Mar 30

One year later, the complicated legacy of Marcus Paige’s final shot lives on

Marcus Paige wanted to see the television introductions and listen to Jim Nantz and experience what it looked like and sounded like, to the millions who watched it live, when … Click to Continue »

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Mar 30

Corchiani enjoying South Carolina’s amazing ride to Final Four

Tommy Corchiani would love to tell you a story about how he saw South Carolina’s improbable NCAA tournament run coming. How the freshman guard from Raleigh was confident in February … Click to Continue »

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Mar 30

In NIT final, fathers, sons and ‘a fairy-tale story’

February 11, 2017 Atlanta – Georgia Tech’s guard Josh Heath (11) gets a hug from his father Stan Heath, Boston College’s assistant coach, after Georgia Tech defeated the Boston College at McCamish Pavilion on Saturday, February 11, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Kellen McCormick’s basketball career will end Thursday night at Madison Square Garden when Georgia Tech plays TCU for the NIT championship. It could scarcely conclude in a better place.

“It’s just kind of cool knowing that I’m going to end my career in the Garden, and my dad ended his in the Garden, too,” said McCormick, a Georgia Tech forward.

In 1984, McCormick’s father Tim led Michigan to the NIT championship, earning MVP honors for his 28-point, 14-rebound performance against Notre Dame. He went on to a 10-year NBA career, including one season with the Hawks. He now works for ESPN as a college basketball analyst and is a senior director for player programs the NBA players union.

His father happened to have meetings in New York this week, so he was at Tuesday’s semifinal win over Cal State Bakersfield with wife Michelle and other family. They’ll be there Thursday, as well.

“It’s kind of funny how things work out,” Kellen said.

Read the complete story here.


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Mar 30

A former Tech assistant will be on the TCU bench

TCU special assistant Tom Herrion was a Georgia Tech assistant coach for the past two years. (TCU Athletics)

A year ago, Tom Herrion was trying to help Georgia Tech win the NIT. Thursday night, the former Yellow Jackets assistant coach, now an assistant on the TCU staff, will be doing his best to prevent it.

Tech and TCU will meet Thursday night for the NIT championship in Madison Square Garden. No one in the arena (or in the world, for that matter) will be more familiar with both teams than Herrion, who served for two years as an assistant coach to Brian Gregory before the staff was cleaned out upon Gregory’s dismissal.

“It’s kind of odd, to be honest with you,” Herrion told the AJC Tuesday night after the Horned Frogs beat UCF to reach the final.

Read the complete story here.

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Mar 30

For Tech and its seniors, a career moment has arrived

Josh Okogie didn’t need to give it much thought at all.

“I can tell you what each of them has done,” the Georgia Tech freshman said helpfully.

Corey Heyward? Soon after Okogie arrived on campus last summer, Heyward was dragging him to the gym for late-night shooting sessions.

Kellen McCormick? The graduate transfer has dispensed college basketball wisdom to Okogie throughout his freshman season.

The humor of Jodan Price, Tech’s other graduate transfer, has kept him laughing. Quinton Stephens has mentored Okogie, the team captain imparting his expectations for the rising star for seasons to come.

Josh Heath has been a big brother, the first teammate Okogie will call when he runs into trouble.

Rand Rowland?

“That’s the biggest one,” Okogie said of the former walk-on, who was put on scholarship in January. “Rand, he’s that guy that, whatever you need, he’ll do it. I’ll be like, Rand, can you come to the gym with me and help me with some free throws? He’ll be like, Sure.”

Read the complete story here.

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Mar 30

Dads find extra motivation, working out for Belichick and more from UM pro day

Hours after showcasing his skills for personnel from all 32 NFL teams, Stan Dobard stood in front of a barrage of camera and microphones, smiled and answered question after question from reporters.

Tucked in his pocket was the red and blue cup he was using to give his 16-month old son, Stan Jr.,...

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Mar 30

No. 4 Syracuse eyes revenge against No. 1 Notre Dame a year after 100th anniversary blowout loss

Syracuse rarely thinks about upcoming matchups weeks in advance, but this one is different.

Last year, Notre Dame smacked Syracuse hard in a celebration of SU’s 100th lacrosse season to win its first game in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse had entered with two straight overtime road losses, hoping to rebuild momentum with a home win. SU honored its lacrosse legacy before the game and at halftime, yet the contest itself did anything but.

Notre Dame struck just 1:18 in and never trailed. The Fighting Irish pummeled the Orange 17-7, its worst drubbing in more than two years. This season, No. 4 Syracuse (6-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) can avenge that loss with a trip to South Bend, Indiana to take on top-ranked Notre Dame (5-1, 1-0). A third ACC win gives Syracuse its most since joining the conference. But that’s not why this game at Arlotta Stadium has been on players’ minds since before the season even started.

“I’d like to circle Notre Dame,” senior attack Jordan Evans said on Jan. 26. “The 100-year anniversary, getting our butt whooped at the Dome was not a very good showing for us. It really just sticks in my mind and bothers me.”

“Obviously Notre Dame’s notorious for their defense,” redshirt junior Matt Lane said on Jan. 29. “They’ll be a very good matchup for us.”

“It’s high stakes,” senior defender Scott Firman said on March 23.

The strongest facet of Notre Dame’s game is its gritty defense: eighth in the country and forcing eight turnovers per game. It’s what makes UND difficult to beat, even with the team’s middling rankings in almost every other statistical category. In just one game all year — an 11-10 loss to then-No. 5 Denver on March 12 — the Fighting Irish has surrendered more than 10 goals in a game.

Offensively, the team ranks No. 22 in the country. Notre Dame has struggled to overcome the loss of its quarterback, attack Matt Kavanagh, who netted a team-best 50 points last year. He had a hat trick and six assists, responsible for more than half of Notre Dame’s 17 goals against SU in 2016.

The Fighting Irish returns attacks Ryder Garnsey and Mikey Wynne, who scored five and four goals last year against SU, respectively. Garnsey especially assumed a larger role without Kavanagh and leads the team with 14 goals and 14 assists.

Firman will guard Garnsey, the nation’s No. 2 recruit and last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year. “The Phantom,” as goalie Evan Molloy calls him, has quietly dominated in his first collegiate year at close defense. He has limited some of college’s best to below-average games: Albany’s Connor Fields (scoreless, four assists) and Johns Hopkins’ Shack Stanwick (scoreless, one assist).

“He just shadows everybody around, and he’s really quiet and to himself,” Molloy said. “He’s huge for us, especially losing Nick Mellen. He had that role last year, Scott’s stepped up and he’s been playing great in transition, great communicator and a great leader. You can’t ask for more from a defenseman.”

By cutting off alleys toward the cage, Firman forces the No. 1 attack on opposing offenses to work from behind the net. The players sit and watch, trying to facilitate the offense rather than creating plays themselves.

Trying to shut down Garnsey was not what hurt the Orange last year. Syracuse failed to clear the ball on eight separate occasions. The team’s 15 turnovers helped create offense and possession for Notre Dame, tiring out the defense.

“For us not to clear the ball is kind of a telling story,” SU head coach John Desko said after last year’s April 2 game. “It just means that mentally something was wrong today.”

This season, SU has a 92.1-percent clearing rate, tied for second in the nation. Much of that success comes from new starters: Tyson Bomberry’s box lacrosse background, Firman’s quick feet and Molloy’s accuracy on long passes. SU pushes transition and racks up easy goals that usually become difference makers in its current streak of six straight one-goal games.

“Can’t beat them one-on-one,” senior attack Nick Mariano said, “but as a team.”

Transition offense originates not only on defense, but also at the X. A quick faceoff win with a burst of speed creates a man-up advantage. But SU has struggled the past two games where it usually dominates. Faceoffs are the reason SU fell into a hole and narrowly escaped in back-to-back overtime games against JHU and Duke. Faceoff specialist Ben Williams has always been the reliable player SU needed in the past — until recently. (He finished 4-of-18 against Duke and 9-of-18 against Johns Hopkins.)

Even with Notre Dame coming in at No. 51 in faceoff percentage, P.J. Finley owned Williams last year when Williams won just 11-of-24 at the X. With a weak transition game and faceoff struggles, Notre Dame jumped out to a quick lead that SU never overcame.

Giving possession back to UND right after a goal creates a domino effect. The offense sits and waits for its chance while the defense tries to limit opportunities. One goal becomes two and eventually the game slips out of control as it did in Notre Dame’s double-digit victory.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there,” Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “There’s not huge margins in the difference between teams.”

Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the country. But SU is only three spots behind. Notre Dame may boast the better defense, but Syracuse possesses the better offense. Saturday will be a battle of two ACC brutes, one with hope and the other ready to crush it.

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Mar 30

Miranda Ramirez rides strong baseline play to 10-match win streak

Miranda Ramirez was riding a nine-game singles win streak when SU head coach Younes Limam quipped last Wednesday, “Don’t jinx it now.”

His worries were unnecessary. On Sunday, the freshman plowed through her first No. 1 singles match for the Orange. Ramirez’s face remained determinedly blank as she downed Georgia Tech’s best player and No. 46 Rasheeda McAdoo, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

The 5-foot-3 Ramirez had every answer and return for the much bigger and stronger McAdoo. Ramirez came out unscathed and pushed her consecutive wins to 10.

“I felt really good from the back,” Ramirez said Sunday, “and I was able to move (McAdoo) around a lot, which I don’t think she’s too comfortable with.”

This season, Ramirez has developed into a rising talent for a Syracuse (5-8, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) team that is otherwise struggling. She has dependably won points all season, which the Orange needs again on Friday at 3 p.m. against Louisville (13-5, 2-4). Ramirez, a freshman, consistently overcomes her weakness at the net and susceptibility to drop shots by playing mistake-free tennis. That, along with strong baseline play and patience that baits her opponents into errors, enables her success.

“Obviously, her strengths are playing from the baseline and dictating play,” Limam said, “but we’re trying to add a little more diversity to her game.”

Ramirez’ 11-1 singles record projects dominance, and so do her straight set wins. But she isn’t a stereotypical No. 1 singles power player. Her small frame can’t serve blisters and her returns don’t drop jaws.

Unable to out-muscle opponents, Ramirez can’t afford to beat herself, and she hasn’t yet. Rarely does she miss long or wide and, though no statistics are available, double faults have never played an important role in her home matches. Comfortable playing in long rallies, Ramirez stays amid long rallies and fires return after return until an exasperated opponent sends a shot long or wide.

“It’s a very good style of play,” Limam said. “It’s something she does really well … playing on her terms.”

Ramirez also employs long cross-court or down the line rallies as she steadily works her opponent to one side of the court. Once she believes her opponent cannot run back across quick enough, Ramirez rifles a return to the opposite corner. This ploy worked against McAdoo, who found herself constantly stretching for a ball just out of reach.

Relying so heavily on the baseline, though, creates vulnerability: drop shots. Fortunately for Ramirez, aggression around the net presents a simple remedy.

“We’re just trying to have her get a little bit more comfortable finishing points at the net,” Limam said.

Despite her wins, the freshman has been working on playing at the net and judging when to leave the baseline, said Limam. Last Wednesday, Ramirez spent over an hour in a one-on-one session focused entirely on playing closer to the divider.

“It’s just trying to maintain my level,” Ramirez said.

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Mar 30

Notre Dame’s Sergio Perkovic presents formidable matchup for No. 4 Syracuse

In the 2014 ACC championship against Syracuse, Sergio Perkovic lowered his shoulder and pushed off a smaller defender to create a shooting lane. The then-Notre Dame freshman ripped a goal short side to give his team an early 1-0 lead.

It was Perkovic’s first of his career against Syracuse. He added another later in that game and has scored three goals his last two games against SU.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound midfielder, who can shoot 111 miles per hour, is a key to No. 1 Notre Dame’s (5-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) offense. Perkovic, a senior, has started all 54 games since he arrived at UND in 2014. He’s racked up 98 goals and 18 assists, giving him 116 points in his career. This season, he already has netted 10 goals through six games and will present a formidable matchup for No. 4 Syracuse (6-1, 2-0) on Saturday at noon in South Bend.

“There are some guys who are big and strong who kind of shy away from contact,” former UND teammate and current Denver Outlaw Matt Kavanagh said. “He’s the opposite. He loves it and uses it to his advantage.”

Growing up, size and freak athleticism gave Perkovic options. He played varsity lacrosse, basketball and football, even turning down offers to play on the gridiron at Michigan State, Illinois and Northwestern. His father, Vasko Perkovic, said Michigan and Iowa also showed interest.

In the fifth grade, he traded his hockey stick for a lacrosse stick. He developed the stick skills inherent in his game today by shooting at a net in his backyard. Sometimes, he missed and broke windows on the backside of his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

At Brother Rice (Michigan) High School, he led the Warriors to four straight lacrosse state championships. He twice was named Player of the Year his junior and senior year of high school. At UND, Perkovic is a two-time All-American. “Embers Deli,” his father’s local restaurant, named a triple-decker sandwich “Sergio’s Pleasure,” with white or wheat toast, corned beef, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing.

Despite being one of the nation’s top offensive weapons, Perkovic still returns to his old high school to train. On a recent break from school, the senior dragged his father down to the field to feed him balls on a dreary winter day. Vasko fed the Tewaaraton Award watch list honoree.

Perkovic has always worked extensively on his shot, emptying bags of balls before and after practice to get extra shots. His high school coach Rob Ambrose remembers driving by the field on the weekends and seeing Perkovic standing alone launching shots toward an empty net.

“A combination of my size and decent quickness and athleticism help me get me shot off,” Perkovic said. “That coupled with my range on my shot can separate me.”

A few weeks after the father-son training session, Perkovic texted his father around midnight to tell him about his day. He told his dad he just got back from the Notre Dame facility, where he fired around 600 balls on the cage.

“He never sits more than five minutes on the couch,” Vasko said. “Even on the floor he’s always down stretching or doing something.”

But Vasko understands that’s why his son’s shot is so lethal. When he has time and space, the 111 mile-per-hour fastball is nearly impossible for goalies to stop. Perkovic’s large frame allows him to tuck his stick behind his ear as he loads up for a shot, hiding his stick from the goalkeeper’s view. Often, goalies are left to make a last-second guess as the ball whizzes their way.

Defending his shots will pose as one of SU’s most difficult tasks come Saturday afternoon. As a freshman, he scored five goals in the second half of the NCAA tournament championship game against Duke.

Lock him off and he takes the defender out of a potential slide. Play one-on-one and his right-to-right dodge can give him space. Takeaway his right, and he will split-dodge left. Slide too soon, and he dumps the ball to a teammate for a goal.

“He runs well, has great agility and has a good IQ for the game,” UND head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “He shoots the ball well. He’s an excellent lacrosse player.”

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Mar 30

Under Mike Bosch, Syracuse swipes bases at high rate

When Syracuse steals bases, it almost never loses.

Midway through the season, the Orange has stolen 31 bases, good for fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. SU is 12-2 in games it steals a base and 6-0 when it steals more than one base. Syracuse is on pace to finish with 62 swipes this year, which would place fourth in the program’s 17-year history and be the most since 2011.

As Syracuse’s (17-10, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) aggressiveness on the base paths has increased since 2015, so has its wins. In 2015, when Syracuse finished with a 20-26 record, SU had more losses than stolen bases. That year, the team had its lowest total since 2006. In 2016, head coach Mike Bosch’s first year, the team improved its record to 27-26, but managed to steal only 37 bases.

SU’s steals total declined each season from 2013 to 2015. Since Bosch took over in 2016, steal rates jumped, thanks to an emphasis on the craft in practices.

“We focus a lot more (now) on our base running than we ever did before coach Bosch was here,” said Alyssa Dewes, a senior outfielder who played under Bosch and former head coach Leigh Ross. “We would never focus on the specifics like your turns or getting a good start out of the box or finishing all the way through.”

Under Bosch, players increase agility with ladder sprints, hurdles and sprints and lateral movements with resistance bands. The drills not only increase sprint speed, but give players better jumps. Base stealing is decided by the jump, junior shortstop Sammy Fernandez said, and foot speed is crucial to the first step. The team also has worked on building muscle, performing squats. Building muscle increases leg strength, speed and power.

Players calculate their times each week. After Bosch took over, to stress base running, he timed players at the end of base running drills. The times include running home to first base, second base to home plate and home to home. Good times are three seconds, six seconds and 12 seconds, respectively, assistant coach Kristyn Sandberg said.

Each Tuesday practice starts with different drills, running specific legs of the diamond. Each set ends with Bosch timing each player. One of the biggest legs is the home-to-home, in which the players compete for the best time. Dewes, an outfielder, runs the fastest, consistently finishing around 10.8 seconds around the bases.

“I would say about 90 percent of our team is under 12,” sophomore second baseman Alicia Hansen said. “And the people who are over 12 are people who don’t need to go home to home.”

Rachel Burkhardt has gotten notably faster this season, Sandberg said. Only a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the season, Burkhardt finished just over the “good” intervals in each set. But over the past few weeks, she has dipped under three seconds from home to first base, reached 5.8 seconds from second-to-home and dropped under 12 running the full bases.

“We have a good seven or eight of us that are always competing to cross the finish line,” Fernandez said. “And when we do base running, especially home to home, we’re always within a tenth of a second with each other. We just are always competing with our speed.”

The stopwatch tells players whether they are on the right track and what they can improve Bosch said — whether it’s turns, jumps or straightaway speed.

“Bosch loves the stopwatch,” Fernandez said.

Developing the mental nuances to reading game situations also helps boost SU’s stolen bases numbers. One drill, called independent base running, starts with the bases loaded. A ball is put in play, with any number of outs, and each runner reacts like she is the only runner on base. At the end of the situation, three runners could be on third base, for example. One player could make it into a triple while another player may advance two bases and another only one. The independent base running forces critical attentiveness on the base paths, Sandberg said.

“Speed is just so important to the game,” Bosch said. “You’ve got to score however you can.”

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