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^BKW-OREGON-IONESCU-SPORTSPLUS:LA—<Ionescu's competitive edge earned Kobe Bryant's admiration as he regularly trained with the Oregon guard. She called the Lakers legend a "close friend" in a teary-eyed interview on the day of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant along with his daughter Gianna and her teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, with whom Ionescu practiced over the summer. She said she would dedicate the rest of her season to Bryant.

"You took me under your wing and believed in me more than I believed in myself," Ionescu wrote on Instagram. "I only have one choice. To live out your legacy. You will forever live through me."

CALIF-HELICOPTER-CRASH:LA — With no black box recorder aboard the helicopter that crashed last month in Calabasas, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are turning to the travelers' personal electronics for potential answers.

Investigators hope the passengers' cellphones and the pilot's iPad can help them better understand the chaotic last moments of the flight before the chopper slammed into a hillside in foggy conditions.

FBC-OHIOSTATE-PLAYERS-PLEAS:OH — A Franklin County judge set bond Thursday during the first court appearances for two former Ohio State University football players accused of forcing a 19-year-old woman into sex.

Amir Riep and Jahsen Wint, both 21, appeared before Municipal Court Judge Cynthia Ebner on Thursday and entered pleas of not guilty to one count each of rape and kidnapping.

Ebner set bond at $100,000 for Riep and $75,000 for Wint and ordered both to have no contact with the victim or each other.

Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile released a statement confirming Trump will attend the race that read, "Daytona International Speedway has been privileged to have hosted several sitting presidents of the United States over our history. We're honored that the president of the United States has chosen to experience the pageantry and excitement of 'The Great American Race' by attending Sunday's 62nd annual Daytona 500."

BBA-ASTROS:ND — The Astros needed those trash cans Thursday at their spring training complex. Not for banging this time, but to dispose of the crumpled-up scripts that contained their well-practiced apologies, from team owner Jim Crane to the handful of players who spoke in the clubhouse.

The much-anticipated affair came off as a stiffly choreographed event put on for the roughly 100 media members in attendance. The part that was broadcast live from a sunny patch of grass just outside the Astros' clubhouse door probably was the worst of it, as Crane kicked off Mea Culpa Morning in awkward fashion.

^Paul Sullivan: Carlos Rodon joined the White Sox as a highly touted rookie. Now he's looking to stay healthy — and realize his potential — when he rejoins the rotation.<

BBA-SULLIVAN-COLUMN:TB — As the most tenured pitcher of the White Sox rotation, Carlos Rodon has been around long enough to remember what it was like to enter a season with big expectations.

Rodon was a highly touted rookie on the 2015 Sox team that included starters Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Jeff Samardzija The left-hander lived up to the hype with a 9-6 record and 3.75 ERA in 26 games.

Arm injuries have prevented Rodon from fulfilling that promise, and five years later he enters 2020 as a question mark while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

^Larry Stone: Washington baseball team hit hard by death of junior-college coach John Altobelli in helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant<

^BBC-STONE-COLUMN:SE—<Altobelli's influence on college baseball, from his perch as the longtime coach at the junior college located in Costa Mesa, Calif., was vast. Everyone on the West Coast and even beyond, it seems, had some sort of link — and an accompanying fond memory — of the man who built OCC into a powerhouse

^BBO-STARKEY-COLUMN:PG—<Pirates fans should love this proposal. It gives them hope. Small-market teams almost never win it all, but if you get to the playoffs, it's still something of a crapshoot, especially in a three-game series. Hang around .500, and you will contend for a playoff spot.

The 82-win Pirates might have made the playoffs two years ago under this format, pending the result of their 162nd game (they only played 161), and might have caused some serious trouble in October.

BBA-YANKEES-BOONE-ASTROS:NY — The Yankees were not looking for the Astros to apologize to them specifically on Thursday, the first time they faced reporters this spring after being busted for the biggest cheating scandal in the game since the 1919 Black Sox. Like the rest of baseball, however, those here at George M. Steinbrenner Field for the first official workout of spring training hoped the Astros would take a little bit of accountability.

His billions couldn't protect him, not as he was seated behind a microphone at the Houston Astros' spring training complex in front of reporters demanding answers.

"Our opinion is that this didn't impact the game," Crane said of the sign-stealing scheme that helped his team take down the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.

BBA-RANGERS-PITCHERS:FT — By the end of Thursday's workout, every Texas Rangers pitcher in camp, save for the injured Brock Burke, will have thrown their first bullpen session of spring training.

Eleven of them have either already made the team or have strongholds on roster spots, assuming they stay healthy.

The others are competing for a few spots, showcasing themselves for other opportunities, positioning themselves for call-up duty, or getting an initial taste of big-league camp.

BBA-TWINS-MAEDA:MS — Kenta Maeda has never set foot in Minnesota, but he sounds eager to get there.

It's "something to discover and go out and (have an) adventure," Maeda said through interpreter Daichi Sekizaki of his new baseball home.

The adventure began Thursday, albeit it 1,700 miles away. Maeda, finally acquired from the Dodgers in a trade that took a week to consummate, reported to the Twins' Florida spring training camp, went through a battery of physical tests, and met his new teammates. The 31-year-old native of Japan, under contract for the next four seasons, is projected to join the Twins' starting rotation after spending four seasons in Los Angeles.

BBN-CARDINALS-PITCHING:SL — For a team that fancies itself a perpetual contender and even a favorite for the division crown, the Cardinals concede they began spring training — officially, formally — on Wednesday morning with an unusual amount of prevailing questions in prominent places.

In the next six weeks they aim to identify a closer, find a cleanup hitter, choose a leadoff batter, and determine at least the fifth starter in the rotation.

BBN-DODGERS-ROBERTS:LA — While the Houston Astros offered more hollow apologies for illegally stealing signs at a bungled press conference in Florida on Thursday morning, Dave Roberts was busy.

The Dodgers manager, a man whose legacy has been impacted by the Astros breaking rules in 2017, was on the back fields at Camelback Ranch. It was report day for his pitchers and catchers. He observed as they worked in the bullpens and batting cages. He insisted his mind was on them and preparing for the 2020 season, not on being cheated out of a World Series title.

BBA-TIGERS-TURNBULL:DTN — If you just read the words off a transcript, without knowing who was talking, you'd probably guess it was Matthew Boyd. Genetic testing, living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, whole body connectivity, having his priorities put in proper order after taking a trip to Uganda and witnessing firsthand the horror of child sex trafficking.

BBA-RAYS-SPRING-TRAINING:PT — The Rays, as manager Kevin Cash famously said — while uncorking the team's clinching celebration last September in Toronto — "good enough" to make the playoffs.

And as they re-assembled Thursday for their first official workout of this spring, it was clear the Rays are motivated by both the confidence gained from their 2019 success, and the frustration felt in falling short of more.

BBN-BRAVES-FOLTYNEWICZ:AT — There are a thousand tasks this spring of greater importance to Mike Foltynewicz than putting trolls in their place. He knows this, surely. What a colossal waste of time and energy it is to swim in the shallow end of social media.

BBO-SCHMUCK-COLUMN:BZ — Now that the Houston Astros have held a well-orchestrated news conference and apologized for the sign-stealing scheme that soiled their 2017 World Series championship, I guess we're supposed to get on with our lives and let them get on with theirs.

Maybe it is that simple, since it's obvious that Major League Baseball wants to get this ugly situation behind it. But the fact that there will be no tangible consequences for the players who finally took responsibility for the scandal or the organization that apparently will keep that ill-gotten trophy makes their remorse ring hollow.

^Bob Brookover: Phillies general manager Matt Klentak needs to win now or his job could be in jeopardy<

BBN-BROOKOVER-COLUMN:PH — Matt Klentak understands that climate change, at least based on his seat from the ballpark down on Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia, is very real. As he begins his fifth season with the Phillies, the cushioned chair in the general manager's suite at Citizens Bank Park is scorching hot, and with good reason.

It is no longer good enough to be the guy who oversaw the construction of an analytics department that has gone from a handful of mostly ignored employees to an army of advanced number-crunchers.

BBN-MILLER-COLUMN:SD — Mention the name Andy Green to new Cubs manager David Ross and it's like plugging in a Vegas casino sign for the first time. His face lights up, pure neon, as he rattles off the knowledge seeping into all corners of his first camp.

In a meeting Thursday, Green told pitcher Jon Lester he hated him when both played — a jarring moment, until all involved figured out it was the ultimate compliment.

Green shared with veteran Anthony Rizzo that, while a coach with the Diamondbacks, he showed video of his defensive work to Paul Goldschmidt as the All-Star chased gold gloves.

^Bradford William Davis: The 7 most hilarious, egregious and shameful claims Astros owner Jim Crane made during his 'apology'<

^BBO-DAVIS-COLUMN:NY—<On Thursday, Astros owner Jim Crane addressed a massive scandal involving multiple members of his organization.

No, not the scandal where an Astros executive bullied three reporters in his noble attempt to defend an accused domestic abuser, only to deny it with the full-throated support of the team's public relations department, all contra the testimonies of multiple onlookers.

^Vahe Gregorian: Negro Leagues at 100: A story of resiliency, courage and America to be shared forever<

BBO-GREGORIAN-COLUMN:KC — When American original and Negro Leagues poet laureate Buck O'Neil spoke of arriving in Kansas City, Bob Kendrick recalled on Thursday, O'Neil liked to say, "I knew I was coming to the heart of America; I never knew I was coming to the center of the universe."

With the Chiefs' Super Bowl victory over San Francisco still fresh and surreal in most everyone's minds, Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, couldn't help but briefly refer to how that reaffirmed Kansas City's place in the cosmic order.

BBA-ASTROS-CORREA-BELTRAN:ND — The Mets fired Carlos Beltran before he even managed a game, after only 77 days on the job, because of his role in the Astros' illegal sign-stealing scandal. But in the midst of Thursday's marathon apology session, Carlos Correa stood up for Beltran, insisting that he was getting an unfair share of the blame.

Just this week, The Athletic reported that Beltran "steamrolled" the Astros into going along with his scheme. He also was referred to as "The Godfather" for his intimidating influence over the roster, including the younger, more impressionable players.

^FBN-MOCKDRAFT:SD—<We are less than two weeks away from the NFL combine, but before we kickoff the "Underwear Olympics" in Indianapolis, here's a reminder from your friendly neighborhood draft analyst: former Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young is the best prospect in this draft.

A quarterback will almost certainly be selected with the top overall pick. That quarterback will most likely be named Joe Burrow. In fact, quarterbacks will likely steal the headlines (as per usual) with the potential of five being selected in primetime opening night.

^FBN-QB-SHUFFLE:SJ—<Let's dispense with the Derek Carr-Tom Brady scenarios first and get down to the business of figuring out who might go where in what promises to be an active free agency period for quarterbacks.

The NFL quarterback and activist announced on Thursday that he will release an autobiography this year through his own publishing company, Kaepernick Publishing. Audible, the producer and seller of spoken audio entertainment, will release the spoken-word version and will partner with the imprint to create original content from and about influential figures.

FBN-STEELERS-ROETHLISBERGER:PG — Despite the uncertainty of Ben Roethlisberger's elbow injury, general manager Kevin Colbert said he feels better about the Steelers heading into the 2020 season than he did at this time a year ago, even though the team was coming off a better statistical record.

But he also said the Steelers have to be "realistic" about how well Roethlisberger, who will be 38 in two weeks, will return from elbow surgery that ended his 2019 season after two games.

^FBN-DOLPHINS-DRAFT-LIONS:FL—<If the Detroit Lions weren't already a cause for concern for the Miami Dolphins before the NFL draft, rumors surrounding their quarterback situation this week could create further angst.

The draft, which begins April 23 in Las Vegas, may be 10 weeks away — but it's never too early to be watchful of impending moves that could impact the top selections.

Especially when the Dolphins, who own the No. 5 pick, may need to make a deal with the Lions, who hold the No. 3 pick, if they want to draft a coveted player like Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

FBN-BUCCANEERS-WINSTON:PT — Jameis Winston's eyesight has improved but the Bucs have no more clarity on their quarterback situation.

Coach Bruce Arians remains undecided about whether to keep Winston or move on from the Bucs' former No. 1 draft pick.

In fact, Arians said Thursday that the Bucs probably won't know the direction they will go at that position until the start of the three-day legal free-agent tampering period March 16-18.

^BKN-FORD-COLUMN:PH—< Brett Brown said he will use the nine-day gap between 76ers games to figure out how to coach his team. Considering the conflicting attributes and clashing personalities involved, he better plan on staying up late.

No kidding. He's got a point guard who won't shoot, and a massive center who often prefers three-pointers to dunks, and a kid from Turkey the team tried to cut who somehow sneaked into the starting lineup Tuesday, and on and on. The Sixers lead the league in unique, as they have for some time now, and that makes for a significant coaching challenge.

BKN-CLIPPERS-GEORGE:LA — The NBA fined Clippers forward Paul George $35,000 on Thursday for publicly criticizing officials after a loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Following the 110-103 defeat, George said he believed the Clippers played well but that "there was some home-court cooking tonight, to say the least."

Asked whether he was referring to calls by officials that the Clippers either did not receive or were not called at all, George responded about the differential in foul calls.

BKN-MAVERICKS-DONCIC:DA — In recent days, while rehabbing a right ankle sprain that initially jeopardized his chances of playing in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, Luka Doncic allowed himself to envision what it will be like.

Now that he's back and healthy, as evidenced by Wednesday's 33-point, 12-rebound return performance for the Mavericks, those daydreams are about to materialize.

Decompressing from the 1-4 western swing by celebrating at All-Star Weekend the individual accomplishments of the first part of the schedule.

Then re-engaging when practice resumes Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, followed by the stretch run for playoff seeding.

"We're not a bad team, but we're not where we want to be at, just yet," forward Jimmy Butler said of the 35-19 record the Heat hold at the break.

^Luke Walton, Luka Doncic exchange words after Kings coach appears to tell Mavs star to give ref an autograph<

BKN-KINGS-WALTON-DONCIC:SA — Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic missed more than two weeks with an ankle injury, but he wasn't going to miss an opportunity to torment the Kings.

Doncic returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a sprained right ankle, nearly posting a triple-double to lead the Mavericks to a 130-109 victory over the Kings on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Doncic finished with 33 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, just missing his 13th triple-double of the season, and he had words with Kings coach Luke Walton before he was done.

^Barry Jackson: Heat players dish on one underrated factor in their success: 'This team is different'<

BKN-JACKSON-COLUMN:MI — The incumbent Heat players wondered. They all wondered privately — after observing from afar that dysfunctional situation in Minnesota early last season — how injecting Jimmy Butler's alpha, forceful personality would impact the gentle balance of Heat chemistry.

But a funny thing happened amid all the wondering: Butler's insertion — coupled with the addition of Meyers Leonard, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro and the ubiquitous optimism and team-first approach of Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic — has made this Heat locker room chemistry as strong as any of the 17 Heat teams Udonis Haslem has ever been on, Haslem said this week.

^BKN-CUNNINGHAM-COLUMN:AT—<There's a gap between fans of the NBA and fans of the Hawks. Interest in the local NBA team has never matched the strong television ratings for the NBA finals. Trae Young can change that.

Young will start for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game Sunday in Chicago. The Hawks have had plenty of All-Stars in recent years. None of them have been as young (21) or as exciting as Young.

Young gives the Hawks a real chance to hit the trifecta: great player, good team, fun to watch. He already delivers on the last part. Young dazzles with pinpoint passes from all angles and long-range shots from anywhere past half-court. He plays with a sense of joy and showmanship.

^Marla Ridenour: 'Eastern Conference championship'-caliber frontcourt gives Cavs a dilemma only Bill Belichick would love<

BKN-RIDENOUR-COLUMN:AK — Cavaliers coach John Beilein appears to be wading into a dilemma that former Browns coach Bill Belichick would find very familiar.

The Feb. 6 trade acquisition of center Andre Drummond stacked the Cavs' frontcourt, with two-time All-Star Drummond joining five-time All-Star forward Kevin Love, center Tristan Thompson and forward Larry Nance Jr.

Drummond and Nance are all-around athletes who can run, pass, shoot and rebound. Love is a rebounder and 3-point threat who always draws defensive attention. Thompson is a high-motor rebounder who is starting to make his mark from beyond the arc.

^Former President Barack Obama to hold 'fireside chat' with NBA stars, days after protest related to his proposed presidential center<

BKN-OBAMA-PLAYERS-CHAT:TB — As dozens of famous NBA basketball players arrive in Chicago for All-Star Weekend, former President Barack Obama will be joining them, officials with the Obama Foundation announced.

The night before the big game, Obama is scheduled to sit in conversation for what is being called a "fireside chat" with three of the league's biggest stars: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul.

BKN-GRIZZLIES-REBUILD:LA — If Grindfather was an elected official in Memphis, Tony Allen would win without opposition.

The heartbeat of the Grizzlies' most successful teams ever, Allen was a defensive-minded, snarling guard who played like he had the city's blue-collar DNA pumping through his veins. He was Grit and Grind — the slogan his teams lived on the court one wrestling match at a time, hence the nickname "the Grindfather."

Wednesday night during Memphis' final game before the All-Star break, Allen, who hasn't played since 2017, is sitting courtside in a blue suit, his elbows on his knees as he leaned out of his first-row seat.

HKN-SIELSKI-COLUMN:PH — If the Flyers' coaches and players took Tuesday night's loss to the Islanders harder than they do most losses, if their quotes were a little more somber and serious, their faces all hangdogs, there was a good reason.

When defenseman Ryan Pulock stepped into a slap shot and ripped the puck over the right shoulder of Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott for the winning goal, with 41 seconds left in regulation, in the Islanders' 5-3 victory, it cost the Flyers more than a chance to beat a division rival. It cost them a commodity so valuable that it drives teams' thinking and strategy throughout the NHL.

^HKN-GORDON-COLUMN:SL—<As best they can, the Blues will get back to hockey today after watching teammate Jay Bouwmeester survive a life-threatening cardiac incident Tuesday night in Anaheim.

The episode left the group emotionally rattled at a time when it was trying to fight out of a slump. The Blues must return to action against the Vegas Golden Knights, a team fighting for a spot in the Western Conference playoff bracket.

And the Blues will have to play on without Bouwmeester, a bulwark defenseman who logs big minutes in difficult situations. He doesn't score much or say much, so it can be easy to take his toughness and reliability for granted.

HKN-REDWINGS-DEVILS:DTN — For 40 minutes the Red Wings were the better team and appeared headed for victory.

HKN-OILERS-LIGHTNING:PT — The depth came through for the Lightning on Thursday, playing without three of their top six forwards. Pat Maroon, Yanni Gourde and Cedric Paquette all scored to lead Tampa Bay to a 3-1 win over Edmonton.

The Lightning's ninth straight victory also tied a franchise record of 10 straight home victories. Tampa Bay is riding a 12-game point streak and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves Thursday, has not lost in regulation in his last 20 games.

^HKN-FLYERS-PANTHERS:MI—< Boos cascaded inside BB&T Arena as the first period ran out on the Florida Panthers on Thursday. It was another defensive debacle for the Panthers, who had coughed up three goals on just nine shots to the Philadelphia Flyers. Sergei Bobrovsky was bad and his defense was worse, and the Flyers were on their way to extending their lead on Florida for the final Wild Card postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

When the Panthers returned to the ice for the second period, Samuel Montembault was instead the goaltender leading them. For the fifth time this season, Bobrovsky, the $70-million man Florida signed in the offseason to shore up its often-porous defense, didn't make it to the end of a game he started. For the second time, he didn't make it to the start of the second period and it doomed the Panthers to a 6-2, blowout loss in Sunrise.

Instead, it was one that sort of got away from the Blue Jackets in a 4-3 overtime loss at the Buffalo Sabres that added another point in the standings thanks to defenseman Markus Nutivaara's late tying goal in the third period.

The Sabres (26-24-8) won the game and the season series (2-0-1) on rookie Victor Olofsson's second goal of the game, a wrist shot off a beautiful reverse feed from Jack Eichel (one goal, two assists).

During the Stars' 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday, Seguin snapped a career-long 17-game goal drought with a third-period power-play goal that brought relief to the Stars center plagued by a combination of misfortune and missed opportunities.

FBC-MSU-TUCKER-SALARY:DTN — Mel Tucker got a significant raise when he decided to leave Colorado to become Michigan State's 25th football coach.

Tucker was introduced on Wednesday evening, replacing Mark Dantonio, who stepped down after 13 seasons while becoming the program's winningest coach. Earlier in the evening, Tucker signed a six-year contract that will pay him $5.5 million annually, a significant bump from the $2.675 million he made in his lone season at Colorado's head coach.

Woods eagled the first hole at Riviera on Thursday by sinking a putt that was laser-measured at 24 feet, 8 inches — the two jersey numbers of fallen Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.

"It's ironic, isn't it?" Woods said after his two-under-par 69 in the Genesis Invitational left him five shots back of Matt Kuchar. "It's a nice way to start. I didn't know about the putt being that long

No other race will attract as much buzz throughout the season or be seen by as many fans on television. So if you're new to the sport or just curious about what all the fuss is about, here are few things to know about the Great American Race.

CAR-FRENETTE-COLUMN:JK — When Denny Hamlin was a 12-year-old kid growing up in Chesterfield, Va, about 130 miles south of where his beloved Washington Redskins played their home games, he was stoked upon learning Joe Gibbs decided to retire as an NFL coach to pursue owning a NASCAR team.

Hamlin started dreaming big, really big. Since he had already been driving go-karts for five years, how cool would it be if he realized his ultimate ambition to become a NASCAR driver and could work for a three-time Super Bowl championship coach?

^Mike Bianchi: Kyle Busch will go down as greater than Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson<

That was the answer Kyle Busch gave me without smiling or blinking on Wednesday when I asked who is the best stock car driver in the world.

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