New York Jets: Denzel Mims earns positive reviews in NFL debut

The ache of yet another New York Jets loss was somewhat soothed by the emergence of Denzel Mims, who made his NFL debut on Sunday.

It’s bad enough that the New York Jets have subjected their fans to such a brutal season in the midst of uncertain times. But for the first six games of this cursed trek to provide little in terms of hope for the future, it was downright cruel to a supporter base that has dealt with countless examples of football malarkey over the last five decades.

Entering Sunday’s MetLife Stadium tilt against the Buffalo Bills, the Jets had lost their first six games by an average margin of just over 18 points. Even the promise of showcasing young talent fell by the wayside in these early games. Punter Braden Mann has certainly been busy (leading the NFL with 39 kick-aways), but injuries (Mekhi Becton, Cameron Clark on the line) and mismanagement (La’Mical Perine still struggling to earn more carries that Frank Gore) have prevented other members of the Jets’ 2020 draft class from getting opportunities in relatively consequence-free situations.

Up until the buildup to Buffalo’s visit, Mims was stuck in the former category, sidelined by a hamstring issue that cost him the majority of his debut NFL training camp. The second-round pick out of Baylor was activated on Saturday and granted his first NFL action a day later in East Rutherford. While a victory was once again too much to ask for, Mims made the most of his new opportunity.

The Jets fell by an 18-10 final to their divisional rival, but Mims led the team with 42 yards on a quartet of receptions, his longest being a 16-yard gain up the middle in the second quarter. Mims was shut out, along with the rest of the Jets’ offense, as the unit gained only four years in the second half while they watched a 10-0 lead evaporate. But the rookie nonetheless earned positive reviews after his first four quarters of NFL action.

“Denzel did some really good things out there for us,’’ quarterback Sam Darnold said, per Mark Cannizaro of the New York Post. “He’s a big body, a fast dude who can go up and make plays, make contested catches. We’re going to continue to use him in ways that provide us opportunities for that.’’

“Early it looked like there was some good stuff there. He showed up, he made some plays, made some catches,” head coach Adam Gase added in a report from Christine Watkins of Sports Grind Entertainment. “You could tell his length is real, he uses his body to his advantage.”

Mims was sure to soak up all the intensity an NFL setting had to offer, but even he took a moment to be starstruck upon earning his catch as a professional.

“I had a big grin on my face,” Mims said, according to Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com. “I knew that I was getting the ball that play and when I made the catch, I was very excited. … I knew that all I had to do was look the ball in and make the first catch.”

Mims did a solid job getting open throughout the afternoon. He made two big grabs on the Jets’ lone touchdown drive of the day and later provided a crucial block on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White on the score, punched in by Perine.

“It was a little faster than what I’m used to in college,” Mims said of the game’s tempo, per Vazquez. “But I adjusted quick. I knew that I had to play at that speed, or faster to make something happen on offense.”

Mims and the Jets (0-7) face a bigger challenge next weekend, as they’re set to battle the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Happy Birthday Jazmine Jones; Four fun facts about the New York Liberty rookie

Jazmine Jones, New York Liberty

Having turned 24 on Thursday, the New York Liberty rookie recently wrapped up a strong freshman campaign in the Bradenton bubble.

If the 2020 season was any indication, the New York Liberty might’ve found lasting franchise contributors at both the top and bottom of the first round of the most recent WNBA Draft.

Eleven picks after the highly publicized selection of Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu with the top overall pick, the Liberty closed things out by acquiring Jazmine Jones with the 12th and final choice of the opening proceedings. That pick was obtained in the historic trade that sent franchise face Tina Charles to Washington in a multi-team deal.

A rebuilding campaign for the Liberty inside the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble was pacified by the performance of Jones. The newly-minted 24-year-old, who celebrated her birthday on Thursday, wound up becoming one of the Liberty’s most consistent silver linings, appearing toward the top of almost every major rookie stat, including the freshman league-lead in steals (1.4 per game). Her efforts led to a nomination for the WNBA’s official All-Rookie team, the first New York representative since Brittany Boyd and teammate Kiah Stokes made it in 2015.

“Jazmine works extremely hard. She really wants this,” veteran forward Amanda Zahui B has said of Jones. “She really wants to be great. She goes hard at practice and she’s very vocal. She’s a great leader.”

“The main thing about Jaz is her energy,” head coach Walt Hopkins added. “When she brings her energy, no matter what, she brings us a lot. It’s defensive, it’s toughness, swagger. Jaz has been huge for us.”

In honor of Jones’ special day, ESM has four facts about the former Louisville Cardinal…

She’s a Criminal Justice Major

Jones’ off-the-court accolades as a Cardinal were just as illustrious as the ones she earned on the hardwood. In addition to countless courted conference honors, Jones was named to the ACC’s All-Academic team twice, including her senior campaign. She majored in criminal justice, and, upon choosing Louisville over Floridian rivals Florida State (the Tallahassee native was offered a Seminoles scholarship in eighth grade) and Miami, revealed to the Courier Journal’s Jonathan Lintner that she wanted to take up a different kind of defense through a job in the FBI. 

2020 Was a Throwback to Her High School Days

Jones was the first player with the “SG” initials (shooting guard) attached to her name chosen in April’s draft. However, the early injury to the touted point guard Ionescu forced her into territory unchartered since her high school days at Florida A&M’s Developmental Research School.

When Ionescu was lost for what was eventually the year in just her third WNBA game, Jones was called upon to take her spot. She responded with six consecutive games in reach double-figures and some tenacious defense that got the attention of her veteran WNBA peers.

“She really wants to be great,” Zahui B said. “She goes hard in practice and she’s very vocal. She is a great leader, so for her stepping up and playing the one, which is not really her position.”

Jones wound up averaging 10.8 points per game, one of only four full-season rookies to do so.

No One Has Played More Games as Louisville Cardinal

Louisville has produced some strong players from its women’s basketball program. The Liberty have recently taken to painting their new Brooklyn borough maroon, as Jones is one of three former Cardinals chosen over the past two drafts. Asia Durr, the second overall pick from 2019, missed the bubble endeavor after testing positive for COVID-19, but Jones was joined by Kylee Shook, who chosen immediately after her as the first pick of the second round.

Jones joined an illustrious list of Cardinals chosen in the first round, joining Durr, Angel McCoughtry, and Shoni Schimmel. The ongoing health crisis cut things short, but Jones also became the program’s all-time leader in games played, passing Schimmel and Myisha Hines-Allen.

It’s Hard to Keep Up With the Joneses

It feels like Jones was destined to make some sort of difference in the athletic world from the very start, as sports runs through her blood. Her father Reginald is a former Florida A&M Rattler, while one of her sisters, Gigi Thomas, foreshadowed her success on the hardwood at both Appalachian State and Jacksonville. Her brother, Reginald Jr., earning 60 tackles over four seasons on the defensive line for Florida International’s Golden Panthers.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets sign Ashtyn Davis, complete rookie class signings

New York Jets, Ashtyn Davis

The New York Jets rounded out the signings of their freshman class by agreeing to terms with the Cal safety/return man.

The New York Jets have signed every member of their 2020 draft class, having confirmed the final inked contract on Thursday night. Cal-Berkeley safety Ashtyn Davis was the pick in question, but the team confirmed the official addition of April’s 68th overall pick.

“I think I can contribute anywhere they put me. I’m comfortable on the outside and inside, whatever the case may be,” Davis said in a statement on the team’s website. “After my first year of playing safety, I wanted to know every position and not just my responsibility. That way if someone went down they could put me in.”

Davis was indeed a man of many talents with the Golden Bears. Doubling as a hurdler on the track and field squad, Davis earned 166 tackles to go with seven interceptions on the gridiron. Davis also made a name for himself as a returner, averaging 22.9 yards on kickoffs. The 26.2 yards he averaged during the 2018 season were good for second in the Pac-12.

All-conference team honors awaited Davis in both his junior and senior campaigns, with first-team accolades coming in the former.

“Ashtyn brings speed, ball skills and versatility,” general manager Joe Douglas said in the same statement. “You can see him line up and cover a slot receiver and cover him in man coverage, you can see him line up as a high safety and range over to the sideline to make a play on the ball, you can see him attack the alleys in the run game, you can see him blitz.”

The pick used to draft Davis was obtained from the New York Giants in exchange for defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Davis was one of two third-round picks for the Jets, the other being Jabari Zuniga 11 picks later.

New York is set to open training camp on July 28 at Atlantic Health Jets Training Facility.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Megan Walker joins New York Liberty in WNBA bubble

The New York Liberty are set to add another rookie to their proceedings, as Megan Walker has reported to Bradenton.

New York Liberty rookie Megan Walker is set to join her New York Liberty teammates at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for the 2020 WNBA season. The University of Connecticut alumna tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the team’s departure but a pair of negative tests this week has allowed her to partake.

Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb confirmed that Walker had arrived during remote press availability on Thursday afternoon.

“Right now, she’s in the league’s quarantine protocol,” Kolb said via Zoom. “Assuming that she tests negative throughout timeline, we expect her to be with us early next week.”

Walker was the Liberty’s second pick in the WNBA Draft. She was an early entry into the pros after averaging 19.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in her junior season. The Richmond, Virginia native earned the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year Award for her efforts. Previous winners include WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collie, last season’s Rookie of the Year. The Liberty chose her with the ninth overall pick in April.

Head coach Walt Hopkins said that Walker has remained in contact with both the coaching staff and her teammates throughout the process.

“We’ll have these next few days to talk to her as much as possible,” Hopkins said. “When I talked to her last night, she didn’t sound out of sorts with anything. She was right there with us. She has watched practices, the ones we have recorded. She’s gotten to watch the scrimmages and seems to have a really good handle on what we’re trying to do.”

Walker is one of seven rookies on the current Liberty roster. The list is headlined by top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, who is joined by fellow draftees Jazmine Jones, Kylee Shook, and Leaonna Odom. Jocelyn Willoughby was added through a draft-night trade with Phoenix while Joyner Holmes was signed after veteran Rebecca Allen opted out of the 2020 season.

The Liberty will officially tip off the WNBA’s Floridian endeavors on Saturday afternoon against the Seattle Storm (12 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Mekhi Becton set to ink guaranteed deal (Report)

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets signed the 11th overall draft pick on Monday, as both he and the team were happy to reveal.

The New York Jets have announced the signing of first-round pick and offensive lineman Mekhi Becton. This signing comes hours after the team confirmed they were set with fellow selections Jabari Zuniga and James Morgan.

Becton himself confirmed his signing on social media in capitalized fashion.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the deal is worth a fully-guaranteed $18.45 million over four years. Rapoport has also stated that Becton is in the New York area, hinting that he will be ready to report to training camp on Tuesday with other first-timers.

The Jets chose Becton with the 11th overall pick out of Louisville in April’s NFL Draft. It marked the first time the Jets had taken an offensive with their top pick since 2006, when they chose D’Brickshaw Ferguson sixth overall. He was the third lineman chosen in 2020, following fellow tackles Andrew Thomas (4th, NY Giants) and Jedrick Wills (10th, Cleveland). The Highland Springs, Virginia native is set to play a major role in the Jets’ offense, namely as a left tackle protecting the blindside of quarterback Sam Darnold.

Becton established himself as one of the most dominant linemen in the nation during his time as a Cardinal. He started 23 games at Louisville and later earned first-team All-ACC honors. The Cardinals surprised many with an 8-5 record last season, though Becton skipped the team’s Music City Bowl victory over Mississippi State.

“I want to start as a rookie and I want to make the playoffs. I would say those would be my rookie goals,” Becton said in a write-up by Eric Allen of NYJets.com. “I like to finish and I like to dominate in the run and in the pass. That’s what I’m going to bring him to the table.”

With the signing of Becton, third-round choice Ashtyn Davis remains the only draft pick that hasn’t inked his first green contract.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets sign trio of 2020 draft picks (Report)

DL/LB Jabari Zuniga, QB James Morgan, and P Braden Mann are the latest New York Jets draft picks to officially sign their rookie deals.

The New York Jets revealed that two more draft picks signed with the team on Monday evening. New York confirmed that they signed defender Jabari Zuniga and quarterback James Morgan, while Manish Mehta of the New York has stated that the team has also officially added punter Braden Mann.

Mehta also had the financial terms for each first-year. Each is worth four seasons, with Zuniga earning $4.73 million, Morgan getting $4 million, and Mann rounding it off with $3.47 million.

Zuniga was the latter of the Jets’ pair of third-round picks, chosen 79th overall out of Florida. Injuries limited Zuniga to five games in his senior season, but he nonetheless managed 33 sacks over four seasons in Gainesville. Capable of playing on both the line and at linebacker, Zuniga was placed on the Chuck Bednarik Award watchlist (awarded to the nation’s top defensive lineman) during a junior campaign that saw him earn 45 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks.

Morgan is set to partake in the Jets’ competition for the backup quarterback job behind Sam Darnold. He was chosen in the fourth round (125th overall) out of Florida International. Despite spending only two seasons with the Golden Panthers, having transferred there from Bowling Green, Morgan ranks second in FIU history in passing yardage (5,312) and touchdowns (40).

Mann was the Jets’ final pick of the April proceedings, having his name called with the 191st overall pick. The Texas A&M product was one of the most prolific punters in college football history, earning unanimous All-American honors and the Ray Guy Award (bestowed to the nation’s top punter) after his junior season. His 51.0 average is the best in NCAA history.

With these signings, first-round pick Mekhi Becton and third-rounder Ashtyn Davis are the only Jets selections who have yet to sign.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Top ten in Madden NFL 21 ratings leak

New York Jets

Gamers in green got a bit of a treat this week, as the New York Jets’ ten best players in Madden NFL 21 were revealed.

The status of the 2020 NFL season may be in question, but pixelated gridiron endeavors are perhaps more ensured than ever.

As the arrival of Madden NFL 21 looms next month, player ratings from the game have begun to trickle out through either leaks or official releases from developer Electronic Arts. Popular Madden strategy and fan site Madden School (which is not affiliated with EA) has obtained the top ten highest-rated players from each of the league’s 32 teams. The top portion of the Jets’ list is dominated by defense, with six defenders leading the rankings. Safety Jamal Adams headlines the proceedings with a mark of 92, up two points from last season.

The full top ten is below…

Player Rating Difference From Madden 20
S Jamal Adams 92 +2
RB Le’veon Bell 87 -5
LB CJ Mosley 85 -2
LB Avery Williamson 83 -2
CB Pierre Desir 81 +1
S Marcus Maye 81 +3
CB Brian Poole 80 +3
WR Jamison Crowder 80 +1
RB Frank Gore 79 -2
G Brian Winters 79 -3

Additionally, EA officially released the top ten players in each skill position, as well as the ratings for rookies in those spots…

Player Rating
WR Denzel Mims 70
RB La’mical Perine 66
QB James Morgan 60

Notably absent among the top ten is quarterback Sam Darnold, who had a 74 labeling in last year’s original postings. Madden rankings can fluctuate and update throughout the season, so these rankings are subject to change.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is set to grace the cover of Madden NFL 21, which will be the 34th edition of the iconic franchise. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey are the latest members of the “99 Club”, earning the highest rating a player can achieve in the game, which is named after renowned football coach and commentator John Madden. Brett Favre is the only Jets player to grace the cover of Madden. He originally appeared in a Green Bay Packers uniform for Madden NFL 09 (released in August 2008), but an alternate cover was made available after he was traded to New York shortly before the start of the season.

Madden NFL 21 well be released on August 28 on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets newcomers’ jersey numbers revealed

New York Jets

The New York Jets unveiled the numerals that their newcomers’ uniforms will bear for the 2020 season on Tuesday.

A majority of New York Jets newcomers unveiled their jersey numbers for the 2020 season.

Offensive line proceedings headlined the new numerals, with first-round pick Mekhi Becton donning No. 77. Becton’s number from Louisville, 73, has been retired by the Jets, putting him in need of a new jersey in more ways than one.

“I wanted to try something new because I didn’t feel right in 70. That’s my high school number and then 73 is retired,” Becton said in a statement to Eric Allen of the Jets’ website. “I feel like 77 is just a different journey, a new journey to start.”

Below, we have the new digits and your jersey planning guide for the Jets’ free agency and draft class.

No. 2: K Brett Maher

Competing with Sam Ficken for the kicker’s slot, Maher maintains his number from Dallas. A previous former Cowboy, Nick Folk, wore the number for the Jets and went on to hold the position for seven seasons.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 2: K Nick Folk, K Jason Myers

No. 4: QB James Morgan

With his Florida International numerals taken by a certain Hall of Fame quarterback, Morgan has opted for single digits this time around. For all you math majors, if you subtract his original number at Bowling Green (16) from his numerals at FIU, you get his new Jets symbol.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 4: QB Brett Favre, P Lac Edwards

New York Jets, Joe Flacco
Oct 17, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (5) warms up before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5: QB Joe Flacco

Flacco retains the single-digit he wore en route to the Super Bowl in Baltimore. He also donned the number during his cameo in Denver last season.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 5: K Pat Leahy

No. 7: P Braden Mann

The No. 34 Mann wore at Texas A&M was not only taken by cornerback Brian Poole but also barred from NFL usage by a specialist. Thus, he dons a number previously worn by a pair of prior Jets punters.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 7: QB Ken O’Brien, QB Boomer Esiason, QB Geno Smith, P/QB Tom Tupa, P Ben Graham

No. 11: WR Denzel Mims

Those who went out and purchased new Robby Anderson jerseys last season and panicked when the latter went to Carolina need only a mere roll of duct tape and a Sharpie to make things right thanks to Mims. The second-round pick previously owned Flacco’s numeral at Baylor

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 11: WR Robby Anderson, K Jim Turner, WR Jeremy Kerley

No. 18: WR Josh Doctson 

Retaining his number from Washington, Doctson is certainly hoping for some longevity with it. Three consecutive receivers have spent single-year stints with No. 18 (ArDarius Stewart, Deontay Brunett, Demaryius Thomas)

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 18: QB Al Woodall

DETROIT, MI – DECEMBER 15: Breshad Perriman #19 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers catches a fourth quarter touchdown as Tracy Walker #21 of the Detroit Lions gives chase during the fourth quarter of the game at Ford Field on December 15, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Tampa Bay defeated Detroit 38-17. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

No. 19: WR Breshard Perriman

Keyshawn Johnson took his Jets number to Tampa Bay, and now it appears Perriman will do the same as he makes the reverse trip up north. The number was left behind by Trevor Siemian’s departure.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 19: WR Keyshawn Johnson, DB/PR Chris Farasopoulos, WR/KR Andre Roberts

New York Jets, La'Mical Perine
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – DECEMBER 30: Lamical Perine #2 of the Florida Gators celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Virginia Cavaliers at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2019 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Florida defeated Virginia 36-28. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

No 22: RB Lamical Perine

The No. 2 he wore in Gainesville was outlawed for running backs by NFL standards, so Perine opted to simply double up in East Rutherford. Jets fans certainly hope he fares better than the previous bearer, the recently departed Trumaine Johnson.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 22: DB Jim Hudson, DB Burgess Owens, DB Erik McMillan

No. 32: CB Ashtyn Davis

Rushers have previously worn Davis’ new number, but it now takes on a defensive tone. Davis previously wore No. 27 in college at Cal.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 32: RB Emerson Boozer, RB Blair Thomas, RB Leon Johnson

No. 35: CB Pierre Desir

No. 35 is a relatively quiet numeral in the grand scheme of Jets history, but Desir is looking to change that. He won’t have to change his repertoire too much, having worn it in Indianapolis.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 35: RB Mike Augustyniak, FB BJ Askew

No. 43: TE Ross Travis

You might expect the former Penn State basketball participants to suit up for the Knicks, but Travis instead joins up with the Jets from Indianapolis. He previously also wore No. 88 in Kansas City.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 43: DB Michael Brim

No. 51: LB Patrick Onwuasor 

The newest Jets interior option moves up three digits from his number in Baltimore. It has held a strong history in the Jets’ linebacking corps.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 51: LB Ralph Baker, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Greg Buttle, LB Bryan Cox

No. 60: C Connor McGovern

McGovern has a lot to live up to in bringing his Denver number over to New York. It has previously been worn by several notable names on both offense and defense, including a Super Bowl champion linebacker (original bearer Larry Grantham).

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 60: LB Larry Grantham, G/T Dan Alexander, T D’Brickshaw Ferguson

No. 62: G Greg Van Roten

Van Roten’s No. 73 from Carolina will never be worn in New York again, retired for Joe Klecko. Instead, he’ll be the first Jet to wear No. 62 since Vlad Ducasse in 2013.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 62: LB Al Atkinson, G/C Roger Duffy

No. 68: G Josh Andrews

It was in a No. 68 jersey in which Andrews was noticed by general manager Joe Douglas during their shared time in Philadelphia. He’ll redon the number upon their reunion in New York.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 68: G Kevin Mawae, G/T Reggie McElroy, T Kelvin Beachum

No. 72: T Cameron Clark

Alex Lewis had his Charlotte number, so Clark moves one digit up for his new green jersey. There’s a somber hint upon the awarding of this number, previously worn by Super Bowl champion Paul Rochester, who passed away earlier this month.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 72: T Chris Ward, DL Jason Ferguson, DT Paul Rochester

No. 76: T George Fant

No one holds Fant’s old No. 74 from Seattle, but he’s nonetheless moving up a couple of spots. Much like fellow bearer Jumbo Elliott, Fant has been known to go out for a pass a time or two.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 76: T Jumbo Elliott

No. 77: T Mekhi Becton

A new era begins for Becton, who, Van Roten before him, previously wore Klecko’s famous digits while repping the ACC’s Cardinals. It was briefly wrong by Tom Compton last season.

No. 92: DE Jabari Zuniga

Zuniga was able to retain his college numerals from Florida. The spot was previously left open by the trade of Leonard Williams.

Notable Jets Who Wore No. 92: DE Shaun Ellis, DE Leonard Williams

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

 

 

New York Liberty add rookie Joyner Holmes to complete roster

The New York Liberty added the Texas alumna Holmes to cap off their 2020 roster after Rebecca Allen opted out earlier this week.

In a shocking twist, the New York Liberty somehow got younger.

New York’s WNBA squad added their seventh rookie to their roster on Friday in the form of Joyner Holmes, The move comes less than 24 hours after veteran Rebecca Allen announced she would not partake in the league’s potential “bubble”-based season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Holmes was chosen by the Seattle Storm in the second round (19th overall) of April’s WNBA Draft. Hailing from Texas, Holmes averaged 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds over four years in Austin. She opened her final season in Austin with seven consecutive double-doubles (earning 27 overall during her four seasons as a Longhorn) and appeared in three consecutive NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournaments. Holmes appeared on the Big 12’s First Team in her freshman season (where she also took home the conference’s top freshman honor) and later earned honorable mentions in her junior and senior campaigns.

Holmes’ most notable Austin moment perhaps came in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. In the late stages of a one-point game against North Carolina State, Holmes drew an offensive foul before putting in a missed rebound to clinch the Longhorns’ ticket to the Sweet 16 via an 84-80 win.

Prior to her Austin arrival, Holmes made a name for herself as a McDonald’s All-American and as a member of the 2014 FIBA Under-17 Women’s Basketball World Cup’s All-Tournament team, representing the United States. Among her teammates in that endeavor in the Czech Republic were new Liberty teammates Asia Durr and Sabrina Ionescu.

Holmes was available after getting cut by Seattle when WNBA rosters were required to cut down to 12 players last month. She joins the young New York stable that includes each of their six draft picks, a group headlined by Ionescu, the top overall selection. Standing at 6’3, Holmes can provide some of the length and defensive prowess that Allen took with her back to Australia. New York was relatively low on interior help after sophomore center/forward Han Xu opted to stay overseas during the May cutdowns, joining fellow international representatives Marine Johannes and Stephanie Talbot.

The WNBA is currently planning for a 22-game season to be held in Bradenton. Their 24th season of play was originally slated to begin in May but was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An uptick in cases in the Sunshine State have played a role in several other notable names opting to sit out, including All-Star Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun and LaToya Sanders of the defending champion Washington Mystics. The season’s delay likely prevents the Liberty from making their full-time debut at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Tyler Reddick going beyond the rookie stripe on and off the track

NASCAR Cup Series rookie Tyler Reddick is off to a fast start, as he’s on the cusp of the playoff picture nearly a third of the way through.

Homestead-Miami Speedway may no longer be the site of NASCAR’s championship festivities. But Tyler Reddick is nonetheless looking to fulfill, or at least help solidify, postseason dreams at the 1.5-mile oval.

Reddick is looking to become just the fourth rookie to reach the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, an endeavor he’s currently 25 points from reaching entering Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox). The driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has finished in the top 20 in all but one of the Cup Series’ seven events since the circuit returned from the coronavirus-induced pause. He currently leads the premier racing showcase’s Rookie of the Year standings over John Hunter Nemechek.

Official as it may be, the rear bumper of his No. 8 Chevy adorned with the traditional yellow rookie stripe, it’s hard to truly give Reddick the freshman label. The 24-year-old Corning, California native has earned a combined 12 wins in NASCAR’s lower-tier national circuits, the Xfinity and Truck series. South Beach has already been a regular host of Reddick’s championship parties, as he visited the winner’s circle over the past two autumns to celebrate not only his consecutive victories in the Xfinity Series’ 300-mile event but also the last two titles in NASCAR’s equivalent of AAA-baseball. Other hoisters of multiple Xfinity titles include Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr.

Between the two lower circuits, Reddick’s worst Homestead finish is a third-place posting in the 2015 Truck Series event. But his non-rookie demeanor carries on through his prerace statements, as he knows no number of “minor league” wins will guarantee success in the Cup version.

“I just have to stay on my toes. We’re working really hard to just bring the best car that we can and, from there, it’s going to be important to keep on top of the balance,” Reddick said in a Thursday afternoon press conference. “The track is going to lay rubber, it’s going to change. Just staying on top of those things are important. I think keeping on top of the balance, staying ahead of the curve of the race track as it changes will be very important. The veterans of our sport understand that very well, so we’re just going to have to dig down deep and really make sure that we don’t go too far or go to little on the adjustments we need to make when the track does change.”

The coronavirus hiatus and a roller-coaster season has put Reddick through a trying rookie season. He ran with the leaders for most of the final race before the pause at Phoenix Raceway back in March, but a late crash took him out of contention. A multi-car incident also ended his Bristol endeavors early, putting him in an 18th-place hole in the current standings. After Sunday, 14 races stand between the drivers and the late summer cutdown to 16 championship contenders at Daytona International Speedway.

Reddick’s quest to make up the lost ground on both the asphalt and the leaderboard has the added obstacle of dealing with a crowded schedule as NASCAR attempts to run the entirety of its 36-race Cup Series slate. Sunday’s trip to South Beach will be the third Cup Series event over the last seven days. The marathon nature of the Cup circuit has only been exacerbated by the cancellation of on-track practice (to limit events to one day at the facilities) and sweltering conditions brought on by visits to locales like Miami, Atlanta, and Martinsville, Virginia in the late stages of spring.

Reddick, however, is taking the endless wave of calamity with stride. Cup races have been a bit longer than he’s used to, but, like any sport, he’s been studying game film and new techniques to get ready.

“Preparing for these races has been more important than ever before, whether it’s the hydration factor,” Reddick said. “our body’s not used to that and it’s hard. It’s hard for mine because I haven’t been Cup racing long and it’s hard for anyone that’s just used to running just one race or one event a weekend. So, that’s been tough, but we’re catching up to it and we’re really focusing on the hydration and preparation for the heat going into Homestead.”

Team efforts have been crucial at RCR, which is looking to send multiple drivers to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Reddick took the time to praise his veteran teammate Austin Dillon, who is 19 points ahead of him in the standings and six tallies behind William Byron for a playoff spot. The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has had a calming effect in this topsy-turvy year, almost labeling him as a living, breathing practice session.

“Austin breaks down the cars and the performance of them in different ways than I even think about,” Reddick said of the 2018 Daytona 500 winner. “The things he brings to the table are different than I could ever offer and our differences, hopefully, and have at times this year, been very beneficial in bringing together a great product when we were able to practice and debrief after those sessions.”

NASCAR, Tyler Reddick

On-track exploits aren’t the only environments where Reddick has displayed his sagacity. He was one of the first drivers that eschewed the notion of “sticking to sports” in the wake of the current events in the United States. As protests and demonstrations against police brutality and white supremacy rose in all 50 states, Reddick shared an image of George Floyd on his social media accounts, accompanied by the message “I want to let everyone know out there, I hurt with you and I stand with you” and tags such as “#BlackLivesMatter” and “SystematicOpression”. Floyd was an African-American man who was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Many drivers have followed him in his early footsteps.

Drivers who have spoken out have faced scrutiny for tackling issues off the track and Reddick has been no exception. But there was never any hesitation in terms of speaking for the No. 8 Chevrolet’s driver.

“For me, I didn’t care about backlash. To me, it’s very simple: we’re all human beings, so why should you be treated differently because of the color of your skin. That’s not right. For me, it was a no-brainer. I didn’t care about the backlash. Those that had negative things to say, they clearly don’t fully understand what’s going on. It was the right thing to say and I felt compelled to say something.”

Reddick was also supportive of NASCAR’s recent ban of the Confederate flag, which went into effect hours before last Wednesday’s Cup event at Martinsville. He’s hoping the changes and displays of unity offered by both the drivers and NASCAR as a whole remain prevalent as normalcy starts to creep back into American society.

“When the headlines finally clear and it goes back to a sense of normalcy, if you will, it’s just important to remain adamant that we need to go out there in our communities…we need to go vote and get the right people that we feel that are going to make those changes that we’ve been crying out for the last couple of weeks. (We can’t) lose sight of that. (We have to) stay diligent and not lose sight of what’s important here.”

The No. 8 Chevrolet will start 24th on Sunday afternoon.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags