Category: Sports

Tar Heels in the MLS

At the beginning of the year, six players from the UNC-Chapel Hill men’s soccer team were awarded the opportunity to play for Major League Soccer, the United States’ professional soccer league.

“It’s a tremendous reward for our players. They deserve it,” assistant coach Carlos Somoano says.

Four players were selected in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore, Md. in January. Senior defender Jalil Anibaba was taken ninth overall by the Chicago Fire. “I was very excited because the draft is a very stressful time,” Anibaba says. “It’s a dream come true, and it’s a moment I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

Anibaba, who will join a team captained by former Tar Heel Logan Pause, was named MVP of the 2011 pre-draft PlayerCombine. “It was an honor to be seen as the MVP when you’re participating in an event with such great players,” he says. “It’s humbling.”

Eddie Ababio, a senior outside defender, was selected 18th overall by the Colorado Rapids, the defending MLS Cup champions. Anibaba and Ababio are the eighth and ninth Tar Heels ever picked in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft.

Michael Farfan was taken 24th overall, by the Philadelphia Union. The back-to-back All-American midfielder will join former Tar Heel Sheanon Williams with the Union.

Stephen McCarthy, also a midfielder, was selected immediately after Farfan by the New England Revolution. Despite being one of the four Tar Heels selected in the draft, McCarthy did not enjoy the draft experience. “It was terrible,” he says. “For guys that go top 10, it was probably a great experience. For me, it was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.”

However, McCarthy isn’t intimidated by being the first Tar Heel drafted by the Revolution and has not felt any extra pressure. “I just try to do the best I can,” he says.

In order to perform at his best, McCarthy has had to make adjustments to the higher standard of professional play. “It’s been pretty nuts,” McCarthy says. “It’s a whole new level of intensity. After practice, all I want to do is sleep.”

Somano says the Carolina program is known for creating great players. “We have a tradition here of pushing our guys to be great. When you create an environment like (Carolina), players will become great,” Somoano says.

Two other Tar Heels were added to MLS rosters following the SuperDraft. Senior midfielder Dustin McCarthy was selected by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft, a secondary draft held after the SuperDraft. A day later, Alex Dixon, a junior midfielder, signed a contract with the Houston Dynamo.

Carolina is now tied for the fourth-most players drafted in MLS history, with McCarthy as the 33rd Tar Heel ever selected in the MLS SuperDraft.  “There’s a tradition (at Carolina) consistent in winning and producing professional soccer players,” assistant coach Jeff Negalha says.

So, what’s next for these Tar Heels?

“As a rookie, you have to be open to anything, including playing new positions. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team,” Anibaba says.

Left to right: Jalil Anibaba, Defender; Eddie Ababio, Defender/Forward; Michael Farfan, Midfielder; Stephen McCarthy, Midfielder

-Will Rimer

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The Summer of 2010 Reaches its Peak

LeBron James has made a decision. He finally joined Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, as announced by former Wake Forest star Chris Paul (@oneandonlycp3). As I write this, LeBron (@KingJames) only has three tweets, but he is well over 250,000 followers. When I heard about the account, I thought that he may announce his signing decision via the social networking website, but a rep for him later denied that idea.

Even so, the world of NBA free agency has still been like no other in its history due to the caliber of the players available and the prominence of social media.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – who are each making a documentary about the free agency process – have tweeted details throughout the free agency period. Bosh delivered news on what teams he met with and uploaded a picture of going to dinner with Wade during free agency, while hinting that someone (implying LeBron) was missing. ESPN reported on this.

Wade has not been as active on Twitter and said that on June 18 he would be on a hiatus until free agency was over; however, he followed that message with three tweets and officially broke his “silence” on July 2. And even though Wade announced his decision to sign with the Heat in a TV interview on SportsCenter with Bosh, he still posted the following later and utilized YouTube: “Message to Miami Heat fans….”

In another example, Amare Stoudemire (@Amareisreal) used his page to say goodbye and thanks to all his Phoenix Suns fans because he had chosen to leave for the New York Knicks.

Even ranks of NBA management – personnel that usually stay pretty quiet or reserved during free agency until someone signs on the dotted line – have been involved with social media. For example, Daryl Morey (@dmorey), the Houston Rockets general manager, tweeted about his meeting with Bosh and also later encouraged Rockets fans to send “we want you back” tweets to two of their players that are free agents.

Certainly in an increasingly-social-media-inundated world, I can see more scenarios happening where players break their own news before media outlets can get the scoop via their own reporting. Rising star Kevin Durant (@KDthunderup) certainly beat reporters to the punch by announcing that he had agreed to a five-year extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which would prevent him from becoming a free agent next summer. His tweet was then reported by ESPN, among others.

One of the biggest tweets though came from LeBron in which he guided people to his website and officially confirmed reported rumors of how he would be announcing his decision, which brings me to my next point of discussion.

By now you know that LeBron and his management team have set up a one-hour TV special to be televised on ESPN at 9 p.m. EST tonight. The show is called “The Decision” and frankly the name – let alone the concept of having a show to announce where he is headed, which no one has ever done before – comes off as arrogant. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did announce their decision to play together on SportsCenter, but it was not well-planned and hyped beforehand. Those two and several other big-name players were available this summer, but LeBron’s show is not called “A Decision,” it is called “The Decision” as if no one else matters.

But let’s be honest, we all know that LeBron has a big ego; he has a tattoo on his back that says “Chosen 1.” Last summer Nike confiscated (although later released) video footage of LeBron being dunked on at his camp after talking to LeBron. His nickname is “King James” and he uses that to refer to himself e.g. his twitter domain. Now in my opinion he is a terrific player, but you can hardly be the “king” when you have not won a single championship.

All of these things point to being self-centered, but then there’s a twist that may get lost in all of the hoopla. LeBron’s management wanted to be able to sell sponsorship on the show to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of America. Therefore, I have to wonder if his ego drove the creation of the show or if he simply saw an opportunity to help a charity that he cares about. Regardless of his true intention, I know two things: First, I am all for a TV show that gives back. Second, since several teams believe that they have a shot at getting LeBron, it seems clear to me that if he makes them wait as long as the rest of the world to know what he is doing, he is going to tick off and alienate some teams’ brass and their fans – with Cleveland being the most vulnerable.

Beyond the motivation for the show though, I have to wonder: why does the special have to be an hour when 30 minutes would suffice? LeBron reportedly will announce his decision within the first 10 minutes of the show so why is the show so long? Is it to raise more money for charity? Does he want that much attention? Did ESPN dictate the longer time slot?

Here is a scenario where an hour would be logistically necessary: LeBron knows he is going to the Miami Heat to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and Wade and Bosh will be involved in the show in some way. Perhaps they will show up in person, which I think would get leaked before 9 p.m., or (if LeBron is really dedicated to keeping the surprise) he will have his future teammates appear via satellite. This scenario of creating a three-star monster team would be fit for primetime TV and a one-hour slot unlike any other decision that he could make. Therefore, I think that this serves as more evidence that LeBron is not going to pass up on the opportunity to team up with two of his good friends, and will sign with Miami as I predicted in my previous blog before free agency started. (Note: I do not have a prediction for a jersey number. No. 23 is retired in Miami in honor of the greatness of Michael Jordan and No. 6 – the number LeBron was going to switch to – is taken by Mario Chalmers and I do not believe NBA rules will allow him to change it because he has not been with the Heat or in the league long enough.)

Regardless of where he plans to sign, I will certainly watch the special and it will be interesting to see if the secret gets out – maybe even via Twitter – beforehand.

– Gaither Jones

Basketball: The Summer of 2010

It is finally here. NBA and general sports fans alike have looked forward to this year’s free agency because of all of the big-name players that will be available. In 2006 some players intentionally signed contract extensions that would end at the same time to leave open the possibility of playing with one another on a new team. Knowing the likes of who would be available, some teams – including the New York Knicks – sacrificed their team and made sure to make moves that would free space under the salary cap for this summer. The justification: “We may suck now, but just wait until we get LeBron or (insert prominent name here).” LeBron James is the prize everyone wants, and his decision will dictate where other players end up. With free agency beginning July 1 at midnight and players being able to sign contracts on July 8, rumors are flying. And the latest speculation is very intriguing.

Due to the Miami Heat’s recent moves, they have the most money to spend this summer (approximately $43 million), and can afford to re-sign Dwyane Wade while adding both LeBron and Chris Bosh. The three 2003 draftees would have to take less than a maximum contract to play together, but they are all friends and reportedly would be willing to forfeit money to compete as teammates. There is no guarantee that this scenario will happen, but it would be unlike anything the NBA has seen.

Some people may say that this already happened three years ago in Boston, but these people would be wrong. When Paul Pierce was united with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett via separate trades, all three were closer to the twilight of their respective careers. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all in their prime – and who knows what exactly they could do playing together. It would certainly be entertaining to see three true individual center-of-the-franchise stars play together for 82 regular season games and the playoffs. Even the best defensive opponents probably could not afford to double anyone on the floor out of fear of leaving someone open. Time will only tell how the NBA landscape will change, but here are my thoughts on a few players:

LeBron: He is very loyal, but I think he is leaving Cleveland. The surrounding parts aren’t good enough for him there. The best existing fit for him – despite being in the more competitive Western Conference – is with the Los Angeles Clippers; because of the talent of the other four starters that would be paired with him, however, I can’t see him going there, due to the franchise’s owner and corresponding history. Dallas is out, because he would have to do a sign-and-trade to get there, and I do not think that he is dying to play with Dirk Nowitzki, who has yet to win anything, and Jason Kidd is getting old fast. New York would be a huge stage that he would relish but the roster is weak compared to other possibilities. At this point, I would not be surprised to see him land with the New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat, or Chicago Bulls. All three have positives and negatives that could determine LeBron’s decision. I believe that his final choice will be the Bulls, with their young core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng vs. the Heat and Dwyane Wade. Ultimately, I do not think that LeBron wants to play in a city where he will never escape Michael Jordan’s shadow, and since he is leaving Cleveland, he is going to want to maximize the opportunity of starting over. What better way to do that than to play with a close friend and one of the league’s best in Wade?

Wade: He’s staying in Miami. He is comfortable there, likes Pat Riley, and the franchise can offer him the money he wants, along with one or two big-name teammates. Chicago is home for Wade, but the Heat have more money to spend than the Bulls, and if he can get LeBron and Bosh to want to play with him, they will be teammates in Miami.

Bosh: He has been the focal point of the Toronto Raptors since he was drafted. LeBron completely dictates where he will end up. I think he prefers to play with LeBron over any other player and could make more money doing so in Chicago than in Miami playing with only Wade (which is a possible scenario). However, if LeBron goes to the Heat, Bosh will surely take what he can get and follow.

Amare Stoudemire: He has played his entire career with the Phoenix Suns and now he wants a maximum deal. But given his lack of defense and


inconsistent rebounding, management in Phoenix has not tried to extend him under a max contract. If Stoudemire really does put an emphasis on comfort, familiarity, and winning now, he will take less money and stay with the Suns. If he just wants to be “the man” down low with a max deal, I think he will go play for his previous coach, Mike D’Antoni, and the New York Knicks. I could also see him in Miami if Bosh or Carlos Boozer do not sign there.

Dirk Nowitzki: Traded to the Dallas Mavericks on the night of the 1998 draft and has played his entire career with the team. His loyalty to owner Marc Cuban is strong and I can not see him leaving unless he believes he can’t win the big one in Dallas, and thus leaves to play with another superstar perhaps in Chicago.

Joe Johnson: I think he leaves the Atlanta Hawks and ends up with his former coach Mike D’Antoni in New York, but I would not rule out the New Jersey Nets. And if LeBron does not go to Chicago, I could see Johnson going there.

Carlos Boozer: He started in Cleveland and ended up with the Utah Jazz. He could fit well with Wade, LeBron or Joe Johnson, but if Bosh doesn’t go to Chicago, I think that is where Boozer will go. If Bosh does go to the Bulls, I think Boozer will go play with Wade in Miami.

– Gaither Jones

LeBron Watch

For my first blog for Blue & White, I’m going to talk about a story that many people will be focusing their attention on this summer.

If you are an NBA fan, basketball fan, or just a sports fan, you know that a big topic of interest this summer – possibly the biggest in sports – is where LeBron James will sign. ESPN will undoubtedly try to stay on top of the story, even if that means broadcasting small details across its “BottomLine.”

I recently saw that LeBron told CNN’s Larry King that Cleveland has “an edge” in signing him when NBA free agency begins in July. While LeBron did say this during a time period when he has not said much to the media about his impending free agency, I do not think it is wise to put too much stock in his statement. LeBron knows what the Cavs can offer him under the salary cap rules. He knows that they will give him a max deal if he wants it, and he knows that Cleveland can offer him a bigger deal due to the extra year (six v. five) that teams can offer their own free agents. He knows the city and the roster and how everyone fits in around him and the corresponding success. And he most likely has an idea of where the younger players, who do not see much playing time in the regular season – such as UNC alum Danny Green – are in their development because he sees them in practice and pick-up games. Basically, he has an idea for the potential of the roster and what talent may have developed in a few years. LeBron may even know what players will not be around in the future or who is being targeted in free agency. I’m sure management is and will continue to keep LeBron in the loop, as their top priority is to get him to stay a Cavalier.

Given all of this, it just makes sense that Cleveland would have “an edge” right now.

However, I think it is important to note that LeBron has not visited other teams and been wined and dined yet. He knows what teams will have the cap space to make him a substantial offer, but he does not know their plan for him. He does not know how he would click in another roster or what other free agents the team could get to pair with him. Thus the edge that Cleveland has could easily be lost due to greener pastures that LeBron is unaware of or do not yet exist.

Perhaps LeBron will tip his hat as to wear he will end up. Perhaps he already has, with the paperwork he filed to change his jersey from No. 23 to No. 6. Who knows? I do think though that LeBron will allow himself to hear a few pitches from teams beginning July 1 – such as the New York Knicks – before he signs his name on the dotted line of a new deal. I do not think that he will indicate where he is going before free agency begins, and thus anything he says before then will have little value.

– Gaither Jones