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Raptors rookie Paul Watson harnessing lessons from unorthodox NBA path – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Minutes before the Toronto Raptors plowed through the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night for a 15th-consecutive victory, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Nick Nurse were all summoned to centre court at Scotiabank Arena. The trio was being recognized for their invitations to participate in this weekend’s NBA All-Star game in Chicago — Siakam as a starter, Lowry as a reserve, Nurse and his Raptors staff as the coaches of Team Giannis. From Toronto’s bench not far away, Paul Watson Jr. stood and applauded.

Watson’s own acknowledgment was earlier. It happened at his locker in the corner of the Raptors dressing room, where Watson — who on Monday was named to the mid-season All-NBA G-League team — had just finished a light pre-game meal from a plate balanced on his knees. Stanley Johnson, the good-humoured Raptors forward, returned to his locker next to Watson’s, found his rookie teammate sitting by himself, and commenced the ceremony.

“Hey, this man’s first-team, all-G-League mid-season! You know what I’m saying?” Johnson announced to no one in particular. “Yes sir! Yes sir! Get him on the f—ing court!”

Watson laughed and shook his head. His last several weeks have featured a few affirming moments in his basketball life not unlike this one: His first NBA contract, a 10-day deal with the Atlanta Hawks. His first NBA game, playing alongside Vince Carter, whom he grew up watching. His second NBA contract, a two-way deal with the Raptors. His first NBA point, which his teammates with Raptors 905 paused a practice to watch live as a group huddled around a cell phone.

Watson has that seat next to Johnson in Toronto’s locker room now because he’s been a revelation for Raptors 905 all season, averaging 17.9 points, 1.8 assists, and 7.2 rebounds over 22 games. It earned him that 10-day with Atlanta. And once the Hawks deal expired, the Raptors waived rarely used guard Shamorie Ponds to open a two-way roster spot in order to prevent another team from scooping Watson up.

“It’s a pretty big honour. It just goes to show that all the work I put in is paying off,” the 25-year-old Watson says. “This is all still so surreal to me. But I wouldn’t want to be in any other position. I’m grateful to be where I am. I’m learning a lot. It’s pretty humbling, going through all this.”

It’s not hard to see what the Raptors like in the six-foot-seven swingman. The organization has a type — long, athletic wings that play energetically, guard a variety of positions, and shoot from distance. Watson satisfies all of the above, adding a work ethic and quiet professionalism the franchise values in young, developmental projects. And his G-League play this season has been off the charts.

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So now he’s splitting time between the G League and the NBA, where he’s always wanted to be, waiting at the end of the Raptors bench for an opportunity that’s merely an injury or a lopsided score away. Watson always thought he’d get here. His journey just wasn’t quite what he envisioned when he was a high-school standout winning an Arizona state championship and choosing from six NCAA Div. 1 offers.

“Being a top-ranked player and stuff like that in high school, every guy’s dream is to come out and go one-and-done. Hear your name called. Things like that,” Watson says. “But you learn that everybody’s path is different.”

Watson’s took him through four full years at Fresno State, where he was named his conference’s freshman of the year, led his school to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years, and participated in the College Slam Dunk Contest at the 2017 Final Four. Then, it took him to Europe.

Unselected in the 2017 draft, and left jobless after a summer-league stint with the Raptors, Watson accepted an offer to play for BG Gottingen in Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga. It would be a cool experience, if nothing else.

Basketball is one of the biggest draws in Gottingen, a picturesque university town filled with Medieval and Renaissance architecture that survived the Second World War. A significant portion of the population is young, drawn to the 286-year-old university the town’s built around. And it feels like every single one of them turns up at Sparkassen Arena where BG Gottingen plays.

“They pack the gym. That city is all about basketball,” Watson says. “It was definitely a collegiate atmosphere. Whether you’re up, you’re down, things are going bad, good — the energy stays the same throughout the entire game. It was pretty cool how they embrace you.”

Cool while it lasted. Watson figures he played in something like 20 pre-season games, but after Gottingen’s regular-season opener he was caught up in a roster crunch — German clubs can only carry so many foreign-born players — and let go.

Plus, he had an opportunity in the US to be selected in the NBA G League draft, playing a step closer to the league he really wanted to be in. Four days after he left Germany, Watson was drafted by Westchester, the New York Knicks affiliate.

“I went out [to Germany] with the mindset that I was going to get things done. But things just didn’t work out that way. So, I found a better situation and moved on from there,” he says. “It was a learning experience. I learned what to do, what not to do. Learned a new culture.

“At the end of the day, I always knew what my end goal was. And that was to make an NBA roster. Regardless of where I was, I knew I had to get there. I knew what I wanted. And I knew I was going to work to do whatever it took to get there.”

But two seasons with Westchester didn’t get him much closer. Watson played in 95 G-League games, never earning anything more than an Exhibit 10 deal entering the 2018 season. This October, Raptors 905 acquired his rights in a trade and gave him another chance for a fresh start.

“I definitely enjoyed my time in Westchester. And I appreciate them giving me the opportunity to go out there and play. But I just felt like the Raptors were probably a better fit for me,” Watson says. “Especially for my game. Ever since I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve definitely been able to showcase that I can do a lot of different things than I was before.”

Over his two seasons with Westchester, Watson built a reputation as a determined, energetic defender who merely spaced the floor at the offensive end. But when he joined the 905, the Raptors challenged him to assume more of a primary scorer’s role, one he hadn’t filled since high school. During his college career, Watson never averaged more than 9.6 attempts per game. Westchester ran even less offence through him. But the Raptors thought there was untapped potential in there.

And Watson knew there was. With his reins removed, Watson was suddenly scoring off end-to-end sprints in transition, muscling his way to the rim through traffic, and shooting seven three’s a night. He essentially doubled his per game stats across the board this season from last despite playing only a few more minutes per night. Not much changed with regards to his ability. Only his opportunity.

“It’s not something I showcased earlier in my professional career. It wasn’t necessarily my role with Westchester. But it was something that was always there and I was capable of doing. Now, it’s just me being in the situation to show it,” he says. “It’s nice to be more involved offensively — being able to go out there and show that my game’s not one-dimensional.”

It certainly wouldn’t be unusual for the Raptors to have identified and acquired an overlooked, underutilized talent, giving him the runway and tools needed to develop into something closer to his full potential. Toronto’s second two-way player, undrafted rookie Oshae Brissett, has stepped into rotation minutes at times this year while playing regularly for Raptors 905. He’s often running alongside Chris Boucher, a two-way player last season who was named the G-League’s MVP and is now on a full NBA contract.

Or Watson can aim even higher. When Siakam starts in the All-Star Game, he’ll be the first G-Leauger to do so. Three seasons ago, he was a G League Finals MVP; last summer he signed a max extension. Fred VanVleet played on that G League championship team with Siakam as an undrafted rookie. This summer he’ll be in a position to ink a contract worth nearly $100 million.

Hey, good things happen to determined people. Not everyone’s road to the NBA is easy. Or linear. Watson knows that. He played with both Siakam and VanVleet during his summer league run with the Raptors back in 2017. That was before Siakam and VanVleet were what they are today. Before Germany. Before 95 G-League games. Before the unexpected success Watson’s had this season. He’s seen both ends of unorthodox NBA paths. And he knows what he has to do to forge his own.

“Fred, Pascal — those guys are great role models. Neither one of them quit. Neither one of them lost faith,” Watson says. “I’m just trying to follow them and do the same things. Because if you continue to work and stick to it, you’ll get to where you want to get to.”

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Canada at The 2022 FIFA World Cup: Time To Build Excitement

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It’s been a long time since Canada made it to the FIFA World Cup Finals. Indeed, for younger Canadians, this will be the first time they get to see their national team on soccer’s biggest stage — the last time they played in the finals was way back in 1986. They’ll be hoping that things go a little better this time since, in their previous outing, they lost all three games without scoring a goal, making them the worst-performing team in the competition.

Still, there are two things to remember. First, just making it to the World Cup is an achievement. And second, the World Cup is a lot of fun even if your team doesn’t win! So it’s going to be an exciting month of football. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some essential information that’ll help you to build excitement for the tournament.

Canada at The 2022 FIFA World Cup: Time To Build Excitement

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Who Canada Will Play And When

Canada are guaranteed to play at least three games. Their first match will take place on November 23 (2 pm ET, 11 am PT), when they take on Belgium at the Al Rayyan Stadium in Qatar.

Next up is Croatia, who they’ll play four days later on November 27 (11 am ET, 8 am PT). Their final group game will be against Morocco, who they’ll play on December 1 (10 am ET, 7 am PT). If they finish in the top two, they’ll play again on December 5 or 6. But it’s best not to mark that potential date in your calendar just yet.

 

What Are Canada’s Chances of Winning?

Canada do not, unfortunately, have all that much chance of winning the World Cup — there are simply too many sides stronger than them. They’re unlikely to make it out of the group stage, in large part because they were given an especially difficult draw. Belgium have some of the world’s best players, while Croatia made it to the final of the World Cup last time out in 2018. Stranger things have happened, but don’t be too disappointed if they’re returning home early — they’re still heroes!

 

Extra World Cup Fun

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Extra World Cup Fun

There’s more to enjoy about the World Cup than just Canada’s participation. This, after all, is a tournament that’s easy to love even if your country did not qualify. During the competition, there’ll be plenty of ways to get into the World Cup spirit, including listening to themed podcasts, participating in BetVictor’s Crack The Code competition, challenging yourself in a fantasy football tournament, and organising viewing parties for you and your friends.

Throw yourself into all that the World Cup provides, and you’ll find that you enjoy the month of sporting action even if Canada don’t go as far as you would like.

 

What Else To Know About The World Cup

This World Cup is unique because it’s the first to take place in the winter and also the first in the Middle East. This means it’ll be slightly different from previous tournaments, but if you think it’ll be any less enjoyable, think again. The World Cup is a global spectacle that’s fun no matter when it’s held!

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Between court ruling and new world rankings, LIV golfers facing long road back to PGA Tour – Sportsnet.ca

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Long before the PGA Tour’s post-season opener ended with a winning bogey in a three-hole playoff, the biggest drama was in the clubhouse at the TPC Southwind.

A dozen or so players gathered around a screen to watch the outcome in the first of what figures to be many court fights between the PGA Tour and Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

“I walked by player dining and I saw about 10 really nervous people pacing all around the room and I thought, ‘Well, there’s something going on,’” Jon Rahm said.

He was curious enough to stay for the finish.

This one went to the tour. A federal judge denied the request of three LIV golfers to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones were in Memphis, Tenn., in case they got the green light but soon were headed home.

When will they return?

That was one of the realities that came out of the ruling, even if it was an emergency hearing. More detailed arguments for a temporary injunction could come later. U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said her first open spot for an evidentiary hearing was Sept. 27-29.

That’s the week of the Presidents Cup. Such is the year.

The assumption is the three players — possibly more if they chose not to resign from the PGA Tour — want freedom to play both circuits. For now they are suspended — or banned, which is the word used in a text exchange from February between Sergio Garcia and Greg Norman.

“Hi Sharky! It’s official, the Tour has told our manager this week that whoever signs with the League, is ban from the Tour for life! I don’t know how are we gonna get enough good players to join the League under this conditions. What do you think?” Garcia said in his text, now part of the court documents.

Norman replied: “They cannot ban you for one day let alone life. It is a shallow threat. Ask them to put it in writing to you or any player. I bet they don’t. Happy for anyone to speak with our legal team to better understand they have no chance of enforcing.”

Judge Freeman ruled otherwise.

For some players, it might be awkward to be in the same tournament as the 10 players who are suing the PGA Tour. This is starting to get personal. Until now, any hard feelings was over someone wearing spikes too long or getting called “Brooksie.”

The notion of a lifetime ban is premature. Even so, the reality is LIV golfers might not be seen on the PGA Tour anytime soon whether they want to or not.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Rahm said. “I’m confident that the LIV side of things are still going to push strong to keep trying to change some things. But I also know that the lawyers on the PGA Tour side are going to keep fighting for the way things are going right now. It’s not the last thing we are going to hear from them.”

Outside of court are two issues still to be determined.

The majors have not announced their criteria for eligibility next year. The U.S. Open typically waits until the fall to go over any tweaks it wants to make. The USGA hasn’t make any significant changes to its exemptions since going to the top 50 (from top 20) in the world ranking in 2001 and doing away with money lists on the PGA Tour and European tour in 2012.

The Masters began using the top 50 in the world ranking in 1999. Masters champions currently have lifetime exemptions, and six of them since 2010 are now part of LIV Golf. There isn’t a seating chart for the Masters Club dinner on Tuesday night for past champions. This might be a good time to start a new tradition.

The Open Championship leans heavily on the world ranking for exemptions and an alternate list. The PGA Championship uses the PGA Tour money list and a catch-all “special invitations” category that seems to always catch the top 100 in the world. It just doesn’t say that in writing.

At this rate, maybe the majors don’t have to make many adjustments if they want to limit the number of LIV golfers.

LIV Golf no longer has anyone in the top 20 because Dustin Johnson dropped to No. 21 this week. Its players don’t get world ranking points, and its July 6 application to be included in the world ranking system probably won’t be decided until next year at the earliest. The process historically takes one year or longer.

It’s a safe bet that with few exceptions, the only players who will be exempt for all the majors already are exempt because they won one in the last five years — Phil Mickelson, Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed (who has one year left).

That leads to another reality also unveiled last week. The world ranking began the switch to a modernized system that is reputed to be more accurate and in doing so eliminates minimum points for smaller tours and weak fields.

Reed played the Asian Tour last week. He tied for 31st and received 0.31 points. The winner got just under 7.4 points — about half what the Korn Ferry Tour winner received.

A year or so from now, good luck finding anyone from the top 75 who isn’t a PGA Tour member.

Players are free to choose whatever path they want. If that means guaranteed money — more than they could reasonably have earned on the PGA Tour — it’s hard to fault them.

But it could be a long road back, if that’s where they even want to go.

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In an ‘urgent’ situation, Blue Jays come up short yet again – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – John Schneider’s word choice to describe where the Toronto Blue Jays are at in their season right now – urgent. It’s a pretty apt pick as his players face their sternest challenge yet in this less-than-the-sum-of-their-parts summer, amid questions big and small and unsteady play all around the roster eating away at their place in the wild-card race.

To that end, the interim manager met with Bo Bichette a couple of times to discuss his decision to slide the shortstop down to seventh in the batting order, the lowest he’d ever started in a big-league game, with Matt Chapman bumping up to fifth on Tuesday. He gathered the players for what he said was a brief pre-game chat on what they needed to do against the Baltimore Orioles, although it wouldn’t be surprising if more than that came up. And he very much left the door open to Yusei Kikuchi not making his next start Saturday, the rotation TBD beyond Jose Berrios on Thursday and Kevin Gausman on Friday in New York against the Yankees.

The gist? There’s a lot of managing going on right now.

That the winning hasn’t yet followed is a growing concern, Tuesday night’s 4-2 setback to the Orioles making it nine losses in the club’s past 12 outings, all against the teams around them in the playoff race.

Ross Stripling returns from the injured list to start Wednesday’s finale and if the Blue Jays don’t avoid the sweep, Baltimore will leapfrog them into the third wild-card spot, one of many mettle-testing moments that loom in the weeks ahead.

“With what we’ve been through the last couple of years in terms of where we’ve been playing and the type of games we’ve been playing in, those experiences mean a lot going forward,” said Schneider. “A lot of guys have been in a lot of those spots. That’s where the urgency comes in and you’ve got to get it rolling pretty quick.”

This one started with promise as Alek Manoah was his dominant self early and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., followed George Springer’s leadoff infield single with an impressive two-run homer, hammering a middle down fastball 398 feet despite an apex of only 43 feet.

The trajectory was remarkable.


“I was looking for that pitch and I got it and I made good contact,” Guerrero said through interpreter Hector Lebron.

Still, the auspicious start wasn’t enough to prevent an inauspicious end, the game beginning to turn once the Blue Jays came up empty after loading the bases with one out in the third. Chapman quickly fell behind 0-2 to Dean Kremer before rolling over an outside cutter for an inning-ending double play and the game unravelled from there before a crowd of 37,940.

Manoah, cruising through four, surrendered back-to-back solo shots to Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman in the fifth to tie the game and then allowed a two-out RBI single to Ramon Urias in the sixth that plated the go-ahead run. A rare Jackie Bradley Jr., error in centre allowed Urias to take second and after Manoah walked Jorge Mateo, Anthony Bass surrendered another RBI single to Ryan McKenna that made it 4-2.

Illustrative of how things are going for the Blue Jays, Teoscar Hernandez made a strong throw to the plate but it skipped high on Alejandro Kirk, preventing him from putting down a tag.

The Blue Jays burned their challenge questioning a safe call on a back-pick attempt at first base that inning, and that loomed large in the seventh, when Raimel Tapia appeared to beat out an infield hit but his team had lost its review.

That came a few pitches after Tapia swung through a Kremer offering on a hit-and-run attempt and Santiago Espinal, who had injected some life into the Blue Jays dugout with a bunt single, was thrown out trying to steal second.

Everything fell into the when it rains, it pours category.

“We have probably our best contact guy in that spot in a 1-0 count and it didn’t work out,” said Schneider. “Watching the pace and the cadence of the game, what was happening, trying to force the issue a little bit to get back to the top with George, knowing Dillon Tate was coming in. The best case is first and third with one out, worst care first and second, one out and we’ll take our chances there. Didn’t work out.”

That’s been the case more often than not during the past two often-out-of-sync weeks for the Blue Jays. Guerrero pointed to the club’s hitting with runners in scoring position of late as an issue, believing that needs to change as Toronto has totalled just 24 runs over the past nine games.

At the same time, they Blue Jays allowed 49 runs over the same span and this is a time where faith must be maintained.

“You’ve just got to trust yourself,” said Guerrero. “And I told my teammates, just keep trusting yourself, keep working hard, somehow, at some point, things are going to turn around.”

Given that they’re now 2-6 against the Orioles, with four games against the New York Yankees, against whom they are 4-8, to follow, Schneider’s word of the day – urgent – applies all the more.

“We’re still in a playoff spot. We’re a playoff team. We know we’re a playoff team. Going through a tough stretch and we’ll continue to get better,” said Manoah, adding that Orioles right now “are doing a good job. We’re going to see a whole lot more of them coming down the stretch. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

To that end, the Blue Jays are kicking around whether to start Mitch White in Kikuchi’s place this weekend against the Yankees and will keep looking to make things happen in their lineup.

Dropping Bichette felt jarring but his .727 OPS is currently ranked seventh on the Blue Jays roster, with his .427 slugging percentage sixth and his .300 on-base percentage eighth. While he’s clearly a more talented hitter than that, at the moment that’s where he’s at and with the Blue Jays needing to find ways to cluster hits, a lineup switch is understandable.

“Just shaking things up and giving guys different looks and seeing how it shakes out, really,” said Schneider. “Nothing in particular to it. Like Chappy’s at-bats recently, offence hasn’t really been killing it. So just trying to shake it up.”

Shake harder, shake different as the Blue Jays continue searching for a combination to break them out of a funk deepening by the day.

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