He beat Michael Jordan 1 on 1; now he leads U.S. Olympic 3×3 hopes

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John Rogers likes to say that beating Michael Jordan one-on-one was not his greatest basketball accomplishment.

“That was an individual effort,” Rogers said. “That was obviously very exciting, very memorable. But I have to say my highlight of my basketball life was making the team at Princeton.”

He played for Pete Carril four decades ago. But in the next year, Rogers could see the fruit borne of three decades of labor. He is the godfather of U.S. three-on-three basketball (or 3×3, as it is labeled internationally).

The half-court discipline debuts at the Olympics next year. The U.S. team that won the world championship earlier this summer traces its roots to Rogers’ Hoop It Up teams from the 1990s.

Rogers is already planning to go to Tokyo.

“That would be way, way up there,” he said. “It would be such a proud, extraordinary moment for all of us affiliated with Princeton basketball. If we could get Coach Carril over there, that would be great.”

Rogers is the “founding father” of Team Princeton 3×3, said Craig Moore, a former Northwestern guard brought into the fold by Rogers several years ago.

“Sponsor, advisor, coach,” said former Purdue honorable mention All-America Robbie Hummel, who joined the program a year ago and earned MVP at worlds (more on Hummel’s story here). “For him to care about 3×3 is a little mind-boggling.”

Rogers, 61, has enough to keep him occupied with his day job. He couldn’t watch his players at the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs this spring because it conflicted with Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway meeting.

“I was monitoring it,” Rogers said of nationals, where two four-man squads made up of Team Princeton players met in the final.

Those two teams were named Ariel NYAC and Ariel Slow & Steady as a tribute to Rogers, who stepped away from playing in 3×3 tournaments as he got into his 40s and 50s.

Rogers is the chairman of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, long billed as the largest minority-owned investment firm. The company’s symbol has been a tortoise for its 36 years.

“It reminds people that … us older, slower guys are beating the faster and younger,” Rogers said.

Which is just what happened in Las Vegas in August 2003 at Michael Jordan’s Senior Flight School. The camp, attended by affluent businessmen in the early 2000s, had a registration fee of $15,000.

The Wall Street Journal posted video in 2008 of a glasses-wearing Rogers driving and scoring on Jordan, winning 3-2 in a game of make-it, take-it after Jordan’s last season with the Washington Wizards. The result caused spectator and actor Damon Wayans to tell Jordan in front of the campers, “How do you feel about getting humiliated?” by a man five years older.

Rogers had previously been profiled as the $8 billion money manager who collected teddy bears and ate one meal a day at McDonald’s. But while rising the business ranks, he also put to use what he learned at Princeton on the blacktops of his native Chicago.

Rogers, who started seven games in three varsity seasons for Carril’s teams from 1977-80, joined fellow former Tigers Craig Robinson and Kit Mueller to form the core of a 3×3 team that won three “Shoot the Bull” tournaments against fields of some 2,000 teams two decades ago.

Robinson, the older brother of Michelle Obama, went on to become a head coach at Brown and Oregon State. Mueller finished his tenure as Princeton’s No. 2 career points scorer behind former U.S. Senator and 2000 presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Arne Duncan, a former Harvard player and later the U.S. Secretary of Education under Barack Obama, was also part of the group when it expanded beyond Princeton. Rogers is known to have been part of Obama’s pickup basketball crew, too.

Rogers said they became one of the best teams in the country playing the Hoop It Up 3×3 tour by using Carril’s motion-predicated Princeton offense. In 3×3, a basket from beyond the arc is worth two points. All others are worth one point. Games end after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21.

“Pete Carril would always say — and he was very ahead of his time — that he wanted you to get layups and three-pointers,” said Moore, who never played for Carril but sat in the front row with him for a Brooklyn Nets game and has had dinner with him 15 or 20 times. “We’re going for the highest value for the highest percentage shot as well. Defensively, we’re trying to do the exact opposite: the most risky shot with the least percentage of going in.”

Carril, who coached Princeton from 1967-96, including a first-round upset of defending champion UCLA in his last NCAA Tournament, turned 89 last month. Rogers and Moore noted that Carril’s emphasis on finding tall players who can dribble, pass and shoot translates to the quick-thinking 3×3 game.

“The way that we are all taught to cut and face the court is perfect,” for 3×3, Rogers said. “Coach Carril is proud of his legacy moving on in a new way.”

There are no on-court coaches allowed in international 3×3 basketball. If Rogers’ players are chosen to make up the U.S. Olympic team next year — and it’s trending that way — he may have to watch games with the crowd at the outdoor venue in Tokyo.

Moore said that as Rogers underwent knee and elbow surgeries, he ceded playing responsibilities to fresher legs like Moore and Hummel. Other players in the current program include Princeton alums and past Ariel interns.

Rogers took on a combination role of coach, general manager and sponsor, helping fund the team to travel internationally and accumulate FIBA rankings points. Moore said Rogers handed him a “carte blanche” role in 2016 to identify and bring in players, such as Hummel last year. But Rogers streams games and offers feedback by phone afterwards.

“I’m sort of a helpful set of eyes and ears,” Rogers said. “I kind of played that role as I got too old to play myself. I’m on the board of directors at Nike now. It’s cool to tell our friends there how good our 3×3 team is going to be next year.”

MORE: How U.S. Olympic 3×3 teams will be chosen

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Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled.

Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of a struggle Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep inside that would be the case. She also knew that all of the effort she put in, to overcome self-doubt and those dreaded double-faults, had to pay off eventually. Just had to.

And so, as she wasted a second match point by flubbing a forehand, and a third by again missing another, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, something she used to find quite difficult. She hung in there until a fourth chance to close out Elena Rybakina presented itself — and this time, Sabalenka saw a forehand from her similarly powerful foe sail long. That was that. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ’Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.′ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy — she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults. Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28. One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.

“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”

While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.

Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.

After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check — she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now — is really paying off.

“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”

With seagulls squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded serious racket swings for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The serves were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph, Sabalenka’s at 119 mph.

The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, but Rybakina did it twice in the opening set.

And never again. Sabalenka resolved to take the initiative even more, and the payoff for her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to withstand over the last two sets.

Sabalenka said ahead of time that she expected to feel some jitters. Which makes perfect sense for anyone: This was the most important match of her career.

At the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to steady herself. After the final point, she dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Quite a difference from a year ago at Melbourne Park, when Sabalenka departed after 15 double-faults in a fourth-round loss.

“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka said at her post-match news conference, her new trophy nearby and a glass of bubbly in her hand. “I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”

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Matt Weston, Susanne Kreher win first world skeleton titles; Olympic champs struggle

Matt Weston
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Great Britain’s Matt Weston and German Susanne Kreher consolidated breakout post-Olympic seasons by winning world skeleton titles in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Friday.

Weston, 15th at last year’s Olympics, prevailed by 1.79 seconds combining times from four runs, the largest margin of victory at worlds for men or women since 2012.

Weston became the second British man to win a world skeleton title after Kristan Bromley in 2008. The 25-year-old from Surrey left taekwondo at age 17 due to a reported back injury and has three wins in six World Cups this season after considering quitting the sport over the summer, according to the BBC.

“What happened there [at Beijing 2022] hit us all really hard, and it took a while to get over,” he said, speaking of the whole British skeleton team that had no top-10 finishes after medals in the last five Olympics, according to the BBC.

Italian Amedeo Bagnis, whose best World Cup finish is eighth, took silver, a year after placing 11th at the Olympics. South Korean Jeong Seung-Gi earned bronze by one hundredth over Brit Chris Thompson, a year after placing 10th at the Olympics.

Kreher, a 24-year-old sprint convert in her first full World Cup season, won by one hundredth of a second over Olympic bronze medalist Kimberley Bos of the Netherlands. Mimi Rahneva took bronze for Canada’s first Olympic or world skeleton medal since 2015.

Kreher extended Germany’s streak to six consecutive women’s world titles. Kreher, last year’s world junior champion, has three World Cup podiums this season, but no wins on the circuit.

Germany’s reigning Olympic champions Christopher Grotheer and Hannah Neise were 10th and 15th, respectively. Tina Hermann, who won the last three women’s world titles, was fifth.

Two other Olympic champions were absent: 2014 gold medalist Aleksandr Tretiyakov is out due to the ban on Russians for the war in Ukraine. Yun Sung-Bin, a 2018 gold medalist, is taking this season off but is expected to come back, according to the South Korean federation.

The top Americans were Hallie Clarke in 10th for the women and Austin Florian in 19th for the men. The last U.S. medalist at worlds was Noelle Pikus-Pace, who took silver in 2013.

Katie Uhlaender, the top U.S. finisher at the last worlds and last Olympics (sixth both times), has not competed this season after rupturing a tendon in her right ankle two months ago.

Worlds continue with the women’s monobob and two-man bobsled events Saturday and Sunday.

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