Then there’s Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge and so on,” Bowman said.

“That’s just kind of what he does because he’s elite with playmaking, passing with either hand. Because no one can stand in front of him and he can get to wherever he wants to go on the floor. He’s naturally gifted who looks to make a pass first and find easier shots for the other guys. Again, there are people who train their whole life that can’t do those things and he’s naturally gifted,” Bowman said.

The Cooper effect in Auburn was on full display during his brief stint there.

In the 12 games Cooper played, Cambridge had 8 double-figure games. JT Thor, the other Auburn player expected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft, had also hit in double figures in eight games. Flanigan did it in 11 games, including four with at least 19 points.

In the 15 games without Cooper, Cambridge could only hit the double-digit mark in just six games, Thor in eight games, and Flanigan in 10 games.

“I felt like at Auburn, if they had anybody who could knock down shots, he might have averaged 20 assists a game there,” Thompson said.

Cooper will greatly benefit from the floor spacing and better overall talent in the NBA than the young team he had at Auburn.

As much as he’s adept in making plays, he’s also producing buckets in a variety of ways. Those are the two swing skills that intrigued Pearl when Cooper was making waves in Georgia.

“His ability to score and play in traffic. That being undersized, you thought physically you could bounce him around. But he has an uncanny way of delivering passes on time, and on target, and scoring in really crowded places. The other thing is he is ambidextrous. Whatever he could do with his left hand, he could do with his right hand,” Pearl said.

It’s so easy to nitpick his size or the lack of it. But Bowman swears he doesn’t see Cooper regressing in the next level.

Despite being undersized, Cooper has that competitive edge, dog mentality which Bowman attributed to his father Omar, who grew up in the New Jersey-New York area before uprooting his family to Atlanta.

“When you go up against Sharife, the things that you’ll realize is that he’s faster than you think, he’s bigger than you think, he’s stronger than you think. I’ve been around him probably half his life and I haven’t seen him bullied on defense and I’m a thousand (percent) sure it won’t happen in the next level,” Bowman said.

Cooper joined Young as the only freshmen to average 20 points and eight assists in college basketball in the last 30 years. Aside from sharing that record with Young, Cooper also draws comparison to the Hawks’ rising superstar for his propensity for drawing fouls. In 12 games with Auburn, Cooper averaged 8.6 attempts and converted a solid 83 percent.

“I think he’s gonna be a championship-level point guard who’s gonna be a multiple All-Star guard. I’ve been around long enough. I watched Kyrie as a freshman — before he went to St. Patrick’s School, before he became who he was. I watched Chris Paul before what people thought he was. The crazy thing is that Trae Young, having the success that he’s having now, Sharife did what Trae did in the EYBL circuit,” Bowman said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the teams that doubted Donovan Mitchell, that doubted Trae Young, they will be the same teams who’ll wish they have [Sharife] because again the things he brings to a team, you can’t teach,” he added.

The last seven NBA champion teams have an elite point guard — Tony Parker (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), and Rajon Rondo (Lakers). Paul is trying to join that club this season. Young could soon follow.

Each point guard has his own strengths and weaknesses but what stand out is the elite vision, playmaking, and championship poise that propelled their team to greater heights.

Cooper possesses those qualities. If there’s an only blemish on his dominant college run, it was his shaky outside shooting. But his coaches believe that he is a better shooter than what his 23-percent clip from the three-point range suggests.

“I think because he’s so gifted getting into the rim and getting others the ball that his mindset was to make a play and score first, shoot last,” Pearl explained. “That was a function of why he didn’t shoot a great percentage. And of course, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities. I think he’ll really be a good NBA shooter because there will be times when he will be hunting for his shot. He’s so productive breaking his opponent down. That’s his first and second thought.”

Bowman offered another layer of context.

“People say, look at his shooting percentages. But he’s a much better shooter than his shot and the numbers he showed in the sense that he played the season after sitting out for 72 days of practice and never really got his legs. All the stuff that he does, he’s a leader. I’ve been in this [coaching] for a while and never coached a kid that can do everything on the floor. And obviously, he’s gonna will his way to be a great player. He will never be satisfied with being great,” Bowman said.

“As far as working on his game, he’s shooting thousands of shots a day. The percentages don’t show where he is but he’s always been a good shooter. He’s gonna be a great shooter with a year of training camp because like I said, he jumped right in the middle of the season and didn’t have his legs and played catchup for the rest of the year. Because he’s so gifted in doing the other things and nobody can stand in front of him, it’s just one of those things where he got settled with some of those shots. So, I’m not concerned at all.”

Thompson, meanwhile, pointed to Cooper’s shooting display in his Pro Day at the Draft Combine in Chicago to prove that it was just an outlier.

“He shot it really well during his junior year and I think he really did a work on that heading into the Draft Combine and his Pro Day. And he showed in his Pro Day that he can really shoot well. As a matter of fact, he got a standing ovation from a lot of executives,” Thompson said.

In the EYBL circuit during his junior year, Cooper shot 35 percent on 5.7 attempted 3s in 10 games, per Real GM. There were no available statistics that show his shooting percentages during his undefeated run with McEachern. But his solid free-throw shooting clip in college provides hope that Cooper’s struggle from long-distance at Auburn is just an aberration.

More than 20 NBA teams have reached out to Pearl and spoke with him at great length about Cooper. All of them had the same question: “At his size, what do you think? Is he gonna make it as a star in the NBA?”

“That question has always been asked. It’s been asked in his high school career and he was the national player of the year and went undefeated during his junior season. It was asked in college and he averaged 20 points and almost 10 assists. And so, it’s gonna be asked at the next level but Sharife has always proven everybody wrong. That’s for a fact,” Pearl said.

How will he do that? By just staying true to himself.

Bowman gave us a peek at what made Cooper successful in every level he’s been to, which will translate well in the NBA.

“I’ve been watching him since the seventh grade. You see young kids that make mistakes and just shrug it off but he’s somebody who was obsessed with not turning it over, obsessed with making the right plays. I’ve seen him do things that didn’t work and come back and make adjustments. He does it on the fly. You rarely see him make the same mistakes twice. Those are things you can’t teach. That’s the basketball junkie that he is. He’s obsessed with being great. That’s what’s gonna happen,” Bowman said.

During his one-and-done season at Auburn, Bowman and Cooper were almost inseparable.

“He’s somebody that made me stay in shape with the amount of time that he was in the gym,” Bowman said in jest. “It’s just like having another whole job. Being able to make sure he’s getting satisfied with his basketball skill work. It was refreshing in the sense that it’s a throwback. He’s not somebody that sits around and hopes things happen. He’s gonna figure out what to do and how to make it happen.”

Cooper starts his day with what he called a ‘Breakfast Club’ at 6’o clock in the morning with basketball on his plate. After an early morning shootaround, he eats his real breakfast and attends his class. After lunch, he hits the weight room before going to practice. Then after practice, he does extra shooting before retreating to the film room. After dinner, he comes back for more extra work until 11 at night.

“He’s a gym rat,” Bowman said. “Night, morning, he’s always in the gym. He’ll do everything that we, coaches, asked our players to do and he’s gonna do more. He’s not gonna get outworked. The first guy in the gym, the cliché, last to leave but he’s also coming back. His work ethic is unparalleled. His mindset was already a pro.”

Any team in the NBA would love to have that type of player. He blew away a lot of teams during his Pro Day workout.

Auburn’s Sharife Cooper is touted to be the next elite point guard to make the NBA jump. (Getty Images/Walt Beazley/Arkansas Athletics/USA Today Sports)

Young went No. 5 in his class, Paul went No. 4. So his coaches believe that Cooper, who had done stuff that Young did in high school and college and has the court smarts of Paul that elevates his teammates, is lottery-bound.

Overall, 10 of 12 the teams in the lottery have either met or scheduled to meet with Cooper: Houston Rockets (No. 2, 23, 24) Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3), Toronto Raptors (No. 4), Orlando Magic (No. 5, 8), Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 6, 16, 18), Golden State Warriors (No. 7, 14), Sacramento Kings (No. 9), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10), Charlotte Hornets (No. 11) and Indiana Pacers (No.13).

The other teams from the outside (of the lottery) looking in who are confirmed to have either met Cooper or worked him out are the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Hawks.

According to a source, that list is expected to grow to 25 teams before the NBA Draft on July 29.

“Everything (mock draft) I read has him going to New York. I think that’d be a great fit. They need a point guard. I think he’d be great in that city. That city would embrace him,” Thompson weighed in.

“He’s spent a lot of times in New Jersey. That’s where his family is originally from. He knows [the Knicks] really well. I think his mind — his psyche – that’s one of the strongest suits he has. I think he’ll just be fine there. He’s an entertainer and he will be a perfect fit in New York,” he added.

Curiously, the Knicks haven’t met Cooper yet. However, ESPN’s Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony noted on ESPN’s latest NBA Mock Draft after the Combine that “the Knicks’ front-office brass and head coach Tom Thibodeau were front and center in Chicago for Cooper’s pro day, where he had a strong showing.”

Pearl also highlighted Cooper’s New Jersey roots.

“Here’s the thing, he identifies with New Jersey. That’s where he’s born. That’s where his dad played ball. Even if he played high school ball in Atlanta, he knows his roots. He knows where he’s from. He’s just a loyal kid that is grateful for the opportunity,” he said.

But both the New York teams are outside the lottery. According to a source, the Knicks have a level of interest after doing their due diligence on Cooper. With Cooper already on the radar of eight lottery teams, both the Knicks and the Nets might have to trade up if they really want the star point guard out of Auburn.

Bowman believes Cooper is the best pure point guard of this class, and he’s a plug-and-play guy right away, noting the impact of Trae Young and Chris Paul in this NBA playoffs.

“At this point, you don’t know who has the most interest. Everybody is doing their due diligence. I will just say that there’s a group of teams that needs a point guard,” Bowman said. “That they would be more successful if they have a guy like Sharife and I’m not saying who I like or who I don’t like. But I’m gonna say, whoever gets him will be lucky.”

“But you look at the Knicks and what Trae Young did to them, and the Sixers on what Trae Young did to them, and you look at the Lakers on what Chris Paul did to them. So you talk about the Lakers, Clippers, the Rockets who are rebuilding who don’t have a point guard. There are tons of teams who can plug him in and help immediately. But obviously, being from the Northeast, we talk about, you see the Knicks and the Sixers how they played.”

“Any team that sees the value in a true leader and a guy who’s gonna make people around him better, I think anybody would be lucky to have him. But I like Golden State. I don’t think Steph Curry is a point guard in a grand sense of things because he’s coming off so many screens and can do a lot with the ball if he had somebody who can set him and Klay Thompson up coming off the screen. I just see [Sharife] getting successful at about every stop,” he explained.

Pearl views Cooper in the same mold as the top point guards in today’s NBA. And he hopes whichever team that picks his former star player will trust him the way he did, akin to how Monty Williams trusts Paul that propelled the Suns two wins away from an NBA championship.

“Obviously, [Sharife should go to] a team that truly wants a point guard. In this day of positionless basketball, sometimes coaches have different people bringing up the ball on the floor. It’s got to be a coach who wants to put the ball in Sharife Cooper’s hands and let him run the team,” Pearl said.

“Lead point guards are not for every system, not for every coach. And I think that’s where the question – does Chris Paul, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, their ability to run a team and break people down and get everybody involved interests you? – if that’s a fit for that head coach, then great. But if he’s a coach who doesn’t care who leads the break and brings the ball up the floor, then Sharife wouldn’t be attractive to them. I couldn’t do anything more productive offensively than putting the ball on the hands of Sharife. Give him space, and let him make plays.”

His coaches can’t wait to watch Cooper’s next big game, this time in the NBA, to let his next coach and the fans see for themselves what they saw in him throughout these years.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Mets Game Preview: (7/9/21) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (32-54)

After thunderstorms canceled the first game between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, they will attempt to get in Friday’s game to start their final series before the All-Star break. Rain is once again looming in the forecast, but the game should be able to get started in Queens. The first pitch from Citi Field is set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

Getting Brandon Nimmo back in the lineup was exactly what the Mets needed as they have a table-setter at the top of the order. Since returning, Nimmo is 8-for-22 (.364) with two doubles and has been in the middle of every Mets rally. For the Mets, combining seven straight games against the Pirates and the horrible NL East gives them a good opportunity to create more separation in the division.

The rebuilding Pirates have played much better of late. They have won three of their last four games and took their last series from the Atlanta Braves. Bryan Reynolds has been a bright spot by hitting .305 with 15 homers and 48 runs batted in. Potential trade target Adam Frazier is also having a solid season, leading the team and fourth in MLB with a .326 batting average.

Pitching Matchup

Taijuan Walker looks to finish his All-Star caliber season on a good note and lower his 2.44 ERA. He continued his dominance in his last start against the New York Yankees, where he pitched 5.2 innings, allowing two runs and holding a no-hitter through the first five innings. Walker is also a potential replacement to take Jacob deGrom’s spot on the All-Star team.

JT Brubaker is the Pirates starter and has been the best one for a team that has very few quality starters. He has a 4.08 ERA in 15 starts this season, but his biggest issue is the home run. Brubaker has allowed 16 of them this season and is coming off a start where he allowed three to the Milwaukee Brewers.

UFC 264 Preview: Sean O’Malley – Kris Moutinho

Sean O'Malley

Kicking off the main card of UFC 264 tomorrow night is a showdown in the bantamweight division. Rising star “Suga” Sean O’Malley (13-1) is back as he will be taking on promotional newcomer Kris Moutinho (9-4).

Originally, O’Malley was supposed to take on Luis Smolka at UFC 264. However, Smolka had to pull out of the fight. Once Smolka was out of the fight, the promotion shopped around several replacement options.

Ultimately, they landed on UFC newcomer Kris Moutinho. Moutinho has spent his entire career thus far fighting on the regional circuit. Heading into tomorrow night, he’s won back-to-back fights.

His last fight came in May at Cage Fury Fighting Championships. He submitted Andrew Salas in the third round. Out of his nine professional wins, Moutinho has four finishes and five wins via decision.

The Suga Show bounced back well after he suffered his first career defeat. Last August at UFC 252, O’Malley suffered his first loss at the hands of Chito Vera. He returned at UFC 260 where he knocked out Thomas Almeida. So far in his UFC career, O’Malley is 5-1 with three knockouts.

UFC 264 Prediction

Kris Moutinho is getting the shot of a lifetime tomorrow night at UFC 264. Prior to this fight, nobody knew who he was and now he is getting to fight someone like Sean O’Malley on the main card of the biggest card of the year.

In reality, Moutinho has nothing to lose tomorrow night. However, he has everything to gain and that’s what makes him a dangerous opponent. Sean O’Malley on the other hand has virtually nothing to gain while having everything to lose.

In reality, Sean O’Malley needs to make this look easy tomorrow night. No disrespect to Kris Moutinho, but O’Malley needs to show the world that there are levels to this. An ultra competitive fight is still a loss for O’Malley even if he gets his hand raised at UFC 264.

That said, I do believe that O’Malley is going to go out and put on a show. I think the fight goes into the second round, but O’Malley will find the finishing blow and secure another knockout for his personal highlight reel.

Prediction: Sean O’Malley by TKO – Round 2

UFC 264 Preview: Greg Hardy – Tai Tuivasa

Tomorrow night on the main card of UFC 264, we will see two heavyweight knockout artists go to war. Former All-Pro defensive lineman Greg Hardy (7-3, 1 NC) will be taking on the fan favorite Tai Tuivasa (11-3).

Greg Hardy will be making the walk for the ninth time in his UFC career. Thus far, Hardy has a record of 4-3, 1 NC in his eight trips inside the octagon. One thing we have seen from Hardy is a steady improvement as his career has progressed.

In his last fight, Hardy lost to top ten contender Marcin Tybura. Hardy looked really good in the first round of their fight, but ultimately gassed and was finished on the ground. Taking out his DQ loss in his UFC debut, Hardy has only lost to Tybura and Alexander Volkov.

Standing across from Hardy tomorrow night is “Bam Bam” Tai Tuivasa. Tuivasa will be looking to pick up his third straight UFC win tomorrow night. Back in 2018, Tuivasa looked like he was on the verge of a title shot.

He was a perfect 9-0 overall and he had won his first three UFC fights. However, he then suffered three consecutive losses which really set him back. He bounced back over the last year and he’s looking to make it three in a row tomorrow night.

UFC 264 Prediction

If there’s one fight on the UFC 264 main card that you should expect a knockout in, it’s this one. Both of these heavy hitters are going to come out with everything they have in the first round.

Now, of course because I said that, they will probably grapple the entire time and we will see a decision. The money coming in right now is on Tai Tuivasa and it’s not a bad bet considering his history and the history of Greg Hardy.

However, I’m going against the grain on this one and going with my gut. Something tells me that Greg Hardy is going to pickup the biggest win of his career at UFC 264. I think this fight ends in the first, and something tells me Greg Hardy connects with something big.

Prediction: Greg Hardy by TKO – Round 1

New York Rangers agree to terms with Brett Howden

brett howden, rangers

New York Rangers President and General Manager Chris Drury announced today that the team has agreed to terms with restricted free agent forward Brett Howden on a one-year contract.

New York Rangers general manager Chris Drury agreed to terms with Brett Howden on a one-year, $885,00 one-way contract.

Howden, 23, skated in 42 games with the Rangers this past season, registering one goal and six assists for seven points, along with 11 penalty minutes. The 6-3, 200-pounder has skated in 178 career NHL games over three seasons (2018-19 – 2020-21), all with the Rangers, registering 16 goals and 33 assists for 49 points, along with 53 penalty minutes. Howden also skated in three games during the 2020 postseason.

The Calgary, Alberta native was acquired by the Rangers in a trade with Tampa Bay on February 26, 2018. Howden was originally selected by the Lightning in the first round, 27th overall, of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

The signing now gives the Rangers another option to protect for the NHL Expansion Draft, which will be held on July 21 in Seattle.

With the signing, Drury can choose to protect Colin Blackwell and expose Howden, something the Rangers could not consider prior due to the draft rules the NHL announced earlier this year.

Teams must submit their protected player’s list by July 17th, and that list will be announced on July 18.