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Mat Ishbia to AP: Suns ‘will be one of best places to work’

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/phoenix-suns-nba-nfl-sports-football-c540bcc09ec577a8bf9bc5113847303f

Mat Ishbia said his first major project as owner of the Phoenix Suns will be to listen to employees and figure out what problems they’ve faced.

After that, he’ll start fixing.

The tenure of embattled Robert Sarver as owner of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a member of Michigan State’s NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin Ishbia, will be alternate governor.

Justin Ishbia will be the team’s second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver’s stake as well as some holdings of minority partners, and the sale valued the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia told The Associated Press. “That’s a huge part of my success here in Michigan and it will be a big part of our success now in Phoenix. I don’t have enough information to know what exactly it’s been like, but I will dig in and roll up my sleeves and figure it out over the next three, four, five months-plus.”

The 43-year-old Ishbia was announced as the owner-in-waiting of the Suns on Dec. 20, and the last hurdle before the purchase became official was cleared Monday night when it was revealed that the NBA’s board of governors approved him as the next owner.

The transaction was completed Tuesday. Ishbia will hold a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Sarver was suspended for one year by the NBA in mid-September after an investigation found he engaged in workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees. About a week after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension and $10 million fine — the most allowed by league rule – Sarver said he would start the process of finding a buyer.

Ishbia’s name had been linked to other potential sales of pro sports teams in the past, including the NFL’s Washington Commanders. And the self-described basketball nut jumped quickly to acquire the Suns and Mercury.

“This is what I wanted the whole time,” Ishbia said. “My name got linked to a lot of things. That doesn’t mean it was actually necessarily right. The Phoenix Suns, in my opinion, is one of the elite franchises in one of the elite cities in America. To have a chance to be one of the owners of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury is a dream come true.”

Ishbia’s company, UWM, employs about 7,000 people. It had over $226.5 billion in mortgage originations in 2021, which the company says is a record for wholesale volume.

“We’re all about culture,” Ishbia said. “We’re all about people. We’re all about the word ‘team.’ It’s almost like a match made in heaven — the city, the location, the NBA, my love of basketball. And I can come in, take some of the really good things they’re doing but maybe make some changes from a culture perspective.”

There is one immediate order of business: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

The Suns — who went to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing a 2-0 lead and falling to Milwaukee in six games, had the best regular-season record in the league last season — are in a muddled Western Conference playoff race this season.

Ishbia said he and team president of basketball operations James Jones, who is also the general manager, have talked and will keep talking while Jones gauges the market to see what moves, if any, are right for the Suns.

“We’ve got to make sure we put ourselves in a great position,” Ishbia said. “I think we have an amazing team and I think we’re in a great position right now. Will I be involved? Yes. Are we highly active? Yes. But at the same time, I think we have a championship-contending team without doing anything over the next two days.”

Ishbia played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he got into the 2000 title game against Florida at the end. He knew he was out of bounds when he picked up a loose ball in the final moments, but no referee blew the whistle. Sensing opportunity, Ishbia tried a reverse layup at the buzzer; it missed, but he celebrated anyway.

He senses another opportunity now.

“For me, this is a lifelong dream,” he said.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/phoenix-suns-nba-nfl-sports-football-c540bcc09ec577a8bf9bc5113847303f

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New Mexico St report calls for strengthened culture, values

An independent law firm investigating a fatal shooting by a New Mexico State basketball player recommended the school enhance its weapons policy and ” strengthen a culture that encourages student-athletes to adhere to the integrity and values of NMSU at all times.”

The school released the report Thursday evening, on the first full day of the NCAA Tournament, an event the Aggies were not eligible for after canceling their season in February.

An executive summary of the report did not identify any NCAA violations or failure of the school to meet legal obligations. The summary said the report was restricted by the absence of several witnesses, “including multiple basketball coaches and players,” who refused to cooperate or were unavailable.

The report made six recommendations stemming from a Nov. 19 incident in which forward Mike Peake brought a gun on a road trip to Albuquerque, then was seen on video using it to fend off an attacker who was firing his own gun at him.

Peake has not been charged with a crime in the shooting of University of New Mexico student Brandon Travis. The shootings came about a month after Peake and Travis had been involved in a melee at a football game on the NMSU campus.

Other recommendations in the report called for:

—Setting better guidelines on curfew “because so many players on the NMSU basketball team broke curfew on the night of the shooting incident.” Peake was among those who were out after curfew on the night before the Aggies were supposed to play New Mexico.

—Considering adopting a more detailed weapons policy. NMSU does not allow weapons on campus or on team trips, but that did not go far enough, according to the report. It said the school should adopt a clear policy prohibiting weapons by any player “traveling for team events or while engaging in any activity where the student-athlete is representing NMSU. NMSU should train all coaches and student athletes as to the same.”

—Creating a specific policy for how coaches and staff should interact with law enforcement when athletes are accused of criminal activity. Investigators had difficulty finding Peake’s gun after the shooting and also had difficulty contacting coach Greg Heiar and his assistants. Police had to track down the team bus on Interstate 25 after it left the next morning.

—Aiming for better coordination between the school and its stakeholders about how to share information about misconduct and possible discipline of players. The school suspended Peake 16 days after the shooting and has not given an update on his status at the university. The report made no specific recommendations about Peake and a school spokesman told The Associated Press there was no update on Peake’s status.

The shooting is not what ended New Mexico State’s season. Rather, it was separate accusations about hazing that compelled chancellor Dan Arvizu to cancel the season and fire Heiar.

In a letter accompanying the executive summary, Arvizu said a task force would be formed to implement the recommendations. He said the school was releasing the executive summary to show its commitment to transparency.

___

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Pitino again a hot commodity at 70 and with checkered past

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — It’s a March Madness tradition as predictable as a 12-5 upset.

A successful coach at a small school enters the NCAA Tournament with speculation swirling about being a candidate at a more glamorous school, forcing that coach to dodge questions about his future before the most important games of the season.

The twist this year? That coach is a 70-year-old, two-time national champion whose Hall of Fame four-decade career has been sprinkled with scandal.

“You’re not hired by the internet,” Iona coach Rick Pitino said. “My players, it’s not a distraction for them at all. I’ve always taken it as a compliment throughout all the years that if somebody else is interested in you, very thankful for that, but I never pay attention to it.”

Pitino has the Gaels in the tournament as champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the second time in his three seasons at the private Catholic school in New Rochelle, just north of New York City.

Iona, a 13 seed, faces fourth-seeded Connecticut from the Big East on Friday in the first round of the West Region. As much as Pitino tries to keep the focus on the Gaels, it seems likely that his time at the school is winding down and he is going to land one more high-profile gig — St. John’s? Georgetown? Texas Tech? — before he calls it quits.

Or rather, if he calls it quits.

“Well, I know when he told me he was going to retire at 60 that he was full of crap,” recently retired Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told The Associated Press. “He’ll coach until he’s 80 if he can. He loves coaching. We all love it to some extent, but I think he loves it probably more than anybody else.”

In 34 full seasons as a college head coach, he has led each of the five schools he has coached to the NCAA Tournament, won national championships at Kentucky and Louisville, and has a .741 winning percentage.

He had two stints in the NBA, one with the New York Knicks, and another with the Boston Celtics that didn’t produce a playoff appearance. But in college, Pitino has had just one losing season.

“Probably the best basketball coach I’ve seen or gone up against,” said Boeheim, who hired Pitino as an assistant at Syracuse in 1976.

Pitino is back in play for the big schools after being exonerated for NCAA recruiting violations committed by Louisville under his watch and revealed by an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption.

A few days before this season started, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, the Independent Accountability Resolutions Process, announced it had found “no violation by (Pitino) occurred given that he demonstrated he promoted an atmosphere of compliance.”

Iona and Pitino celebrated the ruling, but it’s not the only blemish on his resume.

The 2013 NCAA championship won Pitino won at Louisville was later vacated after an investigation found an assistant coach paid escorts and exotic dancers to entertain players and recruits in campus dorms.

There were also personal improprieties revealed during a criminal case against a woman who was found guilt of trying to extort Pitino.

Before Pitino could serve his five-game suspension for the earlier NCAA case, he was fired by Louisville in 2017 when his program was implicated in the FBI case.

“He did have a couple of things, yeah,” Boeheim said. “That’s not a lot when you look at more than 40 years.”

New Mexico coach Richard Pitino, Rick’s son and former assistant, said that as the leader of a program, his father was accountable for the actions of those who worked for him.

“He was held responsible. If people are still outraged by it, I would just tell them they need to move on. Because it wasn’t like he didn’t go through a lot,” Richard Pitino told the AP. “You know he was fired. He ended up having to coach out of this country for two years. He then goes and takes Iona, which he was fortunate to get.”

After a season out of coaching and two coaching in Greece, Iona took a calculated risk in hiring Pitino when his reputation was tarnished, banking on him not being punished for allegations related to the FBI investigation.

While Iona was vindicated, it also became apparent quickly that it would be difficult for the school to keep its coach.

“We’re aware he might go,” Iona President Seamus Carey told The New York Post earlier this week.

Pitino said he hopes he can coach for 12 more years.

“But I’ll take six or seven,” he said.

Pitino, dressed in a roomy all-white sweatsuit, looked spry Thursday as he coached his team at practice in MVP Arena.

There was no doubt who was in charge as he called out directions at midcourt, and then jumped into the lane a couple of times to play defense against players driving to the basket.

“He loves basketball a lot, he even says it in practice a lot: ‘I’ll die for basketball. I want to die on a basketball court,’” Iona guard Berrick JeanLouis said with a smile. “He talks crazy about it.”

The Gaels missed out on the NCAA Tournament last year after finishing first in the MAAC during the regular season. They were upset in the conference tournament and MAAC champ Saint Peter’s went on to have magical run in March Madness as a 15 seed.

“I have felt more pressure at Iona than any other time, Kentucky, Louisville, the Knicks, Celtics,” Pitino said. “I feel so much pressure with these three (conference tournament) games you have to win to get in the (NCAA) tournament.”

Richard Pitino said he does not know what his father’s next move will be, but he is aware of Rick’s frustration with being in what is traditionally a one-NCAA-bid conference.

“That part of it I think is certainly the reason why maybe he would be open to something else,” Richard Pitino said.

The St. John’s or Georgetown jobs would bring Rick Pitino back into the Big East, where he led Providence to one of the most memorable Final Four runs in tournament history back in 1987, and where he won that national title with Louisville.

“Whoever hires him, they’ll be successful within two years. At the most,” Boeheim said. “That’s like a guarantee.”

There is a Providence link between Pitino and St. John’s right now.

St. John’s President, the Rev. Brian Shanley, was previously at the Rhode Island school, where he contributed to a revival of the basketball program that included investments in facilities and the hiring of coach Ed Cooley.

Pitino said Shanley tried to lure him back to Providence when he was at Louisville.

“I spoke to Ed Cooley the other day, said (Shanley’s) a superstar,” Pitino said.

Pitino talked about how good he has it at Iona, where he has a president and athletic director who provide all the support he needs and four starters expected back next season.

Is he up for another rebuild?

“It’s going to take a special place,” he said, “for me to consider leaving.”

___

AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Ready for Love: Rodgers’ exit would mean new era for Packers

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst valued Jordan Love’s potential enough three years ago to trade up in the draft and select him in the first round, catching the Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback already on Green Bay’s roster by surprise.

Love finally has a chance to show he was worth the gamble.

Four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday on “The Pat McAfee Show” on YouTube and SiriusXM that he intends to play for the New York Jets in the 2023 season and is waiting for the Packers to trade him. Assuming that move is made, Love will take over as Green Bay’s starting quarterback.

“We’re excited about him,” Gutekunst said Feb. 28 during the NFL scouting combine. “I think I’ve expressed to a lot of people that he needs to play. That’s the next step in his progression.”

Love’s two predecessors set quite the standard.

The Packers have had three decades of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback production from Brett Favre and Rodgers, who won a combined seven MVP awards during their time in Green Bay.

Love has spent the past three seasons backing up Rodgers, just as Rodgers took over after backing up Favre for three seasons. Rodgers said during his “Pat McAfee Show” appearance that he got the impression the Packers wanted to move on from him and make Love the starter.

“Jordan’s going to be a great player,” Rodgers said. “He’s a … great kid. He had a really good year this year, getting better on the look team. He’s got a bright future in front of him.”

Love has made only one career start, a 13-7 loss at Kansas City in 2021. His other most notable appearances came in the second half of a meaningless 2021 regular-season finale at Detroit and in relief of an injured Rodgers at Philadelphia last fall.

He has gone 50 of 83 for 606 yards with three touchdown passes and three interceptions since the Packers selected him out of Utah State with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft.

“I have complete confidence in his ability but also just his approach,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said at the end of last season. “It’s been fun to watch him mature as a football player, as a man, over the course of these last three years. Just the way he walks around the building, his approach, his urgency, his fundamentals, everything that goes into being a quarterback, I think we’ve seen significant growth from him.”

It’s difficult to analyze Love’s performances because of the circumstances surrounding many of them.

Love didn’t realize he’d be starting at Kansas City until Rodgers discovered the Wednesday before the game he had tested positive for COVID-19. He threw two interceptions and one touchdown pass in the second half of a meaningless 2021 regular-season finale against Detroit when the Packers rested many starters because they already had clinched the NFC’s top seed.

His best outing came last season when he went 6 of 9 for 113 yards and a touchdown in relief of an injured Rodgers in a 40-33 loss at Philadelphia. The Eagles led 37-23 in the fourth quarter when Love entered the game, which impacted how they defended.

“I’d say I just feel more comfortable, more confident, just seeing things a little bit more clean and faster,” Love said four days after the Eagles game.

Love’s job could be particularly difficult if the Packers don’t add more playmakers.

Green Bay has a quality offensive line and one of the NFL’s top running back tandems in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, both capable pass catchers. The Packers drafted three wideouts last season, with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs combining to score 12 touchdowns as rookies.

But they could lack veteran receivers and tight ends.

Allen Lazard, who had 60 catches for 788 yards last season, is an unrestricted free agent who tweeted out a farewell to Green Bay on Wednesday. Wide receiver Randall Cobb and tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis also are free agents.

Love will have to draw on everything he picked up the past three seasons while backing up Rodgers. In his news conference after the Packers’ season finale, Rodgers was asked about Love’s readiness to take over in case the four-time MVP retired or got traded.

“You don’t know you’re ready until you’re in that position,” Rodgers said at the time. “I remember the day I was sleeping in San Diego and woke up to 50 text messages that Brett had retired. Then the emotions hit you. ‘Oh, man, now I’m the guy.’ But you’ve still got to go out there and find your stride with leadership and withstand the first year of different defenses throwing things at you and all the pressure that comes with everything.

“But I think he’s done a nice job of improving, working on the little things, done a nice job at practice. I think he’s got a chance to have a long future in the league.” ___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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