Zion Williamson among players added to U.S. Olympic men’s basketball finalists

Zion Williamson
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Zion Williamson is among 15 players added to USA Basketball’s list of finalists for the Olympic men’s basketball team.

In February 2020, USA Basketball announced its largest player pool for 12 roster spots — 44 in total, including every NBA superstar — since it began naming finalists in 2008. Now, after the Olympics were postponed and the NBA season pushed closer to the Opening Ceremony — the list ballooned to 57.

Two players from the original finalist list have dropped out — injured Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson and Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart.

Williamson, 20 and the 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick by the New Orleans Pelicans, is the youngest in the player pool.

He could become the fourth-youngest U.S. Olympic basketball player since NBA players replaced collegians in 1992. Anthony Davis (2012), LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (both 2004) were younger.

Other new additions included five-time NBA All-Star John Wall and Trae Young, the lone 2020 NBA All-Star who wasn’t among the initial 44 finalists (and appeared to react to the omission on Twitter).

Players can still be added or removed from the player pool leading up to the roster being named (likely in late June or early July).

None of the biggest NBA stars have publicly committed to accepting or declining a U.S. Olympic roster spot if offered (though Kawhi Leonard made his stance pretty clear). It’s a tougher question this year given the NBA season will end later than usual. A potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be July 22, the day before the Opening Ceremony.

Complicating matters: The deadline for nations to submit Olympic teams is July 5 — during the NBA playoffs — though there is a late athlete replacement policy that extends closer to the start of competition. This usually comes into play for injuries.

Plus, USA Basketball plans to hold a player training camp in early July, also during the NBA playoffs. It hasn’t said whether camp participation will be mandatory for Olympic participation.

USA Basketball petitioned for the rules to be changed on when Olympic basketball rosters must be finalized. Whether a ruling has been made by international officials has not been announced.

The U.S. finished seventh at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, its worst-ever senior national team tournament result.

From 1992-2004, a USA Basketball committee chose Olympic teams without naming large pools of finalists. There were 33 finalists in 2008, 22 in 2012 and 30 in 2016.

The full list of finalists:

Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
Jarrett Allen (Cleveland Cavaliers) — NEW
Harrison Barnes
 (Sacramento Kings)
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
Malcolm Brogdon (Indiana Pacers)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat)
Mike Conley Jr. (Utah Jazz)
Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
DeMar DeRozan (San Antonio Spurs)
Andre Drummond (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets)
Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
Eric Gordon (Houston Rockets) — NEW
Jerami Grant (Detroit Pistons) — NEW
Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
Blake Griffin (Brooklyn Nets) — NEW
James Harden (Brooklyn Nets)
Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Lakers)
Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
Tobias Harris (Philadelphia 76ers)
Gordon Hayward (Charlotte Hornets)
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks) — NEW
Dwight Howard (Philadelphia 76ers)
Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans)
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)
LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
DeAndre Jordan (Brooklyn Nets) — NEW
Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers)
Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls) — NEW
Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks)
Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
JaVale McGee (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
Victor Oladipo (Houston Rockets)
Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns)
Mason Plumlee (Detroit Pistons)
Julius Randle (New York Knicks) — NEW
Duncan Robinson (Miami Heat) — NEW
Mitchell Robinson (New York Knicks) — NEW
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors) — NEW
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
John Wall (Houston Rockets) — NEW
Russell Westbrook (Washington Wizards)
Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs)
Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) — NEW
Christian Wood (Houston Rockets) — NEW
Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks) — NEW

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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