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Rick Pitino hired as Greece´s national team coach

Rick Pitino is back in the coaching world after settling to take over as head coach of Greece’s national team. 

This marks Pitino’s first head-coaching gig since he turned down an offer to return to Panathinaikos in June. He went 10-9 and made the playoffs before being swept 3-0 by Real Madrid in his lone season with the team. 

The 67-year-old American coached Greek club Panathinaikos last season and guided the team to victory in the country’s cup competition before returning to the United States. He persists popular among Greek fans despite his outspoken criticism of smoking and rowdy behavior by spectators at games.

Pitino has served as head coach of the Puerto Rican national team in 2015 for the FIBA Americas Championships. That squad progressed to the second round in the tournament but was unable to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. 

Per Dionysis Aravantinos of EuroHoops.net, Thanasis Skourtopoulos will remain as Greece’s head coach for the EuroBasket tournament in February with Pitino taking over for the pre-Olympic tournament in the summer as the country attempts to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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Taking over the Greek squad could give Pitino an opportunity to coach reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who most recently played for his home country this summer in the FIBA World Cup.

The Greek basketball federation said Friday that Pitino will be formally presented on Monday, when details of his agreement will be announced.

”Really honored to be coaching the Greek National team,” Pitino wrote on Twitter. ”Have a lot of work and preparation ahead but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo both play for Greece and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Greeks narrowly missed out on reaching the quarterfinals at the World Cup in China in September. Pitino spent much of his career jumping between the college ranks and the NBA, coaching the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks as well as Kentucky and Louisville.

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Yankees hire Matt Blake as pitching coach

The New York Yankees didn’t waste any time finding their new pitching coach, as they have hired Matt Blake to fill the role Larry Rothschild left behind. Blake was formerly the pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians and is known for developing big-league pitchers.

Blake’s ability to refine pitchers and his familiarity with the Yankees system, having worked as an area scout for them in the past, makes him a terrific candidate for the Bombers moving forward. He takes a more analytical approach to the game, while Rothschild depends on his gut and old-school mentality.

This is a step forward for a Yankees team that did have a great bullpen last year but saw their starters struggle at times. Blake should increase the efficiency of both units if he can manage to make the most of the pitching presently on the roster.

Blake comes over from the Cleveland Indians, where he previously served as the team’s pitching coordinator. The Yankees parted ways with longtime pitching coach Larry Rothschild earlier this offseason. New York also interviewed David Cone for the position.

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Of the four known candidates for the job, three (with former Yankees star David Cone as the outlier) were younger names in their 30’s without much any direct coaching experience on an MLB staff. 

University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter and Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs were the two other names linked to the Yankees’ search.

It will be up to Blake to modernize the Yankees’ handling of their arms, and it perhaps isn’t surprising that New York hired someone from a Cleveland organization that has excelled at developing homegrown pitching in recent years. 

Indians manager Terry Francona just praised Blake’s work in preparing young hurlers such as Jefry Rodriguez, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale, with the latter two making their Major League debuts in 2019.

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World No.2 Pliskova splits with coach Conchita Martinez

World No.2 Karolina Pliskova has confirmed she has split from her coach Conchita Martinez.

Former Wimbledon champion Martinez, who was second in the world herself during her playing career, began working with Pliskova on a full-time basis 10 months ago.

The Czech acquired four WTA titles in 2019 – the joint-most on the tour – but failed to make it beyond the fourth round of a grand slam after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals in January.

Last week, Pliskova was defeated in the last four of the season-ending WTA Finals by Ashleigh Barty.

“I decided I will no longer work with Conchita,” Pliskova wrote on her social media accounts.

“It was tough decision, as the season was great. Thank you for all this year, and wish you only the best. Life is a change!” Martinez, who coached Garbine Muguruza when she won Wimbledon in 2017, also posted a message on social media.

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“Just a little note to inform you that Karolina and I have decided to take different paths next year,” she said.

“It has been an incredible year full of great moments and emotions. I wish Kaja and her team the best for the future.”

Pliskova lifted trophies in Brisbane, Eastbourne and Zhengzhou this year, as well as at the Italian Open.

She was runner-up at the 2016 US Open and held the World No. 1 ranking in 2017 before Martinez joined her team.

Martinez  worked with Garbine Muguruza, another former World No. 1, and helped her fellow Spaniard to the Wimbledon title in 2017.

However, after finishing their partnership following the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen 2019, the 27-year-old has not yet announced the name of her new coach. Earlier, before hiring Martinez as a full-time coach in February, Pliskova was mentored by Rennae Stubs for one year. 

Martinez and Stubbs had been sharing coaching duties in Pliskova’s team after the Czech parted ways with Tomas Krupa in 2018.

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Setback may delay A.J Green´s season debut for Bengals

Bengals coach Zac Taylor uttered the words everyone in Bengal-land has been waiting to hear:

“I do think A.J. will play this week.”

That would be A.J. Green, the team’s best player who has been out all year with an ankle injury. An hour and a half later, when practice started, Green was not at practice.

“It came after the walkthrough,” Taylor said. “He went and got some treatment. It just didn’t feel great, so we held him out of practice today. Now, we’ll go just by day-by-day.

“We felt good about the progress he was making. That’s why I said what I said. I didn’t feel like he could practice today. We’ll get through tonight and see where it’s at (Thursday).”

He injured his ankle in the first practice of training camp this year.

That injury required surgery, as well. It was expected that he’d miss four to six weeks at that point. We’re up to 13 weeks.

Coming off an ankle injury, the question isn’t about straight-ahead running so much as cutting – the key to running good routes. But, at the press conference, Taylor said Green was progressing on that.

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“A.J. has gotten better every single day I’ve seen him,” Taylor said. “I think he’s making great progress. I don’t want to get too specific. But he’s getting confident, and we’re getting confident.

Then whatever happened Wednesday happened.

“He’s been making great progress this week,” Taylor said. “(Last) Wednesday was a good day. Monday was a good day. Now, he’s getting back into the fold. We’ll have a good plan in place for him on Sunday.”

Green, 31, has  played in only one game since Oct. 28 of last year. He was limited to nine games by a right foot injury last year. He missed three games with the injury and then re-injured it in his first game back – that required season-ending surgery.

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Giovinazzi to stay at Alfa Romeo in 2020

Alfa Romeo have verified they will keep Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi on board for 2020, alongside Kimi Raikkonen. The news leaves just four F1 race seats unconfirmed for next year.

Giovinazzi, 25, could be the only Italian driver on the grid once again, as he readies himself for his second season in Formula 1 alongside veteran Raikkonen. He presently lies 18th in the driver standings on four points.

“I am very happy to be staying with the team for 2020,” said Giovinazzi.

“I am grateful for the incredible level of support I received in my first full season in Formula 1: everyone in the team has stuck by my side since I joined and I am really looking forward to continuing our journey together.

“We learned a lot this year and I am confident we can make a big step forward next season. I won’t be a rookie anymore so there won’t be any excuses for me: I want to be competitive right from the start of the championship and repay the confidence the team has shown in me.”

Giovinazzi, who ended 14th in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, tested for Haas and Sauber in 2017, and for the latter team once again in 2018, before joining the new-look Alfa Romeo squad for this season.

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Team Principal Frederic Vasseur added: “Antonio has done really well this year and I am extremely pleased to be able to confirm he will stay with Alfa Romeo Racing for 2020.

“The way he has integrated into the team and has consistently improved throughout his first full season in the sport are very promising and we cannot wait to unlock his full potential as we continue to work together.

“Antonio has emerged as a very quick driver, even alongside as tough a benchmark as Kimi, and we expect him to develop even further as his experience grows. His technical feedback, work ethics and positive approach will help us continue to push our team forward, and so will the consistency of an unchanged line-up for next season.”

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Panthers QB Cam Newton placed on IR with foot injury

Any hope the Carolina Panthers had of seeing former MVP quarterback Cam Newton returning has now flown out the window, with the team having declared they’ll move him to injured reserve with a foot injury that’s sidelined him for most of the season.

Newton sought out additional medical guidance recently when he visited renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay last week, in the hopes of determining why he’s seen no progress in the rehabilitation from his Lisfranc injury.

Surgery was an alternative from the outset, but Newton opted to forego it with the hopes of a natural heal, which hasn’t gone his way.

It is still undetermined if he’ll now decide to go under the knife — the door on his 2019 season now closed due to the injured reserve designation — which would give him a chance to recover and strengthen his foot in time for 2020.

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Of course, his return to the Panthers may be likely, but isn’t guaranteed, and will in large part be determined later on; and the play of backup Kyle Allen over the remainder of this year will sway the decision in one way or the other.

Newton played in just two games this season and struggled in both due to the pain in his foot, throwing for no touchdowns and an interception on a combined 50 for 89 passing. When healthy, he still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he’ll have an opportunity next year to prove that is still the case.

Time will tell if that opportunity will be in Charlotte, but Newton has no plans on hanging up his cleats for good.

“He’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve been around during my 20-plus years in the league,” Hurney said. “At this time, we have decided that the best decision to reach the goal of bringing the foot back to 100 percent is to place Cam on injured reserve.”

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Canelo stops Kovalev to win historic title

Canelo stops Kovalev to win historic title

Canelo Alvarez used a big punch to defeat a big fighter. Alvarez landed a left-right late in the 11th round Saturday night, dropping Sergey Kovalev to the canvas and finishing their light heavyweight title fight. Kovalev was left on his knees, his arms draped over the middle ring rope as the fight was stopped at 2:15 of the round.

It was a dramatic end for a fight that had little drama up to the knockdown. Kovalev was more than holding his own late in the fight and hadn’t been hurt when Alvarez landed the left followed by a right.

The Mexican great, who moved up two weight classes, acquired his fourth title in as many weights.

He celebrated by kissing the glove on his right hand as Kovalev’s handlers jumped into the ring to see if their fighter was OK.

Both fighters fought cautiously for the most part, with Kovalev content to use his jab from long distance and Alvarez looking to land hooks to the body. The fans at the MGM Grand booed on several occasions, unhappy with the lack of action.

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Both fighters fought cautiously for the most part, with Kovalev content to use his jab from long distance and Alvarez looking to land hooks to the body. The fans at the MGM Grand booed on several occasions, unhappy with the lack of action.

Alvarez was a 4-1 favorite despite moving up two weight classes to fight for a piece of Kovalev’s 175-pound title. He took the fight versus Kovalev rather than a third fight with Gennadiy Golovkin as part of a $365 million deal he signed with the streaming service DAZN.

Both fighters took naps in their dressing rooms as they waited some 90 minutes from the last undercard bout before entering the ring. The delay was for DAZN, which wanted to wait until the UFC card in New York was over before the fight began. Fans at the MGM Grand arena watched the UFC main event on big screens in the arena while the fighters waited.

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Dolphins lose WR Preston Williams for rest of the season

Preston Williams was one of the brightest gems the Miami Dolphins revealed during the first year of their rebuild. Now, his first NFL season has come to an end.

Williams — who emerged as an undrafted rookie free agent to lead the Dolphins in receiving this season — suffered a left knee injury Sunday that ended his season, coach Brian Flores said on Monday.

“It’s a big loss for us,” Flores said. “I talked to him [Monday] morning. He’s done an incredible job. He came to us as a free agent and has really grown over the last six, seven months.

“I was devastated for the kid, and he was as well,” Flores added. “But I told him this is just a bump in the road. He’ll be back.” Williams suffered the injury, which is reportedly an anterior cruciate ligament tear, while returning a punt during the fourth quarter of Miami’s 28-16 win over the New York Jets on Sunday. He planted his left leg into the field to make a move before being taken down by a Jets player near the opposing sideline.

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He ended the game with five catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns before limping over to the Dolphins sideline and being carted off the field with a towel draped over his head — in what may have been the most disappointing note in Miami’s first win of the season.

The Dolphins identified Williams as a player that could stretch the field and emerge as a No. 1 receiver in the midst of their rebuild.

His role expanded to handling punt return duties from Dolphins receiver and speedy return specialist Jakeem Grant.

Now, his rookie season will end with a lengthy rehabilitation process likely ahead of him.

Flores did not have a timetable for Williams’ potential return. “If he attacks his rehab and training like he did from the time he got here, he’ll be just fine,” Flores said.

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Hamilton acquires his sixth-straight Formula One Championship

Lewis Hamilton can be ranked among the best drivers to ever get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. At this year’s United States Grand Prix, Hamilton further cemented his on-going legacy by clinching his sixth world drivers title with two races to go in the 2019 season.

Not only that, this is also Hamilton’s third championship in a row. Among the current crop of drivers, Only Sebastian Vettel has the most successive titles with four in a row.

Six titles also means that Hamilton has also defeated Juan Manuel Fangio in the most number of titles, and is now only one behind Michael Schumacher who has seven. Ever since the start of the turbo-hybrid era, the combination of Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG have been dominating the sport.

Just two weeks ago, the team bagged the constructor’s championship, their sixth straight title. That record places them tied with McLaren with most consecutive constructor’s championships.

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Hamilton’s season started off strong by finishing in the top two spots over the span of eight races.

He never suffered a single retirement this year, and placed in the points in the 19 races run so far. Aside from one particularly disastrous round during the German Grand Prix where he finished ninth, Hamilton would always be in the top five finishers.

Next year will be the last of the existing generation of Formula 1 cars. While there is no question that Mercedes-AMG and Lewis Hamilton will still be a force to be reckoned with in 2020, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the field will adapt to the new car and rule changes by 2021. 

The Circuit of the Americas had a special parking spot next to the podium reserved for the championship car.

There was only one car that could be. It was a silver Mercedes No. 44. “I remember watching this sport when I was younger,” Hamilton said. “It’s beyond surreal to think that this journey, that my life journey has brought me to this point.”

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Stephen Strasburg opts out of deal with Nationals

As expected, Washington Nationals right-hander and reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg has opted out of his contract, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

The Nationals have not yet established the news. Strasburg is walking away from four years and $100 million. Saturday was the deadline to opt out.

Strasburg, 31, threw a National League leading 209 innings during the regular season, and ended with 3.32 ERA and 251 strikeouts. He then threw another 36 1/3 innings with a 1.98 ERA during Washington’s postseason run, including 8 1/3 innings of two-run ball with the season on the line in World Series Game 6.

The Nationals signed Strasburg to a seven-year extension worth $175 million in May 2016.

The contract included heavy deferrals, as big Nationals contracts often do. Because a dollar today is worth more than a dollar five years from now, the present day value of those four years is much less than $100 million. Strasburg would come out ahead financially simply by re-signing a new four-year, $100 million deal with no deferrals. 

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The Nationals will almost certainly try to re-sign Strasburg, who they selected with the No. 1 overall pick back in 2009. He is the second best starting pitcher on the free agent market behind Gerrit Cole and could command upwards of six years and $150 million this winter, even at age 31 and with injuries throughout his career. That might even be selling him short.

Washington will also try to re-sign third baseman Anthony Rendon this winter. Should they lose Strasburg to free agency — I imagine his hometown Padres will make a big push to sign him — the Nationals would still have Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin to front to the rotation going forward. 

The Nationals will undoubtedly make Strasburg the qualifying offer prior to Monday’s deadline, ensuring they receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.

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