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Former Pitt center Steven Adams enjoying career year in Oklahoma City

With the loss of superstar Kevin Durant in the offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder probably expected to get a little more out of players whose opportunities may have been a bit limited in the past. One of those guys is former Pitt center Steven Adams and the big man has mostly played well this year.

On offense, Adams is experiencing career-highs almost across the board. His minutes are up, playing about 30 minutes a game instead of the 25 or so he was playing in each of the past two seasons. As a result, Adams is scoring and rebounding more as both his 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds to date would both be career-bests, as would be his assist and steal totals - both just slightly over one per game. Without Durant, Adams is a larger part of the offense. He's getting over eight shots per game, which is easily the most he's had in any season during his career.

Perhaps most importantly, if you've not yet seen the videos he produces with fellow big man, Enes Kanter, you're missing out.

One area where there's room for improvement? On defense. He's been mostly solid, but admitted to having some lapses in a recent slide for the Thunder.

But overall, Adams is playing pretty well this season and he remains one of the team's key players beyond MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. He's now in his third consecutive year as Oklahoma City's starting center and carving out a nice career after his Pitt days.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Brady tells Kraft he's willing to play six or seven more years

Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft shared a part of his recent conversation with Tom Brady Monday during the owner's meetings in Phoenix. 

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"As recently as two, three days ago, he assured me he'd be willing to play six, seven more years at the level he performed," said Kraft. "There's no one that would be happier than I, and our fan base... There's one player at the age of 40 who had one good year (Brett Favre) for the Vikings but he didn't do so well before. 

"I think Tommy's sustained excellence is just unbelievable and it's a lifestyle. You know, he's in training now. It's not like he's stopped. He works out. I remember after our first Super Bowl in '01, going down in the training room in the old Foxboro Stadium, three days after we won and he's in there with the music blaring working out, so he's really dedicated and the thing that's amazing about him is to this day, he hasn't changed as a human being in terms of how he relates to people but also how he works out, and the only thing that's probably changed is how he eats. I'm not sure avocado ice cream is right for me, but if I could look like him and perform half as well, I guess I'd do it." 

When asked about the future of Brady's backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kraft deferred to Bill Belichick's expertise. "I charge him to handle all football matters," said Kraft. "We're privileged to have the greatest quarterback in the history of the game and it looks like he's playing pretty solid and he's off the charts in my opinion and we're lucky to have him.

"That's the most important position on the team, needless to say. I don't think anyone can say, 'You've got too much depth at that position,' and I've charged Bill to make those decisions and I'll leave that with him." 

Malcolm Butler, the center of speculation regarding a possible trade with the Saints, remains an unrestricted free agent who has the option to sign a one-year offer sheet from the Patriots. 

"I hope he's with us and signs his offer sheet and plays for us," said Kraft. "I have a great affection for him and he actually was part of probably the greatest play in the history of our team, but there are a lot of people involved in that, on both sides."

When asked if the intention was to trade Butler, Kraft quickly said, "No," but also made it clear that he didn't want infringe on Butler's rights and re-stated his hope Butler returned with the Patriots in 2017.

As for Commissioner Roger Goodell, and whether he's welcome at the Patriots season opener in September? 

"I think I'll let you all ask him that," said Kraft. "Look, he's commissioner of the league. As we all know, he has the right to go wherever he wishes to go and if he wanted to come he's welcome to come. We're happy that we're celebrating our fifth banner and he can decide whether he wants to be there." 

Atlanta Hawks fan celebrates major dunk with silly dance

At the Atlanta Hawks game against the Brooklyn Nets Sunday in Atlanta, one fan got the crowd going with his dunk and his dance.

In a video posted on Facebook by the Hawks, a man dressed in jeans, a shirt and Nike shoes, first dribbled the ball from across the court and then made the jump of his life.

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His body reached heights taller than the basket, but he was able to make the daring basket and land on the pad below.

If that didn’t get the crowd going, his dance surely did.

He somersaulted off the pad and “butt-bumped” on the court and then finished with a full-body spin.

The clip has more than 368,000 views.

Some commented with skepticism on the video and suggested it was staged, comparing it to some of the “kiss cam fails” that have gone viral, like the proposal fail at a January Hawks game.

Whether or not he was a real fan, it was a fun sight for the crowd.

As for Sunday’s game, the Nets won 107-92. 

Watch the video of the dunk and dance below.

Pat Santoro reportedly interviewing for Pitt wrestling coaching job

Pitt's head wrestling coaching vacancy has been open since the program dismissed Jason Peters back in January. At least one report has the Panthers targeting a big name in Lehigh coach Pat Santoro. According to Lehigh Valley Live, Santoro will interview for the job on Tuesday.

Santoro would be the splash hire that many have coveted for the wrestling program for a while. If you're unfamiliar with him, he runs a top wrestling outfit at tiny Lehigh. Year after year, they are a ranked program and he's had a lot of success developing top talent despite being at a smaller school. Lehigh was 12th in the team scoring at the national championships this season (a full 20 spots ahead of Pitt) and produced a national champion at 125 pounds in Darian Cruz.

Equally as important is that Santoro is a Pitt grad and wrestling for the program, won two national championships himself. If he lands this job, it very easily could be the last one he takes, despite being a relatively young coach (he wrestled for Pitt in the late 1980s). A Santoro hire could ultimately mean that the wrestling program doesn't have to worry about another coach for 20 years or so.

The thing that could stand in the way of Pitt and Santoro? As mentioned in that Lehigh Valley Live article - money and commitment:

Santoro, the Mountain Hawks' nine-year head coach and a graduate of Pittsburgh, told a meeting of Lehigh wrestlers that he was unlikely to take the post unless Pitt made a major financial commitment to the program and updated its facilities, according to sources.

The interest in Santoro was natural and, as the same site said only a week ago, he apparently isn't as appreciated by all of the fan base despite having a good amount of success there.

It should go without saying but Pitt needs to do whatever they can to land Santoro. As has been discussed on this blog for quite a while, it's one of the sports that the Panthers could dominate given the right situation. They're in arguably the best recruiting territory in the country and with a past history of All-Americans and Top 25 finishes, have a strong foundation.

The facilities are a big hurdle to clear and hopefully Pitt decides the investment is worth it. That's important not only for trying to land Santoro but also for the future to bring in recruits and keep guys from transferring out (see Teshan Campbell).

Interestingly enough, facilities is one area that new athletics director Heather Lyke worked on recently at her last job. As I mentioned in my initial writeup about her, she recently developed a plan for $35 million in funding for facilities. Hopefully, upgrades for wrestling facilities is one vision she can communicate to Santoro in the hopes of landing him.

Other qualified candidates certainly exist but between his ties to the school and reputation, Santoro might be the best one.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Narduzzi seeing improvement at cornerback in spring practices

It's spring. There's plenty of optimism surrounding the football program. So yes, I take most of these types of statements with a grain of salt.

"I've been impressed with our corner play so far. We are playing against Jester Weah and Tre Tipton and good receivers. I can't sit there and say, `Man, we are playing against average receivers, I don't know what's going to happen on gameday.' Our corners are playing better right now. We are doing a better job at coaching them and they are doing a better job making plays. I don't see many deep balls being thrown or caught. The ones that we are dropping we have to catch, but we are at least getting pass breakups right now."

Combined with the safety spot, the cornerbacks helped make up one awful secondary last season. By far, it was Pitt's greatest weakness and even competent play there could have resulted in the team winning ten games. As it stood, the Panthers still won eight and that was despite having one of the worst pass defenses in the nation.

The stuff about playing against above average receivers was kind of amusing. No offense at all to a guy like Tre Tipton, of course, but he has 12 career catches. Even Jester Weah, who had a breakout season, and was one of the top deep threats in the ACC last year had mostly modest production (36 catches for 870 yards). Both guys could be pretty good and it can be argued that Weah already is. But I don't know that I'm citing them as a reason why the secondary could struggle in practices.

Pitt, of course, doesn't have their full complement of secondary guys, either. Several players will be arriving in the fall and that will hopefully get more guys in the mix at cornerback.

Like I said, I take statements like this with a grain of salt. But I'm hoping that between getting a little older and playing a little better that the secondary improves. It almost  has to, right?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt baseball sweeps Virginia Tech for first ACC series win of 2017

After a solid 6-1 start to the season, the Pitt baseball team has been struggling lately. The Panthers dropped games to the likes of Wofford, USC Upstate, Kent State, and Wright State even before they got into ACC play. Since then? They were swept by Louisville and managed to take only one out of three against Notre Dame.

At 1-5 in conference heading into this weekend, they really needed a positive showing. Fortunately, they got it with a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Panthers were impressive, outscoring the Hokies by a combined 20 runs to nine. That again put the baseball team up over .500 as they currently have an 11-10 record.

Pitt has been plagued for the past several years by plenty of bad losses and this year hasn't been any exception to that. And as we've discussed before, that's made it difficult for the program to make any real progress since the ACC schedule is extremely difficult.

Before the season began, I said that Pitt really needed to get over the hump and produce a record over .500 for the first time as an ACC member. They were close last season, but still fell short at 25-26. At only 11-10 at this point in the year, it will be an uphill battle to get there. But hopefully the series against Virginia Tech provided a bit of a spark.

Next up, Pitt faces West Virginia at home on Tuesday before a road series with Duke over the weekend.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Oakland Zoo t-shirt design bracket contest - Final Four

In honor of this being the 16th year of the Oakland Zoo, we're running a bracket to determine what was the best Oakland Zoo T-Shirt design. Since this is entirely subjective, seeding was based on something objective - total number of wins each season.

We're now down to the Final Four!

You can refer to this tweet from the Oakland Zoo twitter for pictures of all of the designs through the years (this year's version is obviously their current picture). Since we're now down to the last four, I've taken screenshots of the tweet for these four years.

Zoo Twitter Account

And now, the matchups.

Matchup #1
No. 1 (2001-03) vs. No. 5 (2010-11) 2001-03 (57 wins) 2010-11 (28 wins) pollcode.com free polls
Matchup #2
No. 11 (2011-12) vs. No. 2 (2008-09) 2011-12 (22 wins) 2008-09 (31 wins) pollcode.com free polls

Golden retriever retrieves pucks before Caps game

A golden retriever had his chance to shine on the ice before Saturday’s Washington Capitals game in D.C.

The dog played fetch on the ice with a police officer, running and sometimes slipping, down the ice to get pucks tossed down rink, the NHL posted.

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The first run went a little haywire when the unnamed dog wasn’t able to stop until he crashed into the boards, but the rest of the game seemed to go smoothly once he figured out his footing.

Brenna Wise transferring from Pitt women's basketball program

The Pitt men's basketball team has seen its fair share of transfers with three guys bolting in the last couple of weeks. That wasn't unexpected with new coach Kevin Stallings seemingly wanting to bring his own guys in and clean house. The wrestling squad lost a top ten grappler in Teshan Campbell, who will head to Ohio State. That wasn't expected but given Pitt's turmoil without a coach right now and some team disappointments this year, isn't completely incomprehensible.

On Friday, though, the women's basketball program lost Brenna Wise, who announced she will transfer, in a move that looked to come entirely out of nowhere for the casual Pitt fan.

As the Pitt News notes, Wise's departure is different from the basketball ones in that she is the star of the team and the men's players that transferred were all bench players who played sparingly or, in the case of Crisshawn Clark, not at all. Wise has been the focus of the team's marketing efforts this season and after averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this year, she's now led the team in those two categories for two consecutive seasons. She had a career-high 31 points this year in a home win against Virginia Tech and I was actually at that game.

When I heard of Wise's transfer, three things stuck out to me pretty quickly.

First, I remembered back to a game this year when Wise was really struggling. It was one of several games I watched on ESPN3 but for the life of me, I can't remember which one it was. I think it was Purdue and after looking at the box score of that game, it makes the most sense. But Wise was 1-11 and just had a miserable game. The interesting thing I remember specifically about that is that coach Suzie McConnell-Serio didn't hesitate to take her out of the game and leave her out. Usually you see that in blowouts but the game was close throughout (Pitt lost by six) and Suzie still only played her 19 minutes. Brenna wasn't in foul trouble, either. It was basically one of those 'If you're not making shots we'll try someone else' type of deals.

The second thing also tied into that a little. Suzie's comment in the press release was pretty straightforward, but one thing stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Here was the quote and I'll let you try to take a look and see if it sticks out to you as well:

“Brenna was a strong representative of the University of Pittsburgh and we wish her the best of luck as she pursues opportunities elsewhere. As a program, we will continue to recruit and develop well-rounded, team-oriented student-athletes. It is a privilege to be part of the foundation of a winning culture."

Maybe I'm making more of this than is there but that last bit about 'team-oriented' sort of jumped off the page to me when I read it, as did the part that followed about it being a privilege to be a part of the foundation of the team. That's not something you typically throw into one of these official statements when a player transfers out. 'We wish Player X the best of luck in their future endeavors and thank him/her for their contributions to the program.' That's about the size of it. When I read it, I thought back to that Purdue game where Wise had struggled and was subsequently benched for much of the game. It's easy to wonder if there was a little friction there.

Finally, this is noteworthy because it's the second season in a row where Pitt lost a star player. Stasha Carey transferred last season (ending up at Rutgers) and was the third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the team. Her loss, coupled with Yacine Diop's season-long injury, was a big reason the program struggled this year. Diop and Carey would have likely been starting for the team this year and two of the team's top three players. When you lost that much in one year, it's very hard to make up.

A lot of people will now look at the transfer of both Wise and Carey, look at the struggles of the women's program, and wonder about McConnell-Serio. But I remain fully convinced she knows what she's doing and is still an outstanding coach. She won 20 games a year at Duquesne in her last five season there (winning 24 twice) and was a National Coach of the Year semifinalist in 2015 when she won 20 games at Pitt and took them to the NCAA Tournament. McConnell-Serio, I fully believe, is not the issue. The team has won only 13 games the past two years but I would be surprised if she did not turn it around.

I don't say that to downplay the issue. Wise was a very good player and unquestionably the best one Pitt has had over the past two seasons. Her loss to a program that is already struggling hurts them right now. But as I said, I still have little doubt that McConnell-Serio will get this team turned around. She's already done it once when she took a team that was winless in conference play before she arrived and leading them to the NCAA Tournament only two years later.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Suns’ Devin Booker scores 70 in loss to Celtics

The Phoenix Suns made history two nights in a row.

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The Suns started the youngest lineup ever Thursday, with an average of 21 years and 14 days. Worse, the Suns were down to eight players and lost by 26 to the Brooklyn Nets. The lineup was younger than several of the Sweet 16 teams still in the NCAA tournament. 

Friday also netted a loss, but Devin Booker kept them in it. He scored 70 points for the Suns, and helped Phoenix claw back from a 20-point first quarter deficit. Booker’s scoring eventually won over the Boston crowd, who began cheering for him as the Suns tried to keep the game going late, calling timeouts to give Booker a chance to score more points. He finished with the highest single-game total in franchise history, but lost to the Celtics 130-120.

Booker joined Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor and Kobe Bryant as players to reach 70 in one game.

Booker was 21 of 40 from the field, four of 11 from the 3-point range and was 24 of 26 shooting free throws. The former Kentucky star also had eight rebounds and six assists. He averaged 20.9 points per game before Friday. 

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