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Soccer

Sheffield United considering signing Nordsjaelland centre-back Mumin

Sheffield United considering signing Nordsjaelland centre-back Abdul Mumin on a free transfer

  • Sheffield United are interested in signing Nordsjaelland defender Abdul Mumin
  • The 22-year-old centre-back is set to be available on a free transfer this summer
  • If Mumin did join, United would consider loaning him out, perhaps to Beerschot 

Sheffield United are exploring the possibility of signing Abdul Mumin from FC Nordsjaelland this summer.

The 22-year-old has a burgeoning reputation on the continent after a string of impressive displays in the Danish Superliga.

Mumin, who joined Nordsjaelland from the Right to Dream academy, is set to move on once his contract expires after the youngster opted against extending his deal.

Sheffield United are considering making a move for Nordsjaelland defender Abdul Mumin

The Blades are thought to be looking at the defender as a potential development player, with the option of loaning him to Beerschot next season.

Several clubs across Europe including Brighton, Celtic, Club Brugge and Genk have been credited with interest in Mumin.

The tall Ghanaian made 19 starts for Nordsjaelland this term and his ease in possession has drawn admirers.

Mumin is set to be available for free and Sheffield United would consider loaning him out




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Racing

Lewis Hamilton speaks on how Formula 1 can drive change

F1’s season-opening weekend also represents the public launch of the sport’s new We Race As One initiative.

On the sport’s return at the Austrian GP, Hamilton spoke to Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle in his first sit-down TV interview since the Australian GP was cancelled in March.

  • When to watch Sky F1’s Austrian GP coverage

The full, wide-ranging interview will air during the course of Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the Austrian GP weekend – including our Diversity in Motorsport programme at 1pm on Saturday ahead of qualifying.

Hamilton has spoken about racist abuse he suffered when he was a youngster in karting and asked if he had also ever experienced racism inside F1, Hamilton said: “I have. I won’t talk about which that experience was, but I have, particularly in the earlier phases of my career here.

“I would say over the last years I haven’t, it’s not something that I particularly see.

“What I do see though is very much like when I was at school. I’d go to school as 1,500 kids and I was one of maybe five or six black kids and you feel quite alone. The feeling that you’re led to not feel like you particularly fit into society.

“When you walk into the paddock of Formula 1 there might be one or two other people of colour in this whole paddock, in all the teams. This is nothing new for me: this has been the case the way it has been since I got to Formula 1, since I started karting.

“It’s been something I’ve been talking to Toto [Wolff] about, really trying to improve diversity within our team and it’s great that he has been so open to listening and not kind of fighting back, because a lot of people do take offence to it or feel like you’re being targeted.

“But it’s not about that, it’s about working together, moving forwards, being understanding and trying to improve.”

Asked if he would take a knee at a race this season, “I’ve not spoken to the other drivers. During this time the question has been asked to me and, honestly, it’s not been something that has been on the top of my mind.

“I’ve not come here this weekend with a determined mind frame to go and kneel before the race. So, I really don’t know, you’ll see on Sunday whether I decide to do that and whether I feel it’s appropriate. But I hope that we are all united one way or another. I’m sure the drivers will speak before the race so we are kind of aligned.”

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Soccer

Matthijs De Ligt 'mentally in a much better place' now at Juventus

‘Mentally I’m in a much better place’: Matthijs De Ligt says he feels more settled at Juventus after struggling for top form following his summer move from Ajax

  • Matthijs de Ligt has improved physically and mentally since joining Juventus
  • He made the £68million move from Ajax last year, but had a mixed start
  • He has now helped Juventus keep 13 clean sheets with improved performances  

Matthijs de Ligt says he is feeling better physically and mentally now compared to when he arrived at Juventus for £68million from Ajax last summer.

The young Dutch sensation was expected to be an elite signing for the Italian champions, however had a mixed start to life in Turin.  

‘I feel much better physically, but mentally I’m in a much better place and this is crucial for things to go well,’ he said, speaking to Sky Sport Italia.

Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt says he is now feeling better physically and mentally 

De Ligt had a mixed start to life at Juventus after his £68million move, but is doing better now

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri had planned to ease de Ligt in over time, but after Giorgio Chiellini suffered a bad knee injury in August he was thrown into the deep end, starting out with an error-strewn debut against Napoli. 

De Ligt has also spent some time on the bench this season after losing his place to Merih Demiral for a month. 

However, with his niggling shoulder and groin injuries clearing up, leading to improvements on the pitch, de Ligt is starting to look more like the dominant defender he was at Ajax. 

He has played 90 minutes in every league game since the restart, and has made 32 appearances in all competitions this season, with 13 clean sheets under his belt.

So far this season, de Ligt has made 32 appearances for Juventus, helping keep 13 clean sheets

Now he has settled in to life in Italy, he has also been better preparing for the wealth of talent the league has to offer. 

‘Here in Serie A, there are many different and prepared strikers,’ said de Ligt. ‘There’s Romelu Lukaku, for example, who’s very strong and quick but also Ciro Immobile, who’s instead very good with his back to goal.

‘Every team have great forwards, different from one another, and every match is very difficult. The bar is very high.

‘I try to study them thoroughly before each game in order to be prepared for any outcome.’




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Soccer

Scottish League One to play 27-game 2020/21 season

Scottish League One clubs will play a 27-game season starting on October 17, with sides due to play each other three times instead of four.

The move – confirmed by the SPFL on Thursday after it was voted on by League One sides – will see the third tier of Scottish football mirror the Scottish Championship.

Discussions are ongoing regarding the fixture programme for Scottish League Two in 2020/21.

Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, said: “Following a period of consultation with all League One clubs, they have today formally voted to approve the altered programme for the 2020/21 season.

“This is positive news and gives clubs a greater level of clarity and, crucially, a target date to aim for.

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Fighting

Kavanagh lamented McGregor vs Gaethje collapsing – so who would win?

Conor McGregor vs Justin Gaethje was described by John Kavanagh as ‘the best fight he could imagine’… so who would have come out on top if the pair locked horns?

  • Conor McGregor was in negotiations to fight Justin Gaethje but since retired 
  • American went on to beat Tony Ferguson and has now earned title shot  
  • McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh lamented deal for Gaethje clash collapsing 
  • He said it was ‘best fight he could imagine’, so how do they match up on paper?

Conor McGregor’s coach described a potential showdown with Justin Gaethje as ‘the best fight he could imagine’ and lamented the deal collapsing. 

McGregor was in talks to face Gaethje earlier this year but they broke down. The American then went on to beat Tony Ferguson and set up a title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov. 

Meanwhile, McGregor announced his retirement from the sport for a third time, with many sceptical that he genuinely means it. 

Conor McGregor was in talks earlier this year to face Justin Gaethje next in the octagon

Gaethje went on to beat Tony Ferguson (right) and now has a title shot to look forward to 

Kavanagh said: ‘It was close to being done. It’s kind of sad now that it didn’t happen. I think we could’ve been getting ready for that fight any week now if things hadn’t happened the way they did. 

‘I think the Gaethje fight is probably the best fight I could imagine because he has the style that really matches well with Conor.

‘Gaethje likes to march forward. He sits down on his shots, he throws heavy shots. He doesn’t seem to care about being hit. 

‘And he likes coming forward. Conor’s always done very well as a counter fighter. Although he does walk forward, he responds to people’s attacks very well.’

So is McGregor’s long-time coach accurate with his analysis, and if the pair had have locked horns in his fantasy match-up, how might it have played out?  

McGregor is of course an elite athlete but Gaethje is among the most relentless fighters in MMA. 

His engine is regarded as one of his finest qualities whereas there have been doubts about McGregor’s ability to stay the course in previous encounters. 

In fact, the interim champion said as much recently when pondering how a fight with the Irishman would look. 

‘I think he’s got about three rounds, and then it’s hell, and he doesn’t want to go to hell, so I think he’s good for now,’ Gathje told ESPN. 

Gaethje prides himself on an ability to break opponents by pushing a relentless pace 

It was in the first fight against Nate Diaz when McGregor’s endurance was first seriously questioned. 

Once Diaz absorbed some of the usually concussive punches and shook them off, his opponent had little left in the tank. 

McGregor was so exhausted that he shot for a takedown and rapidly ended up being submitted on the ground. 

Fatigue was also a factor in McGregor’s defeat by Khabib when he tapped out in the fourth round having been battling off his back for large parts of the fight. 

Nate Diaz choked out McGregor after the Irishman tired and shot for a takedown 

Gaethje on the other hand puts on a blinding pace and prides himself on the ability to break opponents. Tony Ferguson is renowned for arguably the best cardio in the UFC but Gaethje went into the fifth round of their encounter looking sensational.

The other important factor to consider here is which weight this would take place at. 

McGregor looked in prime condition at welterweight in his 40-second victory over Donald Cerrone in January but would have to cut back down to 155-pounds, shedding some muscle mass. A tough cut would also reduce his ability to go five rounds at a frenetic pace. 

Stand-up  

When you look back through McGregor’s CV, it is hard to argue against him in this category. 

The picture perfect dismissal of Eddie Alvarez, the 13-second KO of Jose Aldo and the not inconsiderable experience of 10 rounds in the ring with Floyd Mayweather are all feathers in his cap. 

His left hand remains one of the most potent weapons the UFC has seen and usually he finds a home for it. 

The 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo remains one of the most memorable moments in the UFC

Gaethje’s approach often looks chaotic and wild which doesn’t quite do justice to his technique. He’s spoken out in annoyance at being pigeonholed as a frenzied striker and is adamant there is real calculation in the madness. 

He also has a rock solid chin which is a trait he’d no doubt need against McGregor. But even in the one-sided win over Ferguson, Gaethje was hit by 118 significant strikes. 

There’s no way he could afford to do the same against McGregor. 

Gaethje has also suffered stoppage defeats by both Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, two men McGregor beat. 

Gaethje has real power but his technique is perhaps not as polished or clean as McGregor

As Kavanagh said, Gaethje’s style is to be the aggressor, marching forward and imposing his will. 

This would appear to suit McGregor down to the ground as he is a sensational counter puncher. The one caveat to this would be Gaethje’s leg kicks. They are brutal and he lands them with such ferocious regularity that they can completely destabilise opponents. 

In this match-up much would depend on whether McGregor could evade the leg kicks and find a way to control the distance effectively. 

Ground game 

On paper, this is a crowd-pleasing fight with fireworks from the off and a grappling match would not be in the script. 

Gaethje’s background is in wrestling but he’s a stand-up fighter in the octagon. 

Sometimes it is a surprise he doesn’t use his wrestling more but like McGregor, he thrives off the mano-a-mano combat. 

McGregor’s coaches and training partners are always very complimentary of the Irishman’s ground game but we have rarely had a chance to see it in action, at least from an attacking perspective.

All of McGregor’s losses have come by submission, including this by Khabib Nurmagomedov 

All four of McGregor’s professional defeats have come on the ground so it would perhaps be a wise gameplan for Gaethje to deploy, but it all likelihood, this scrap would remain on the feet possibly until desperation gripped one of the competitors. 

Gaethje has never lost by submission and only won once by forcing the tap, eight years ago now. 

Both of these fighters build their approaches around the stand-up game and the changes of a rounded fight would be slim. 

That said, you would have to give the edge to Gaethje given the way McGregor has suffered on the mat before and the American’s collegiate wrestling pedigree.  

Fight IQ 

Even more subjective a category than those above but an important one to consider nonetheless. 

McGregor is a deep thinker, an obsessive about the minutiae of techniques and in Kavanagh and his striking coach Owen Roddy, has two superb coaches in his corner. 

He was seen repeating the same movements over and over again on the pads in the dressing room before mirroring them exactly in the cage to beat Aldo and win the featherweight title. 

McGregor learned from his mistakes and came back to beat Diaz in their second encounter

He also showed he learned a great deal from losing the first Diaz fight, adapting his training and resting at appropriate points in their bloody rematch. 

Gaethje may not come across in the same manner but is also a student of the game and is happy to share his insights. 

On a clash with McGregor he said: ‘Distance control is the No 1 factor in any fight.

‘It’s established in the first 30 seconds. It’s not visible, but it’s established, and that would be a huge factor in our fight. Who can control the distance?

‘I think the best thing about me is I can kick the (expletive) out of people, so when they are trying to control distance or maybe they are winning at that, I can kick them in the leg and try to reset that. So I think I would knock him out to be honest.

Gaethje’s mentality is rock solid and he put on a career-best display to beat Ferguson

This might not fall under the ‘Fight IQ’ bracket but mentality is also a crucial component. 

McGregor loves to start fast but the longer a fight goes on, the more his opponents feel like they have a chance. 

Gaethje, like many wrestlers, has an iron will and capacity to endure great physical exhaustion but keep going. He would also be heartened by the fact that McGregor has been seen to tire dramatically before.  

Verdict

I have a sneaking suspicion this fight is not just a fantasy match-up for Kavanagh. It still feels unlikely that McGregor will stay on the sidelines for good so perhaps one day it will happen. 

Of course myriad factors would have to be considered, such as the weight class and frame of mind McGregor is in. 

The Irishman’s cardio over five rounds is still up for debate and perhaps the ground game would be inferior to Gaethje but his striking is on a different level and there’s little chance of a grappling match anyway.   

If, and it’s a big if, he could find a way to avoid too many of Gaethje’s scything leg kicks, then I would tip him to land a huge counter at some stage and win by knockout.

Some doubt that McGregor is gone for good and fans could yet see him fight in the UFC again




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Basketball

Zion worked to stay in shape during quarantine

For New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, quarantine presented a new set of challenges. How does a 285-pound athlete who was two months removed from returning from knee surgery stay in shape?

The NBA provided one lifeline when it cleared Williamson to continue his rehab at the Pelicans facility even after the league shut down operations. The second lifeline for Williamson came from his stepfather, Lee Anderson.

“At first, I’m a say it was very tough (to stay in shape), because even now you still don’t know what’s fully going on with that situation,” Williamson said on Thursday morning. “But me and my stepdad just found different ways to stay in condition, on-court, off-court, just wherever we could find it.”

Williamson said he got on the court “every day” during the quarantine period with his stepdad, since he wasn’t allowed to work with the Pelicans’ coaching staff per the NBA guidelines. When asked where he was working out, Williamson let out a laugh.

“I can’t tell you all my secrets, man,” Williamson said. “Some things I gotta keep to myself.”

While we don’t know what kind of basketball shape Williamson is in, he did say he feels like he’s in good shape heading into the NBA restart. The Pelicans will kick things off for the NBA’s eight seeding games on July 30 when the team plays the Utah Jazz.

Count Josh Hart as one of Williamson’s teammates who was impressed with how he looked in the gym once players got back together.

“I think body-wise, he looks amazing,” Hart said. “He looks good. His shot looks better than it has in a while. He’s been putting the work in, and that’s great to see.

“And he’s one of the players that has one of the biggest spotlights in the league and in the world right now. So he’s handled everything with great humility. I’m very surprised and proud of just how he handles all that stuff.”

When the Pelicans return to the court against the Jazz, they will do so attempting to make up a 3.5-game deficit to the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

If New Orleans can stay within four games of the Grizzlies and claim the ninth seed — while holding off Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio and Portland — it would find itself in a play-in tournament against Memphis. Or, possibly overtake Memphis and become the eighth seed.

It’s a battle that was ramping up as the season was halted. But Hart feels that if the Pelicans had Williamson for more than just 19 games, the eighth seed wouldn’t be what they were chasing at this point.

“I think if we had him at the beginning of the year, the story wouldn’t be ‘fight for the eighth seed’; it would’ve been ‘we’re a 4- or 5-seed in the West,'” Hart said. “Honestly, that’s my opinion. Unfortunately we weren’t able to have him at the beginning of the year, but he’s helped turn this organization and this season around.”

Williamson said the team’s focus in Orlando is to make a playoff push, but he agreed with Hart that the team could have been much more dangerous if everyone had been healthy for the entire year.

“I think this team can be really special when we’re all healthy,” Williamson said. “It’s just a matter of us coming together, fighting those mental battles of being in the bubble and just, honestly, coming together. I feel like if we can come together and fight the battles together, I think we can be something really special.”

By the time things kick off in Orlando, it’ll be the completion of a whirlwind 12 months for Williamson, who will turn 20 on July 6. His first summer league game ended with an injury and an earthquake. The start of his season was delayed because of surgery. He hit four 3-pointers in his first game — and just two since. And in the middle of a pandemic, he was named a cover athlete for NBA 2K21.

Now his unconventional Year 1 ends in another unconventional way — playing in Orlando in July and August.

“I’m very fortunate that the NBA was able to do this,” Williamson said. “Because I trust the NBA, that in the bubble, we’re gonna be in a safe environment, protected at best from certain situations and what’s going on. And, it’s crazy man; we’re actually about to go. It’s a lot to process, for sure, but I am excited.”

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MLB

Cam Newton says he is motivated by respect, not money as terms of Patriots deal revealed

Cam Newton says “respect” and not money is what is driving him for the 2020 NFL season.

Newton made the remarks on Instagram on Thursday after NFL Network revealed he is guaranteed only $550,000 under the terms of his incentive-heavy, newly-signed contract with the New England Patriots.

  • Newton signs one-year Patriots deal
  • What awaits Cam Newton in New England?
  • ‘No downside to Cam Newton deal’

“This is not about money for me. It is about respect,” posted Newton, who agreed a deal with New England on Monday.

ïtš ÑØT âłøt øf thïñgš 💰MØÑĒ¥💲 čâññøt bûÿ, ßŪT âmøñgšt thë tøp øf thât łïšt øf thïñgš, ÿøû wøûłd fïñd RĒŠ₽ĒČT âš øñë øf thøšë‼️ »THÏŠ ÏŠ ÑØT ÄßØŪT MØÑĒ¥ FØR MĒ; ïtš âbøût RĒŠ₽ĒČT« 😈>💰 • 😈>💰• 😈>💰• 😈>💰• 😈>💰• 😈>💰 #ÄŁŁïKÑØWïšWØRK😤 #ïmßĒTTÏÑGïtÄŁŁøñMĒ♠️♥️♣️♦️🎲 #šhïñëTHRŪthëŠHÄDĒ #ñøtFØRłïkëšJŪŠTførŁÏFĒ -1ØVĒ🤟🏾

A post shared by Cam Newton (@cameron1newton) on

Prior to that, the No 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft had surprisingly remained unsigned since being released by the Carolina Panthers in March.

The Patriots signed Newton for the veteran’s minimum but the contract could be worth $7.5m if Newton hits all of his incentives.

Newton’s base contract would be worth $1.05 million in 2020 if he’s on the roster for Week 1.

Among the bonuses are $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses and another $5.75m in incentives, NFL Network reported.

Newton, who is recovering from foot surgery, would have made $19m in the final year of his deal in Carolina.

The terms of Newton’s deal with New England angered San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who said it was “disgusting” that the 2015 NFL MVP had to settle for such a deal.

How many former League MVPs have had to sign for the min? (Asking for a friend.) just ridiculous. A transcendent talent and less talented QBs are getting 15/16m a year. Disgusting https://t.co/eZycGL8qkZ

Sherman tweeted: “How many former League MVPs have had to sign for the min? (Asking for a friend.) Just ridiculous. A transcendent talent and less talented QBs are getting 15/16m a year. Disgusting.”

Six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, who retired in February after playing last season with the Chargers, replied to Sherman: “Totally agree.”

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Sports News

Pinatubo team wait on weekend workout

Charlie Appleby will make a decision after watching Pinatubo work at the weekend regarding his participation in the Qatar Prix Jean Prat at Deauville.

The Newmarket handler is leaning towards the seven-furlong Group One on Sunday week as the next target for last year’s champion two-year-old, who has met with defeat in both of his starts this season.

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Basketball

How Pelicans rookie star Zion Williamson maximized conditioning and mental toughness during quarantine

Only four days remain before Zion Williamson will no longer be a teenager. The New Orleans Pelicans rookie star does not consider his upcoming 20th birthday to be a special day, however, other than feeling grateful for the milestone. Williamson has still struggled to process what happened to him as a 19-year-old.

"The last 12 months have been a different experience," Williamson said Thursday on a conference call.

What an understatement.

The Pelicans drafted Williamson with the No. 1 pick three months after he sprained his right knee during his freshman season at Duke. After bruising his left knee during Summer League play, Williamson then tore his right lateral meniscus before the team’s opener and missed the first 44 games of his rookie season. Once he returned, Williamson immediately catapulted the Pelicans into the NBA playoff picture and himself into the league’s Rookie of the Year race. Then, the NBA halted the season on March 11 because of the novel coronavirus, which will leave Williamson sidelined for another 4½ months before the Pelicans resume the season against the Utah Jazz at a quarantined site in Orlando on July 30.

"With the injury, all the stuff going on and not playing basketball as much as I’m used to, it’s been a crazy experience," Williamson said. "I stick with my family."

CONCERNS: What would it take to halt the resumed season?

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That has paid off in different ways. Williamson’s mom, Sharonda, gave insight about her time in track at Livingstone College, saying, "Life is life. You may go through a lot of bad times and you may go through a lot of good times. Just try to prepare yourself as best as you can."

Put in that work today 💪#WontBowDownpic.twitter.com/py6PRJVZ1q

Williamson has done that by leaning on his stepdad, Lee Anderson, who played college basketball at Clemson. Williamson and Anderson conducted daily workouts.

Williamson declined to share what his routine entailed. As he said with a grin, "I can’t tell you all my secrets, man. Some things I got to keep to myself." But each day, Williamson worked his stepdad both on his conditioning drills and on-court work.

Beyond attending the Pelicans’ voluntary individual workouts for the past two months, Williamson trained only with his stepdad to minimize any risk during the pandemic. On the first day of the Pelicans' mandatory individual workouts Wednesday, the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson wore a mask that made him look like Bane, the Batman villain in "Dark Knight Rises" that crushed his opponents with both strength and smarts.

"I do find that I’m in good shape right now," Williamson said.

Who wore it better? #WontBowDown | @Zionwilliamson

📸: @PelicansNBApic.twitter.com/Szd7EMdr8Y

That should encourage the Pelicans (28-36), who enter the resumed NBA season trailing the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) by 3½ games for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. With the NBA hosting eight regular-season games before the postseason, the Pelicans will also likely compete with the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) and Sacramento Kings (28-36) for the last playoff seed. Still, the Pelicans understandably remain cautious about not drawing any big-picture conclusions on how Williamson will fare.

"I have no idea," Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said about Williamson’s conditioning level. "They’re not able to do anything here that smacks of basketball, and all of the workouts right now are voluntary. I can tell you he is handling the ball awfully well, and his shooting looks great. In terms of his preparedness and fitness for basketball, I can’t give you any indication of that at all. I really have no idea."

The Pelicans already have an idea about Williamson’s mindset, though.

After missing the first 44 games of the season, Williamson played a large part in the team’s late-season turnaround. He scored at least 20 points in 13 consecutive games, the second-longest streak for a rookie since 2000. He ranked second in the NBA in paint points (17.3) and 14th in the league in offensive rebounds (2.9). The team was encouraged by how he improved his movement patterns and conditioning.

Once the season stopped, Williamson admitted "at first, it was very tough" to stay in shape. Beyond leaning on his family to maximize his training and keep his attitude positive, Williamson also channeled his efforts elsewhere. He often told his teammates, "we’re going to get through this." Amid protests about racial inequality, Williamson vowed to become further educated on those issues so he can maximize his platform. And Williamson was one of the five million that tuned in weekly to watch "The Last Dance" documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls.

"You saw his true love for the game and the passion he put into the game. That’s the reason he is where he is," Williamson said of Jordan. "The emotions he showed after one episode? He was willing to sacrifice not friendships but being disliked by certain people. But he wanted to make his teammates better so much by pushing them. It just showed his love for the game and his drive. He felt like if somebody could do something as close as good to him, he wanted to show that he could dominate. That overall mindset throughout the whole documentary is something to look at."

Can Williamson inspire his teammates with his mindset?

"He’s handled everything great," Pelicans guard Josh Hart said of Williamson. "Body wise, it looks amazing. He looks good. His shot looks better. He’s been putting the work in. That is great to see. He’s one of the players that has the brightest spotlights in the league and the world right now. He handles everything with great humility. I’m very surprised and proud on how he handled all of this stuff."

More adversity awaits. The Pelicans had three unnamed players test positive for COVID-19 since testing began on June 23. The Pelicans are one of several NBA teams concerned by how they ramp up their workload for full games after still remaining confined to individual workouts. Although the Pelicans have a blend of young players (Williamson, Hart, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball) and veterans (Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick), they would likely face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

Still, Williamson faced and passed plenty of tests as a 19-year-old. He didn't appear overwhelmed with the challenges that await him as a 20-year-old.

"This team can be really special when we’re all healthy," Williamson said. "It’s just a matter of us coming together and fighting those mental battles."

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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MLB

After blowback, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred clarifies comments on 60-game season

While the Twitterverse thought MLB commissioner Rob Manfred accidentally confessed Wednesday on the Dan Patrick Show that it was always MLB’s intention to play a 60-game season, Manfred clarified Thursday what he meant.

“My point was that no matter what happened with the union, the way things unfolded with the second spike,’’ Manfred told USA TODAY Sports, “we would have ended up with only time for 60 games, anyway. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that the course of the virus was going to dictate how many games we could play.’’

The two sides never could come to an agreement, with Manfred exercising his rights under the March 26 agreements, scheduling a 60-game season.

“As it turned out, the reality was there was only time to play 60 games,’’ Manfred said. “If we had started an 82-game season [beginning July 1], we would have had people in Arizona and Florida the time the second spike hit.’’

MLB 2020: 'No idea what to expect' as Spring Training 2.0 begins

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MLB, which had 40 players test positive in a week – including eight players and staff members of the Philadelphia Phillies – shut down all of their spring-training sites in Arizona and Florida on June 19. If teams were in spring training camps at the time, all the players and coaches may have been sent home a second time.

“We just weren’t going to be able to play more than 60 games at that point,’’ Manfred said, “with everything being shut down. The reality is that we’re going to be lucky if we 60 games now given the course of the virus.’’

The players union, which initially sought to play 114 games, is expected to file a grievance against MLB in the next two months, accusing the owners of intentionally delaying negotiations to limit the number of games. The union could potentially try to use Manfred’s comments in his interview with Patrick as part of their grievance.

[email protected] Commissioner Rob Manfred explains why a 60-game schedule was the only option for the League this season.

For Rob’s Full appearance: https://t.co/rkBSfSsBwkpic.twitter.com/O4jAYd7Zob

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games no matter how the negotiations with the players went, or any other factor,” Manfred told Patrick. “Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day, we're trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

“I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were going to do for our fans given the course of the virus.”

Patrick followed up by asking Manfred, “even if the players accepted everything you offered, there was no way you were going to go above 60 games?”

“It’s the calendar,” Manfred said. “We’re playing 60 games in 63 days right now. I don’t see, given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks, how we were going to get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now. No matter what the state of those negotiations were.”

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