Captain Madison Hughes reflects on best-ever season for U.S. rugby

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HARRISON, N.J. — Madison Hughes did not have much time to celebrate the best-ever finish for the U.S. at the World Rugby Sevens Series. Less than 24 hours after the season-ending tournament in London on May 21, he was back at the Chula Vista (Calif.) Olympic Training Center, preparing to join the 15-a-side program for its June matches.

“It’s been a long year with sevens and going into 15s,” said Hughes, adding that he will “hopefully” have time off in July and August.

Hughes’ season began in August 2016. He captained the U.S. to a ninth-place finish at the Rio Olympics, where rugby sevens made its Olympic debut.

By December, he was back on the pitch for the first of 10 tournaments of the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series. The U.S. finished fifth, its best result in the Series’ 18 seasons, after being ranked sixth the two previous seasons.

“We showed that we are a force to be reckoned with,” Hughes said. “The top teams in the world are well within our view.”

Perry Baker became the first U.S. player to lead the Series in tries, after finishing second last season. He also paced the Series with 285 points (a try is worth five points). Hughes finished third with 279 points.

It was only the third season of top-level rugby for Baker, who played two seasons in the Arena Football League as a wide receiver.

“I really think Perry’s been the best rugby sevens player in the world this year,” Hughes said. “He’s still learning rugby, and every year he has gotten better and better. I think next season he can be even better.”

Carlin Isles, who scored more tries than any other player at the Rio Olympics, missed eight of the Series’ 10 tournaments with various injuries. Isles, who is known as the “fastest man in rugby,” and Baker, who is not far behind, are nicknamed “The Slow Bros” because they are two of the fastest players on the pitch, but two of the slowest off of it.

The speedsters have traditionally played alternating halves. But with Isles sidelined, Baker was often asked to be the focal point of the U.S. attack for the entire 14 minutes of matches.

“It’s been tough being without Carlin, because he is a unique talent,” Hughes said. “But Perry really stepped up in Carlin’s absence.”

A knee injury sidelined Hughes as the No. 17 U.S. 15-a-side program lost to No. 4 Ireland, 55-19, in the Emirates Airline Summer Series opener on Saturday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. But he expects to be available for the Emirates Airline Summer Series finale on June 17 against Georgia, as well as the 2019 Rugby World Cup Qualifier series beginning June 24.

Hughes only made his 15s debut in November. The 24-year-old was named captain of the sevens squad in 2014, when he was the team’s youngest player, but has deferred as a leader to veteran 15s co-captains Nate Augspurger and Todd Clever.

“I’m the new guy,” Hughes said. “I like seeing what other people are doing, and how that will affect my leadership style.”

Hughes is hoping to play in the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens, 2019 Rugby World Cup (15s) and 2020 Olympics (Sevens). Three U.S. players—Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua and Zack Test—competed in all three of rugby’s most prestigious quadrennial tournaments leading up to the 2016 Olympics (NOTE: the Rugby World Cup Sevens was last held in 2013).

“It’s definitely a goal of mine to pursue the 2018 World Cup Sevens and the 2020 Olympics,” Hughes said. “With 15s, I’m still seeing how it goes. It’s still very new, and I haven’t established myself at that level. If it works out to continue to be involved [for the 2019 Rugby World Cup], I would love to do that, but I am just going to enjoy the experience.”

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MORE: U.S. rugby concludes best-ever season

Christian Coleman expects to be cleared in doping whereabouts case

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U.S. sprinter Christian Coleman, whose time of 9.81 seconds in the 100m is the fastest in the world this year, released a statement Saturday denying reports that he has missed three doping tests in 12 months, a “whereabouts” violation that could result in a two-year ban.

“I’m not a guy who takes any supplements at all, so I’m never concerned about taking drug tests, at any time,” Coleman said. “What has been widely reported concerning filing violations is simply not true. I am confident the upcoming hearing on September 4th will clear the matter and I will compete at World Championships in Doha this fall. Sometime after the hearing, I will be free to answer questions about the matter, but for now I must reserve and respect the process.”

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency records show the agency has tested Coleman 11 times through Aug. 20. The agency requires elite athletes to give “whereabouts,” a few details on where they expect to be each day, so that they may take out-of-competition tests.

The 23-year-old sprinter would be the heavy favorite in the world championships, following up his silver medal between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt in 2017, two months after he won the NCAA title. He is one of only eight athletes to break the 9.8-second mark in the 100m, and he posted the world’s best time in 2017 and 2018.

READ: Gatlin and Coleman beat Bolt in Jamaican star’s farewell championship

Since a loss to Noah Lyles in Shanghai in May, a race in which both Americans posted a time of 9.86, Coleman has won all three events he has entered — the Bislett Games in June, the Prefontaine Classic later in June, and the USATF Championships in July.

He withdrew from last week’s Diamond League meet in Birmingham.

The world championships start Sept. 27 in Doha.

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U.S. men’s basketball roster named for FIBA World Cup, includes one Olympian

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Kemba Walker and one player with Olympic experience, Harrison Barnes, headline the U.S. roster for next month’s FIBA World Cup, where the U.S. is still expected to clinch its Tokyo Olympic spot despite an absence of the NBA’s best players and Saturday’s exhibition loss to Australia.

An injured Kyle Kuzma was dropped from the 13 finalists who gathered in Australia for pre-tournament exhibitions. Walker and Khris Middleton are the only two players on the team who were All-Stars last season. The full roster:

Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs

The U.S. group play schedule:

Sept. 1 vs. Czech Republic
Sept. 3 vs. Turkey
Sept. 5 vs. Japan

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will make his U.S. head coaching tournament debut at the World Cup, succeeding Mike Krzyzewski, who led the Americans to Olympic titles in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Many notables dropped out before or during this month’s training camp and practices: including Olympians Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry. Other 2020 Olympic hopefuls such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry withdrew before the camp roster was named.

It has become custom for the World Cup team to include few Olympians. The 2014 roster included two players from the London Olympics (Davis, Harden). The 2010 World Cup team had zero Beijing Olympians.

Saturday’s loss to Australia marked the U.S.’ first defeat with NBA players since the 2006 World Championship, snapping a 78-game win streak.

The U.S. will qualify for the Tokyo Games if it is one of the top two teams from the Americas at the World Cup. There is also a last-chance qualifying tournament next year.

MORE: Carmelo Anthony’s request denied to return to USA Basketball

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