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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SportsCenter to air live in mornings starting Aug. 11; Storm joins ESPN

Starting Aug. 11 -- the opening week of the Beijing Olympic Games -- SportsCenter will begin airing live from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. ET on weekdays.

In addition, former CBS Early Show anchor Hannah Storm is joining ESPN to host the 9 a.m. to noon block of the new live morning SportsCenter. Storm is an award-winning newscaster who has worked for CNN, NBC and CBS in her 19-year career.

The new nine-hour block of SportsCenter will feature three teams of two anchors with one update anchor in three-hour shifts. Shows will usually reset each hour with SportsCenter Right Now updates every 20 minutes each hour.

SportsCenter has been re-airing on tape in the mornings since 1996.

Also, a new will debut. Some content for the morning SportsCenters will be generated through fan interactivity from the new Web site.

And a continuous Bottom Line will air during the SportsCenters, giving viewers the latest news and scores -- even during commercials.

"These live SportsCenters will answer fans' call for greater immediacy and interactivity," Norby Williamson, executive vice president of production, said. "Going live will allow us to put a fresh perspective on the previous night's games and cover breaking news during the day, all within the traditional SportsCenter approach, which focuses on highlights, scores and news."

Storm comes to ESPN from CBS, where she was a host on the Early Show. She has covered many national and international news events during her career and is known as a skilled interviewer.

She said she is excited to return to her sports roots with ESPN.

"I am passionate about sports and really excited to return to my roots. ESPN is changing the sports broadcasting game again with the introduction of the new SportsCenter a.m. and I'm thrilled to be a part of the team," she said.

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Wigan 0-2 Man Utd: Giggs goal seals United's title

Record-holder Ryan Giggs marked a lifetime's loyalty with the best present possible as he delivered another Premier League title to Manchester United as they beat Wigan 2-0.

United were in front but needing calming despite Cristiano Ronaldo's first-half penalty when Giggs kept his nerve to coolly slot home Wayne Rooney's through ball.

A quarter of an hour earlier, Giggs' had been introduced for his 758th United appearance, equalling a milestone left by Sir Bobby Charlton that will surely be eclipsed in Moscow on May 21.

But all Giggs will care about is adding to a medal collection that continues to expand, containing all 10 championships won under Sir Alex Ferguson, part of an overall United haul of 17, one adrift of Liverpool, who Ferguson has vowed to overtake.

Few would begrudge the Red Devils their latest success, even if the free-flowing attack that has propelled them to glory by two points over Chelsea - who drew 1-1 with Bolton - was strangely muted.

Certainly anyone still daring to suggest Steve Bruce was happy enough to do his old club a favour clearly was not inside a stadium where, contrary to stated wisdom, the vast majority wanted a home win.

And how Wigan did their supporters proud as they controlled possession for long periods and enjoyed the majority of chances.

Emile Heskey was a particular thorn in the side of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and, with Antonio Valencia providing flashes of inspiration from the flanks, United were wobbling.

Had Chelsea known the strife their rivals were in and taken advantage in those tense early minutes, United may have toppled.

Instead, Michael Brown, Jason Koumas and Marcus Bent all failed to convert half chances and Chelsea, with longer-term problems concerning John Terry to deal with, could not seize the early initiative.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Ronaldo had been a subdued force until his moment of destiny arrived and allowed him to equal Alan Shearer's Premier League best haul of 31.

The Portugal winger is still to produce the one stand-out performance on a day of high importance that will silence his remaining critics.

But, with the pressure starting to increase, Ronaldo was the coolest man in the stadium, sending Chris Kirkland the wrong way after Boyce had clipped Wayne Rooney.

As Sir Alex Ferguson had listed Rooney as no better than having the chance of a place on the bench 48 hours earlier, the striker's presence in United's starting line-up was a major surprise.

Like Ronaldo, Rooney toiled for long periods without having an impact but as Paul Scharner let the ball slide under his foot, Ferguson's decision to select the England man was fully justified as he was onto it in a flash.

A posse of Wigan players, Boyce among them, surrounded referee Steve Bennett to complain, although in truth they had a more plausible argument when Paul Scholes barged Wilson Palacios over by the touchline a couple of minutes later.

As the tenacious midfielder had already been booked for a foul on the same man, Bennett would have been fully justified in giving the afternoon a dramatic twist by pulling out a red card.

Instead, the official, harangued by Ferguson for dismissing Ronaldo at Portsmouth earlier in the season, opted to issue a final warning, which merely reinforced the belief that United would be champions.

United certainly began the second-half as if they believed it.

Kirkland denied a thunderous Ronaldo free-kick and goalbound efforts from Rooney and Carlos Tevez.

It formed past of a frenzied period which should have seen United awarded a penalty for Titus Bramble's ill-advised lunge on Scholes and Rooney booked as he launched a volley of abuse at Bennett for a free-kick awarded against him.

At least for the sake of United's nerves, the action was taking place around the Wigan goal but by the time Giggs was introduced, the Latics had revived and Emile Heskey planted a header on the roof of the visitors' net from Koumas' free-kick.

But United were not to be denied and 10 minutes from time, Rooney provided the killer pass for Giggs to wrap up yet another title and allow minds to wander towards the Luzhniki Stadium in 10 days' time when they intend to leave Chelsea heartbroken once more.

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Garcia: 'I want to thank Tiger for not being here.'

For all those questions his win in The Players Championship answered, two big ones remain.

No. 1: Where was THAT Sergio Garcia the last half-dozen years?

No. 2: How soon can we expect him to show up at a major?

Garcia hinted at the answer to the first question the moment after he wrapped his hands around the large crystal trophy.

"First of all," Garcia said, "I want to thank Tiger for not being here. That always makes things a little bit easier."

How much easier, as well as a definitive answer to the second question, won't be known until Woods is done rehabbing a surgically repaired knee and returns to the hunt, almost certainly in time for the U.S. Open in June.

And to be fair, every golfer could claim his growth has been stunted by Tiger's emergence, though it's likely even more true of those who have hung around the top 10 in the world rankings for most of that time. In Garcia's case, he was humbled by Woods in what was essentially a head-to-head duel in the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship, which may have kick-started the very crisis of confidence that the Spanish prodigy, now 28, appeared to finally put behind him by playing near-flawless golf down the stretch at Sawgrass.

The Players Championship is the most pressure-packed event of the season outside of the four majors, and the knock on Garcia was that he's never been reliable in that rarified atmosphere - outside of Ryder Cup matches - and even shakier on the greens.

The lingering image of Garcia on the greens that most of us carried into Sunday was him narrowly missing putts three times in the last four holes of regulation, and three times in the playoff against Padraig Harrington last summer before losing the British Open. What changed soon after is that Garcia ditched the belly putter he'd been using and hired short-game guru Stan Utley to help him rediscover the more instinctive stroke that marked Garcia as a player to be watched while still in his teens. It bailed him out a half-dozen times in the final round, the final time on No. 18 in regulation, when he rolled in a 7-footer that subsequently forced Paul Goydos into a playoff.

The other image that stuck from the British Open was Garcia complaining afterward that he never caught a break.

"You only watch the guys that make the putts and get the good breaks and things like that," he said at the time, which was spot on. The truth is we watch the guys who make their own breaks, those who expend little time and energy cursing their luck, focusing instead on the things they can control. For once, Garcia was that guy.

After a terrific approach shot from the left rough at No. 16, and an even-better chip shot that left just five feet, Garcia's par-saving putt didn't even touch the hole. He led the field in both driving accuracy and greens hit for the tournament - ball-striking has never been Garcia's problem - so it wouldn't have been the first time he was undone by the short stick. Instead of sulking, though, this time Garcia responded with two tough pars.

His reward came on the first and only hole of the playoff. It might have been the biggest break of Garcia's career. Goydos hit first as the duo replayed the par-3 17th and his wedge shot caught one of those 30-mph gusts that bedeviled the players all day and splashed into the pond just short of the green.

"It didn't knock it down, just ballooned it," Garcia recalled.

"I was just praying that I didn't get any weird gusts or wind or anything like that, and I knew the shot I wanted to hit ... a good, solid sand wedge," he said a few moments later. "I was thinking, if I manage to make 3, I'm probably going to - I should win this thing. So that's what I did."

For what it's worth, five golfers who won The Players Championship went on to win their first major afterward, David Duval being the last one and Hal Sutton the only one to win his in the same year. As Garcia acknowledged afterward, and knows only too well from experience, Woods isn't likely to crack the door for him the way Goydos did.

But after all those stops and starts that cluttered his past, Garcia finally sounded ready in an interview with The Golf Channel to do that for himself.

"I don't want to be cocky or anything, but when I'm feeling good, I don't think anybody else can hit the ball much better than me, not even Tiger Woods, who's an unbelievable player. I feel on that part of the game, I can still manage to beat him at that.

"Unfortunately, his short game is still better than mine and that's what I have to keep working on. If I keep doing that and believing in myself," he added, "I can at least make it difficult for him."

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Knicks Introduce D'Antoni as New Coach

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New York Knicks team president Donnie Walsh, right, answers a question during a news conference at Madison Square Garden introducing New York Knicks new head coach Mike D'Antoni, left, Tuesday May 13, 2008 in New York. The Knicks introduced D'Antoni as their new coach on Tuesday, hoping his high-scoring brand of basketball will turn around a team with seven straight losing seasons. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
New York Knicks team president Donnie Walsh, right, answers a question during a news conference at Madison Square Garden introducing New York Knicks new head coach Mike D'Antoni, left, Tuesday May 13, 2008 in New York. The Knicks introduced D'Antoni as their new coach on Tuesday, hoping his high-scoring brand of basketball will turn around a team with seven straight losing seasons. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (Richard Drew - AP)

NEW YORK -- Mike D'Antoni is bringing his high-scoring brand of basketball to a Knicks team that seems ill-suited to run it. No matter. The former Phoenix Suns coach figures he'll come up with something that works.

"I will adapt what I do. Now I like to play fast, move the ball and all that stuff, and we'll try to do that as best as we can," D'Antoni said Tuesday. "Obviously you're going to be a little slower than (the Suns), but at the same time there's no reason why you can't run, be exciting and have good ball movement."

The Knicks are counting on it, hoping one of the NBA's top offensive coaches can turn around a team with seven straight losing seasons _ and make New York an exciting future destination for free agents who want to play his entertaining style.

D'Antoni was introduced as the Knicks' 24th coach during a news conference at Madison Square Garden, four days after agreeing to leave the Suns for a $24 million, four-year contract. Knicks president Donnie Walsh referred to his new coach as Mike "D'Antonio," before quickly correcting himself. Still, Walsh is certain he has the right man.

"I thought that Mike was the best guy to choose because I think he's been in situations like we have right now and he did a good job with those situations," Walsh said.

D'Antoni believes he can win right away, even though the mismatched group of players he inherits makes that difficult to imagine.

"I look at the roster and that's the roster I'm going to win with," D'Antoni said. "My focus is to win this coming year."

D'Antoni replaces Isiah Thomas, who was fired last month after going 56-108 in two seasons. New York was 23-59 last season, matching the franchise record for losses.

D'Antoni won at least 54 games each of the last four seasons and earned coach of the year honors in 2005. He is known as one of the NBA's top offensive minds, running a system that helped Steve Nash win two MVP awards and making the Suns one of the league's most exciting teams.

"Mike is a proven winner in this league with a long impressive coaching resume in the NBA and abroad," Walsh said. "While Mike's style in Phoenix was extremely successful with a running offensive team, he can adjust his style to the personnel."

The 57-year-old D'Antoni went 253-136 in Phoenix, but the Suns let him talk to other clubs about their jobs after losing to San Antonio in the first round. He chose the Knicks over the Chicago Bulls, citing his comfort with Walsh and his desire to live in New York.

D'Antoni's career record is 267-172 in parts of six seasons with Phoenix and Denver. He also coached Benetton Treviso to the 2002 Italian League championship.

After firing Thomas, Walsh took his time with his search, interviewing TV analyst Mark Jackson, coaches Rick Carlisle and Avery Johnson, and Knicks assistant Herb Williams before settling on D'Antoni.

Despite his impressive record, D'Antoni's hiring has drawn criticism because his teams in Phoenix were never strong defensively _ a critique that both amuses and annoys him.

"I know one thing for sure," D'Antoni said. "We averaged 58 wins in four years, so 58 times a year we were the best defensive team on the floor, I do know that."

There's no questioning D'Antoni's offense. He turned the Suns into the NBA's most potent team, relying on a system that focused on taking a shot in the first 7 seconds of the shot clock, many of them 3-pointers.

But the Suns had Nash along with a roster loaded with players who could get up and down the floor quickly and shoot from the outside. The Knicks are a slower group, with Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph in the frontcourt, and their point guard is uncertain with Stephon Marbury coming off ankle surgery that ended the worst season of his career.

D'Antoni said he still wants to play fast and believes many of the players on the roster are capable of it.

"We were 7 seconds or less and the rules say you have to be 24 seconds or less," D'Antoni said. "So we can adjust it to anything we want."

Marbury and Quentin Richardson, who both played for D'Antoni in Phoenix, attended the news conference. Marbury was traded to the Knicks soon after D'Antoni took in 2003 _ a move that helped clear salary-cap space for the signing of Nash _ but Richardson flourished in his one season with the Suns, tying for the NBA lead with 226 3-pointers in 2004-05.

Richardson said his teammates are excited about the hiring, and the Knicks hope some of the league's superstars will be, too. Walsh's goal is to be under the salary cap in the summer of 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all can be free agents, and perhaps the allure of D'Antoni's style would get the Knicks on their list of teams to consider.

"Who wouldn't love to play that way?" Richardson said.

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