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Sports Strength

The Atlanta Dream Experience And Your 2021 WNBA Playoffs Preview

The WNBA playoffs are finally upon us, and we can’t wait for the action to get started. It’s been a long season⁠—one that also included the Olympic break where Team USA captured the Gold as expected, and now we are officially in the postseason stretch to see who will be crowned the 2021 champions. Before we get into all of that, I first want to rewind to last Thursday when I attended the Atlanta Dream’s final home game of the season against the Los Angeles Sparks.

I really want to encourage you guys to check out a WNBA game if you haven’t already. Of course, if your team was one of the lucky eight to make the playoffs, then you’ll have an immediate opportunity if you’re close by. If not, then please start making plans to do so for next season. This wasn’t my first time checking out a Dream game, but it was the first in a while due to the pandemic situation.

The atmosphere was incredible, the seats were great, the food was delicious, and the DJ was on point. Also—shoutout to Bria Janelle, who has been a fantastic host for the Dream all year. The game last week represented ATL culture to the fullest as usual, and that appears to be the case in every city from what I’ve witnessed on social media and television. Go to a game. You will not be disappointed.

Now let’s get into these playoff deets.

When Do The Playoffs Start?

Ah, the magical question! The 2021 WNBA Playoffs are set to begin this Thursday, September 23rd, with the Finals slated to tip off October 10th.

Where To Watch

All playoff games will be available through either ESPN or ESPN 2.

Which Teams Are In?

For those tuning in for the first time, the top eight teams in the WNBA will qualify for the postseason. How teams are seeded is dependent upon their individual regular-season record. The top two seeds (which in this case are the Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces) will get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and chill out until the semi-finals.

Seeds 3 and 4 (Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm) will get to relax until the second round, and seeds 5 through 8 will have to participate in single-game eliminations to determine who advances to that second round (which is also single elimination). Similar to March Madness, the Wild Card round in the MLB, and the NFL Playoffs, you only get one shot to advance.

Who Goes First?

Thursday officially gets the action started, and it’s going to look a little something like this:

  • No. 7 Dallas Wings at No. 6 Chicago Sky, 8 p.m. EST- ESPN 2
  • No. 8 New York Liberty at No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, 10 p.m. EST- ESPN 2

If last year is any indication, it should be an interesting playoffs. Make sure you keep up with us on our website and socials for more coverage these next few weeks.

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Sports Strength

Alabama’s Ga’Quincy ‘Kool-Aid’ McKinstry Signs NIL Deal With Kool-Aid

On paper, this NIL deal makes almost too much sense.

Last Wednesday, it was announced that five-star recruit and freshman defensive back for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Ga’Quincy ‘Kool-Aid’ McKinstry, would be signing a NIL Deal with, you guessed it, Kool-Aid.

Ever since the rules and regulations for the NCAA’s new NIL policy were introduced in July 2021, brands and players have been scrambling for ways to take advantage. McKinstry is just the latest athlete to join the growing movement.

Considered to be one of, if not the best cornerback in the 2021 signing class, Kool-Aid McKinstry hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and like so many that play football in that state, he chose to join the Crimson Tide when they made him a scholarship offer.

Kool-Aid told AL.com in 2019 that he’s had the nickname ever since he was born when, according to his grandmother, he “came out smiling.” He introduces himself as Kool-Aid, he tends to go by Kool-Aid, and, hell, he is even listed on Alabama’s roster as Kool-Aid.

Needless to say that when it came time for Kool-Aid to look into potential branding opportunities, Kool-Aid (the brand) was the perfect match.

To signify the new deal, Kool-Aid temporarily changed their Twitter account’s bio to “In honor of our new partnership, we’ve swapped names with Kool-Aid McKinstry and given him the power of OH YEAH.”

For far too long, college athletes—despite bringing in tons of money for their schools, sports networks, and brands—could never earn financial compensation for their names and likenesses. That has thankfully changed and enabled players like Kool-Aid to be compensated for all their hard work on the field.

While the exact terms of Kool-Aid’s NIL deal were not immediately available, it’s bound to be very advantageous for both sides.

Kool-Aid will be a very exciting player to watch when he suits up for the Crimson Tide this fall, and we can’t wait to see what he can do.

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Sports Strength

Everything You Need To Know About Rugby Positions

To me, there’s a misconceived notion among anyone new to rugby; it’s that the game involves a bunch of players mindlessly running around while trying to rip each other’s heads off. 

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Reddit

While the latter might be true 99% of the time, rugby is far from a sport without structure, part of which hinges on the role of whoever is on the field.

Before we get to that, let’s address that there are multiple types of rugby.

Green and Gold Rugby

The most popular rugby league is Rugby Union, featuring 15 players on the field for each team. Rugby League, a less popular but faster-paced brand of the game, features 13 players on the field per team. Finally, sevens rugby is arguably the most exciting and digestible form of the game for alienated fans. It features seven players on the field per team.

Regardless of the type of rugby you ever find yourself associated with, the positions will always have the same names; they’ll just be minimized, say if you are playing 7 on 7 instead of 15 on 15. Whether it’s a 15’s, 13’s, or 7’s field that you’re stepping on, each team will be split up into the following two groups, backs and forwards.

The Backs
7 Bamboos Rugby

This group of players specializes in passing, kicking, playmaking, open-field tackling, and scoring. They make up the smaller players on a rugby team and rely on their ability to score tries using their speed and dynamic ball-handling skills. 

Backs will generally have special plays that they’ll run during a game, which will help them break down a defense. In practice, they can either develop plays that only adhere to backs or incorporate the other group of players, known as the forwards, in certain plays.

The Forwards
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These are the big boys and girls and are responsible for controlling the game’s pace with manpower and brute strength. The forwards are key in maintaining possession of the ball with ball carries and their effectiveness in “breakdowns,”; where they prevent the other team from trying to steal the ball. 

Line-outs and scrums are two areas in the game of rugby that forwards specialize in. They will likely dedicate hours upon hours in practice, away from the backs, to work on their lineout and scrum structure.

Even though backs are expected to do certain things collectively, there are seven positions within the backs group that each has different responsibilities. 

Scrum Half / Half-back (#9)

The scrum-halves are usually the smallest players on a rugby team, but they carry one of the larger loads of responsibilities during a game. They act as a moderator between the forwards and backs to help dictate the pace of the game. They make passes from breakdowns, scrums, and lineouts out to either the forwards and backs. Scrum-halves need to pass in either direction, have a great vision to see the field, the endurance to arrive at every breakdown, and the ball-handling skills as they will be handling the ball a majority of the time during a match.

South African Faf de Klerk is considered one of the best scrum-halves in today’s game.

Fly-Half / Outside half (#10)
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Dan Carter of New Zealand

The fly-half is the most dynamic playmaker on a rugby team. They are in charge of making sure everyone on the offense knows what play is being run and, like a scrum-half, have a say in whether the forwards or the backs will receive the ball during phase play. They should have great chemistry with their scrum-half to ensure the offense runs smoothly. Fly-halves need to have excellent decision-making skills, passing and kicking. They also need to be great tacklers as they will have a target on their back when on defense.

New Zealanders Beauden Barrett and Dan Carter are a few of the best fly-halves ever to play the position.

Center (#’s 12 and 13)

Centers are typically the strongest runners on a rugby team. When a center gets the ball from the fly-half, they’ll hope to break through defenses with a hardcore ground-and-pound running style. They should also be the best tacklers on the team and strong in rucks, largely considered the heart and soul of a rugby team.

Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi are two of the best centers in the world right now.

Wing (#’s 11 and 14)

Wings are your speedsters on the outside, the fastest players on the field. Their primary objectives are to score tries, chase and field kicks, make their tackles on the outside flank, and put pressure on a defense in any way that they can use their wheels. They also need to have great footwork. Each team will have two wings on the field at once.

South African Cheslin Kolbe and Fijian Semi Radradra are two of the most dynamic wings in the world.

Full-back (15)

The full-back works with the two wings to form what is known as the backline. Additionally, since they are the final safeguard on defense, they need to be great tacklers who communicate directions to forwards and backs to put them in positions to stop an offense. Fullbacks need to always join in on the attack, alongside centers and wings, to add another wrinkle in the offense, so they need plenty of endurance. Fielding kicks, setting up teammates, and being light and quick on their feet are things the full-back needs to do. 

Scottish superstar Stuart Hogg is a top-tier player at the full-back position.

Loosehead and Tighthead Prop (1 and 3)

Props occupy the toughest and most physically punishing positions in rugby. The only difference between the two types is that Loose-head props have their heads in between the opposition while in the scrum, as Tight-head props have their heads in between their hooker, a position we’ll get to later. They are constantly taking short-line balls to draw in multiple defenders who will create attacking space for the backs. They contribute to the rugby scrum by supporting the hooker’s body weight. This allows the hooker to locate the ball once it is placed into the scrum by the scrum-half. They are expected to have the agility to get to rucks and the power to dominate in rucks.

Englishman Mako Vunipola is a great pop to watch in the game today.

Hooker (2)

The hooker is a pillar in the forward pack. They spearhead the timing of the scrum and are responsible for winning possession of the ball once it is in the scrum. In lineouts, they need the crucial skill of throwing the ball accurately so that the team’s lineout jumper can receive it. This also ensures that the other team can’t steal it. In the open field, the hooker will look to carry short balls and control possession in rucks, so they need to have similar props.

Malcolm Marx is a 25-year old South African that has already established himself as one of the best hookers in the world.

Lock and Second Row (4 and 5)

These guys are the heart and soul of the scrum and are the ones who receive the ball in the lineout from the hooker. They need to be strong when binding with the props; otherwise, they will allow the other team to take possession of the ball; the same goes for their lineout jumping. They should be tall and powerful players with the open-field responsibilities of props and hookers. 

Englishmen Maro Itoje and South African Eben Etzebeth are the epitomai of great lock and second-row players.

Blind-side Flanker/ Open-side Flanker (6 and 7)
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England Captain Chris Robshaw

The flankers are unique forwards who find themselves in the center of the action more often than not. The blind-side flanker is known to be physical and powerful, while the openside flanker should be more agile. Nonetheless, both need to have quality endurance, average speed, brute strength, dynamic carrying skills and should be capable of passing. 

Englishman Chris Robshaw is among the upper echelon of elite flankers.

The Eight-man (8)

The eight-man is a part of the tandem known as the back row, including the two flankers. This is the only player among the forwards who can pick the ball up once it is won in the scrum. Therefore, the eight-man needs to be a very effective runner with the ball who can make plays and be an effective ball-carrier and tackler.

Even at the age of 33, South African Duane Vermeulen is still among the great 8-men in the game today.

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Sports Strength

Breaking Down the NIL: The NCAA’s New Name, Image, and Likeness Policy

Over the past two decades, arguably the hottest and most controversial topic regarding the National Collegiate Athletic Association has been the name, image, and likeness of its athletes. 

To fully understand the “NIL”, how it came about, and why it’s such a big deal in the NCAA, we’ll have to take a look back at the year 1991, when five particular freshmen booked their ticket to Ann Arbor.

Detroit Free Press
The starting five of the University of Michigan from 1991-1993

The Fab Five played basketball at the University of Michigan from 1991 to 1993. Consisting of Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Chris Webber, and Juwan Howard, they are widely considered to be the most popular college basketball team of all time.

ESPN Press Room
(Left) Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Coach Steve Fisher, Chris Webber and Ray Jackson (Right)

Their swaggy style and attitude intertwined well with the emerging Hip-Hop culture in the ’90s, as they are primarily known for starting the baggy shorts, black socks, and black sneakers trend on the basketball court.

The Fab Five only played together for 2 seasons but certainly made the most of it, posing a 56-12 record and completing back-to-back National Championship appearances. 

The University of Michigan ended up making a boatload of money off the Fab Five’s jerseys, ticket sales, and other merchandise. On the other hand, the players themselves were never allowed to profit financially off of their name, image, or likeness, as the school did. 

Years after the Fab Five graduated from Michigan, the Wolverines were stripped of all the basketball accolades and accomplishments they tallied during the 1991-1993 seasons. This came from the back end of an FBI investigation on Ed Martin, a man who loaned half of a million dollars, in total, to Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and a few others.

Ann Arbor Local News
Ed Martin in 1992

Martin was from the inner-city of Detroit, like Webber and Rose. He was a man known for making donations to plenty of kids, not just the high-acclaimed athletes. Nonetheless, he was labeled an illegal booster by the NCAA and someone who represented Michigan’s athletic interests. The reality was, he didn’t have any ties to the University at all, which left many scratching their heads.

As a result of this scandal, more and more people began to ask why athletes couldn’t make money off of their name, likeness, and image, especially if they are financial assets for their schools like the Fab Five was for theirs.

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Following in the footsteps of the Fab Five, were Tiger Woods, Reggie Bush, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, and Zion Williamson. They helped give athletes more ammunition in the conversation, leading to NCAA’s big decision on June 30th, 2021.

A temporary policy was passed on that day, allowing athletes to benefit financially from their name, image, and likeness.

The Daily Illini
Rep. Kam Buckner and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois pose with the newly enacted name, image and likeness bill at State Farm Center in June of 2021

Each division in the NCAA came to agree that anyone is now allowed to partake in name, image, and likeness activities so long that they follow the laws of the state that the college is in. 

Collegiate athletes will now be able to monetize their social media, make money off of their jersey sales, and even endorsement deals from their favorite brands. 

It’s important to note that athletes will not be compensated for simply playing a collegiate sport, and they will not be able to receive benefits tied to them choosing a specific school. 

Since the laws were passed, we’ve already seen a few college athletes sign deals that will monetize their image. 

Moteefe

Kentucky guard Dontaie Allen teamed up with “The Players Trunk” to create custom merchandise. 

via Arkansas Soul
Trey Knox and his dog “Blue”

Arkansas wide-receiver Trey Knox is partnering with “Petsmart” and will benefit from the social campaign that highlights his love for his dog. 

The Next 24/7/365 Women’s Basketball Coverage
Haley and Hanna Cavinder

Fresno State guards Haley and Hanna Cavinder will start to monetize their Tik-Tok account in September; when California puts their NIL laws into place. Their 3.4 million follower account has exploded over the past year, and they will have unlimited possibilities to monetize their brand come this fall.

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Sports Strength

ONE37pm’s WNBA Friday Preview for July 2nd

We’re back! After a couple of weeks of only having one game on the Friday night deck, we’re back to normal with three entertaining games tonight. There have been a lot of updates since our last WNBA Friday blog. For starters, I was able to interview the Washington Mystics’ Ariel Atkins, which is a really cool interview that any WNBA fan should check out. Atkins ended up being named to the Olympic team on the same day we published the article, which was an awesome coincidence. The WNBA All Star game was also confirmed during that time period (the event will take place in Las Vegas), and the rosters (the WNBA All Stars will battle the USA Basketball Women’s Team) were officially announced two days ago.

It’s important to note that this period of the season is a critical one. We technically have just a little over a week until we break for the Olympics, and it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how everything plays out. We’ll dive more into what to expect during the Olympic break and the last part of the season in next week’s breakdown because we still have a full week’s worth of games before that happens. In the meantime, let’s give you guys a quick preview of the matchups that are on tonight. 

Chicago Sky vs Dallas Wings 8:00pm EST

This is actually the second straight matchup between the two teams, so let’s start with the Sky. First of all congratulations to one of the all time GOATs Candace Parker for making her sixth All Star appearance. Also major congratulations to Kahleah Copper and Courtney Vandersloot for their All Star selections as well. The Sky had a rough start to the season, and their troubles coincided with Parkers’ left ankle sprain that she suffered in an early season matchup against Atlanta.

As soon as she came back, the Sky’s season turned aroundback, their season began to turn around, and they have won eight out of their last nine games. Saturday’s matchup against the Wings saw strong performances from Courtney Vandersloot, Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley, and Ruthy Hebard, as the Sky continues to march their way up the standings. 

Alright let’s head over to Dallas. Big shoutout to Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally for their All Star selections as well. Currently sitting at 6th in standings, the Wings are having a decent year, but will need to be careful as we approach the midway point as seeds 6 through 9 could very well be interchangeable as the Liberty, Mercury, and Mystics aren’t too far behind them record wise.

As you all know, only the top eight seeds get a spot in the playoffs, and while these next four games aren’t “must wins,” I think it would be nice if they could notch as many wins as they can before the break to give themselves more of a lead in case there is an adjustment period once they return (this is applicable to all teams by the way). Expect for Ogunbowale to have a stellar game as usual, and I think Dallas could get the win this time around if Kayla Thornton can get to double digits, along with Marina Mabrey. We shall see.

Las Vegas Aces vs Los Angeles Sparks 10:00pm EST

Not much has changed with the Aces since our last blog except the fact that they seem to be even more dominant than before. Liz Cambage and Dearica Hamby will be part of the WNBA All-Star team (Cambage will play for the Australian Olympic team), and of course, A’Ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray will be representing team USA in the summer games as well. Standout point guard Kelsey Plum will also be participating in the Summer Olympics as a part of the 3×3 team, which is a new addition to the games, meaning that the Aces will be well represented in Tokyo.

Now as far as the season is concerned, the Aces are ranked 1st, so there isn’t much to worry about, but the margin is slim between seeds 1 through 3, and the Seattle Storm and Connecticut Sun are on their heels. Ideally the Aces would like to keep their number one spot, so for that reason, I think they would like to close out these games before the break strong. They handled the Sparks pretty easily on Wednesday, so if they have a similar performance tonight, they should be able to get the W again.

Okay let’s move on to the Sparks. Let me first start by commending Nneka Ogwumike for the rare talent she is. It is my hope that we can see her be a part of the Olympic squad one day because she totally deserves it. Also during the Olympic break, Ogwumike will be a part of the highly anticipated Space Jam: A New Legacy movie dropping on July 16th. Fans can expect to see the star as Arachneka, a Tune Squad member who takes on the form of a spider. We’ll talk more about Space Jam later, but as far as the Sparks, I would love to see Los Angeles make the playoffs, and they aren’t too far off from being able to qualify. Their pre-break schedule however is going to be tough as they have the Aces tonight obviously, back to back matchups against the Seattle Storm, and a final game against the Minnesota Lynx. It’s going to be difficult for sure, but one game at a time.

Atlanta Dream vs Seattle Storm 10:00pm EST

Last but not least we have Atlanta vs Seattle. Congrats to Courtney Williams on her All Star appearance, which is well deserved! Atlanta is another team that is going to have to do some fighting to climb in the standings, and similar to the Sparks, they also have a tough pre-break schedule as the Storm, Aces, and Connecticut make up the next three games on their schedule. The Dream will close it out against the Indiana Fever on July 11th, and as far as this matchup goes, we all know the Storm are very tough to battle against, but I really liked their total team effort against the New York Liberty the other night. Everyone got involved in some way, and you definitely need an “all hands on deck” approach when it comes to dealing with the Storm. 

As far as Seattle, they are currently sitting pretty at No. 2, and could end up overtaking the Aces for that top spot. Sue Bird, Jewell Lloyd, and Breanna Stewart are all Olympians, and will head to Tokyo in a few short weeks to compete for Gold, and like the Aces, are in a really good position heading into the interim. In addition to Atlanta, Seattle will close out this final week with back to back matchups against the Sparks and Mercury. The same way the Aces want their top spot, the Storm want it too, and you better believe they want to try to get as many wins as they can during the next several days.

That’s it for this week, be sure to tune to the games tonight!

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Sports Strength

Washington Mystics’ Star Ariel Atkins Talks Hoops and Community Engagement

Ariel Atkins is a young fearless talent who has been given the unique gift of basketball, and a powerful platform to change the world. Through the years we’ve seen her blossom not just as an athlete (Atkins is currently having a career year that is generating All Star Buzz), but we’ve seen her become an activist, and a prominent part of the community, which is something she feels is one of her most valuable contributions. On the court, the Washington Mystics star is a vicious competitor determined to do anything on both ends of the floor to help her team get a win, but off the court she is a fun, family oriented, nature loving girl, who wants to use her opportunities to open doors for others. 

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Ariel Atkins

Atkins’ growth has been a pleasure to watch, as she continues to ascend to superstar heights. While still early in the season, a quick look at her stats will show you her dominance thus far. Just a little over ten games in, Atkins is averaging nearly 18 ppg (up four percent from last year), and her assists, blocks, and rebound percentages have gone up as well. Most importantly, Atkins leadership has become undeniable, accompanied by a commanding presence and confidence on the court. We got the opportunity to catch up with Atkins while she was on the road to talk about the Mystics start to the season, her goals for the future, and who she is outside of the court.

ONE37pm: Okay so we’re a few weeks into the season, and you guys are starting to find a groove and a rhythm. I wanted to ask you about your preparation process because this year was still different than normal.

Atkins: Yes because we had players who went overseas, and players that took the year off. So it was definitely tough for us to find our timing and get back into the groove. We have a new team, so it was a case of everybody trying to get their timing back, and figuring out what everyone likes to do. It was definitely tough, but it has been good for us because it forced us to figure out things very quickly.

ONE37pm: Let’s take it back to last year. We’ll probably never see a season like that again just because of everything that was going on. We saw how progressive the W was, and you used your voice. How important was that for you?

Atkins: I think that is just the nature of this league. The W is made up of 80 percent Black women, and that is the nature of us—we just step up. To have allies of different ethnicities that we had was really rewarding, but it made you realize that this was a much bigger issue. Just because we were in a bubble and didn’t get to experience the outside world, didn’t mean we didn’t wake up each day and feel the same effects of what was happening on the outside. It was definitely an interesting experience to feel disconnected and so connected at the same time. It was a strange feeling, but we knew coming into the season what our focal point was, which was the “Say Her Name” campaign in honor of Breonna Taylor and her family, and different things we could do to help not only empower our community, but spread their stories. 

We had the opportunity to be one of the most watched sports during the pandemic, and I’m thankful to our league for finding a way to put it together. It gave us the opportunity to get a bigger platform, and use that opportunity the best way that we could. There are a lot of WNBA players who speak out about a lot of things, and there was the chance for me to speak. We had already talked about a bunch of different things ahead of time, and the opportunity presented itself to speak up on something that we really believed in. I’m thankful to ESPN for giving us that chance, to speak and say what we felt.

ONE37pm: We’ll bring you back to the present. Each year you get better, so what is your strategy to improve every season?

Atkins: Just to get a little bit better! That’s all I can ask for. Basketball is a game where you can always add to your game. If you can’t shoot, you can learn how to. If you can’t dribble that well, you can learn. You can learn how to become a better passer and communicator. There are tons of things you can do to become a better player, and that is something that I love. For me it’s always about helping my team and organization win championships, and what I can add to my game to throw other people off. It’s really a matter of getting into the gym and figuring out how to get better. Right now my goal is to get to the rack more. That is definitely my focal point this year.

ONE37pm: How many championships do you want to win?

Atkins: I would love to win one every single year! I know that isn’t possible but that is my goal every season. I won’t put a number on it, but as many as I can!

ONE37pm: It’s important for us to see athletes in a human light. What do you like outside of basketball?

Atkins: I’m a big nature person! I love going outside and listening to water. That’s my thing! Also hanging out with my family whenever I get a chance. Those are my two biggest things that I like that are my calm factors. I’m really big on my faith too, and anytime I can sit down, be quiet, try to talk to God, and pray, is another calming factor for me. I’m really big on that because I have to make sure I’m good inside before I ever try to do anything.

ONE37pm: Where do you see yourself in the next five or ten years?

Atkins: Hopefully I’ve got some more rings on my hand, and I would like to figure out ways to help my community. I don’t have a foundation in place, but I would like to work with different foundations in my hometown Dallas, and the DC area to figure out how I can use the resources and people that I know to help those communities. It’s something that I am working on now, and I would like to see things in action over the next five to ten years to where foundations can come to either myself or somebody in my circle to get the resources and access that they need.

ONE37pm: You guys are great, but I feel that those of us in the media and general public could do an even better job supporting you all. What do we need to do on our end to continue to help grow the league because the ultimate goal is expansion!

Atkins: Expansion! Say that again! I would say make it visible. Show people! I think that is the biggest thing because the cliche term “Out of sight, Out of mind” is true. If nobody sees the league, and kids/families don’t know what it is, then they aren’t watching. The W has done a good job at making the league visible by linking with Twitter, Google, and things like that. Also just talk about the W! If you are going to a game, ask your friend if they want to come. Small things like that.

ONE37pm: Final Question. Who is Ariel Atkins?

Atkins: That is a heavy question! Who is Ariel Atkins? She’s a good human that just wants to spread love and joy into the world. I love what I do, I’m thankful to do what I love, but I also know that’s not who I am. The biggest parts of me are making sure I’m being a good human, and that I leave the people who cross my paths better than I found them.

One thing is clear, Ariel has a bright future ahead of her with plenty more accomplishments in store. You can continue to keep up with her on Instagram.

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Sports Strength

BMX Rider Nikita Ducarroz Is Ready For The Olympics

The 2021 Summer Olympics is just a few short weeks away, and this go-round will be monumental for a variety of reasons. One of those is the introduction of BMX, which is now officially an Olympic sport. Many athletes will be making their first appearance at the summer games next month, and Swiss/American biker Nikita Ducarroz will be among them. Born in Nice, France, Ducarroz discovered her love for biking over a decade ago and has achieved numerous accolades within that time, including back-to-back podiums at Montpellier in 2017 and 2018, as well as winning Estonia’s Simple Session in 2020.

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Nikita Ducarroz

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Ducarroz has managed to add to her list of career accomplishments, placing 2nd at the UCI World Championship and the USA BMX C1 Woodward PA. Now she is merely days away from putting her talent on display at the sport’s world biggest stage, and ahead of the games, Ducarroz sat down with ONE37pm to discuss her excitement, the importance of women in BMX, and what she hopes to achieve this summer.

ONE37pm: It’s such a pleasure to talk to you Nikita! How have you been?

Ducarroz: I’ve been good! I’m coming off the World Championship and taking a nice little half training half vacation week here in France.

ONE37pm: When did you first discover your love for BMX?

Ducarroz: I started in 2010 when I was fourteen. It kind of happened by accident! I was watching some YouTube videos, and it looked like something that was fun to do. At the time, I had been playing soccer, and my life revolved around it. I had actually just made the decision to stop playing, and BMX jumped out at me. I wanted to try it out, and it took off from there. I started in front of my house, and then I eventually made it to a skatepark and never stopped.

ONE37pm: What has your overall training process been like throughout this pandemic? At one point you were training during lockdown right?

Ducarroz: It was definitely a very interesting time. I was going with the flow. Nobody in the entire world knew what was going on, and we were just taking it one day at a time. I was very fortunate to have moved to North Carolina in March. The day after we arrived, the whole world shut down. I moved to an indoor training facility run by Daniel Dhers, who is another professional rider. We got really lucky because even though everything was shut down, we were able to continue training.

We were able to form our own Covid bubble, and I think we had six different countries that were living there. We all stayed together and didn’t go anywhere else other than the park. We also built this makeshift gym inside of the park with random stuff we all had at the house. Basically, we had this uninterrupted time to focus on training and becoming better on our bikes, which has never happened before because we are always traveling.

ONE37pm: BMX is going to be introduced into this year’s Olympics. How impactful is this moment going to be?

Ducarroz: It’s huge! There’s sort of two sides to it in the sense that the Olympics, in general, are kind of the biggest stage you can get to as an athlete, but on the other hand coming from BMX, growing up, we didn’t train thinking we could make the Olympics because it wasn’t a possibility. When it got announced, it was different and new, but it’s still an opportunity to show the whole world what we are doing. BMX is such an amazing sport, and I think it is not very well known or still looked at as not being a “real sport.” To have an opportunity to share a passion and show the whole world what we are doing is a really cool thing for us.

ONE37pm: What goes through your mind when competing? Do you have an idea beforehand of what you are going to do, or do you go with the flow?

Ducarroz: No, I’ll get to the course, or I’ll have some sort of photo layout. As far as tricks, I work on the tricks that I want to do before, whether it’s things that I like to do or things that I need to do to win a competition. Once I get there, I have to figure out what line I’m going to take on the course. The cool thing is that everyone looks at a park differently. I have my own way of doing tricks, and I build my whole routine around that in terms of hitting the stuff we need for the judges, usage of the court, keeping the routine under 60 seconds, and staying consistent.

ONE37pm: Last Question. What is your ultimate plan for the Olympics?

Ducarroz: I would like to get a medal! Obviously gold would be absolutely unreal, and I think what we are always chasing is that dream run. Being able to stomp exactly what you plan to do coming from working on all of these tricks and spending this whole last year getting better. All I want to do is finish my whole routine, nail every trick, and then at that point, it’s up to the judges to decide if it’s worthy of a medal or not.

We will all be rooting for Nikita in the Olympics. In the meantime you can keep up with her journey on Instagram and Twitter.

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Sports Strength

G-League MVP Devin Cannady Has Big Plans For The Future

Devin Cannady is a name that you have probably heard on multiple occasions already if you are an avid hoops fan. The 25-year-old made waves in the sports community earlier this year as a member of the Lakeland Magic’s championship squad, where he was named G-League MVP in the Finals game. It’s always a good feeling to add the word championship (and MVP) to your resume, and for Cannady, the success has been a long time coming.

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Devin Cannady

Signing with Lakeland in January, Cannady averaged 11.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 13 games, while also shooting .400 from beyond the arc. His performance through both the regular season and postseason (both of which were condensed and spent in a bubble setting in Orlando due to the Coronavirus pandemic), earned him the respect of his peers and colleagues, netting him an opportunity to sign a two-way contract with the Orlando Magic this past April.

While Cannady is a monster and fiercely competitive on the court, off the court he is your typical normal and humble guy aiming to be the best at what he does, while also keeping an active presence in the community and being a positive example to the younger generation of athletes who look up to him.

Cannady spoke with ONE37pm’s Jael Rucker to talk about his great season, his off the court hobbies, and plans for the future.

ONE37pm: Let’s take it back to earlier this year. You played with the Lakeland Magic where you guys won the G-League championship and you were named MVP. What was that experience like? I know some have said that it was a tough experience.

Cannady: Yes it was! First let me take a step back because it was so unique of a season. Usually there are 28 G-League teams, and I think the league only took half of those teams. If you look at it from a number’s perspective, you have a lot of really talented guys who are all hungry to make an NBA roster, and that pool was shrunk in half. You are looking at some of the best G-League guys, and a lot of them got left out of going to the bubble. Just to go down there and have a season with Covid and all of the restrictions we’ve dealt with over the past year was a blessing within itself.

When Covid happened last year, I was with the Long Island Nets, and I committed to staying positive and being ready for an opportunity if it presented itself. Going to the bubble was everything that I had prepared for the previous eight or nine months, and it was super challenging. You had to go through two weeks of Covid tests, return them negative, and sacrifice time away from family and society. You were in the bubble for one goal which was to show that you can play at an NBA level and win. At the end of the day, my belief is that NBA teams want to sign guys from the G-League that can play a role on their team and help contribute to winning. Those were my two focuses going into the bubble, we walked away with the championship, and I was honored with that Finals MVP the last game. It was a roller coaster experience for sure, but we accomplished those goals.

ONE37pm: For those that may not know, what did a day in the life look like for you guys in the bubble?

Cannady: Every team stayed at Coronado Springs Resort down at Walt Disney World. There were four or five casitas, and you had fifteen to eighteen teams all kind of sectioned in their respective locations. A typical day in the G-League bubble consisted of breakfast, and a team film session or practice depending on the day. One of the biggest challenges that I didn’t expect was not having unlimited court time. For us elite athletes in general, getting on the court and getting those reps in—especially in a bubble situation where you couldn’t do too much was tough. You had a three hour window, and sometimes it wasn’t even everyday. Three times a week we would have a game, and the remaining two would be that three hour practice window.

You had to be pretty efficient and dialed in when you had those times because if you were late or your team was going over in practice time, your rhythm and flow may or may not have been there during the games. In a condensed season where only eight teams made the playoffs and a handful of guys end up getting selected to be call up candidates, having your rhythm and flow was important because every game, second, and possession mattered.

There was a sense of urgency being in that bubble on a day to day basis whether your body felt good or you had a good game the night before, and again, you didn’t have your family and friends there for support. You had to trust in your coaching staff, teammates, yourself, and buy into the team environment because that is all you had down there. Lakeland had a great group of guys, and we really grew into being a family which you could see on the court and especially during the playoffs.

ONE37pm: We have a lot of younger athletes and sports fans who are going to be reading this who I am sure are going to be inspired by your journey thus far. How would you say your previous experiences prepared you for what you have accomplished this year, and what advice do you have for the younger generation?

Cannady: I’m a guy who went undrafted in 2019. I’m a guy who didn’t have any high major offers coming out of high school. I went to the number one school academically in the nation in Princeton University, which isn’t a well known basketball school by any means in today’s day and age. For me, if you look at my story, holistically you would see setbacks, being overlooked and underrated throughout my whole career. To be in the NBA in April 2021, and the G-League champion and MVP in March during Covid in a bubble came down to the decisions that I made, and the commitment I made to where I wanted to be.

When it comes to speaking to younger athletes, they have opportunities to play whether it’s in college, overseas, the G-League, or even the Overtime League that has been created. For me personally, I have started my own business and brand called “Run Your Own Race” that attests to everything that I just spoke of, and the opportunities and decisions that anyone can make as long as you commit, have belief, and have a plan as well as faith. It’s your race, so don’t compare it to someone who may look like they are more successful than you or where you are at right now.

I stay completely focused on myself, my journey, and trying to be the best version of myself everyday. You’ll be presented with an opportunity to achieve your goals if you are ready for it, and even if you don’t necessarily achieve it in that moment, it’s another growing opportunity. That is how I look at life.

ONE37pm: As athletes you guys are so great at what you do, but you are also humans and real people. What are your talents and dreams outside of basketball?

Cannady: Honestly I think I like just being light, joyful, and happy. I read a lot of books because I do enjoy reading motivational books, and biographies/autobiographies of inspirational people that I look to as trailblazers like Malcolm X, Barack Obama, and athletes who came before me who have overcome immense obstacles. I take those things and try to apply them to my life. I’m also the oldest of four siblings, and I do feel like I’m a leader. When I go about my day to day activities and decisions, I keep my family in mind always. 

I also like to have a good time! I play video games and 2K religiously. It’s funny because I’ve played the MyCareer story mode ever since I was young, and now they actually have me as a character in the game! To come full circle like that has been really cool! Also a lot of people don’t know this, but I love acting and impersonating. Who knows, maybe there is a career in T.V. or movies in the future so we’ll see. Right now I’m focused on basketball though!

ONE37pm: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Cannady: In the next five years I see myself on an NBA roster, and an NBA champion having reached communities across the world by providing resources to basketball, education, and potentially health care. I see myself giving back throughout that time, and just being a more mature, refined version of myself with a community mindset while also bringing love, and hopefully, inspiring people who look at me as themselves. You know Devin Cannady, the guy that went undrafted and didn’t have the offers coming out of college who committed everyday to being the best version of himself. Hopefully, in five years I’m on a bigger stage where people can look to me as someone they look up to.

ONE37pm: Last but not least, what do you want the world to know about Devin Cannady?

Cannady: When it comes to adversity and setbacks, I think I am someone who has experienced that from the smallest of things to really big things like having an NBA contract, just making it to the league, and being set down with an injury. I’ve wanted to be at this stage my whole life and it’s been my dream since I was five years old. To be there, feel that moment, know that I belong there, and have that taken away really hurt, and I definitely for the first week and a half felt the weight of that. Your mental health is your top priority! You can lift weights and run as much as you want, but if you aren’t in the right headspace it can affect you.

I want people to know that adversity and failure is a part of life, but if you have the ability and people around you who support you while you work through those things, there is a lot of great on the other side. I hope to be a living testimony of that for where I’m going in the next couple of months, and I hope you and the people watching come along because I think it’s going to be special!

Indeed it’s going to be special.You can follow and keep up with Devin on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok for all of his latest updates.

Categories
Sports Strength

ONE37pm’s WNBA Friday Preview For June 11th

It feels like it was just yesterday that we were talking about last Friday’s matchups, but alas here we are again with another round of Friday night games. Let’s take a moment to recap some of the biggest moments of the week thus far. Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun and Jewell Loyd (who hit a sick buzzer beater against the Dallas Wings last Friday) of the Seattle Storm were named the Eastern and Western Conference Players of The Week, and Candace Parker came back just in time for her home debut with the Chicago Sky (Parker had previously missed three weeks due to an ankle injury) to help snap their seven game losing streak. Now as we approach the weekend, we have a new slate of games to look forward to, and similar to last week we only have two games tonight. If last Friday was any indication though, the games should be super good. So let’s get into it.

Seattle Storm vs Atlanta Dream

The first game of the night is of course Seattle vs Atlanta. Seattle and ATL actually faced each other Wednesday Night, and Seattle handled the dream pretty easily. It’s understatement to say that the Storm is a well seasoned team that is tough to beat, but Atlanta has a ton of talent as well that can fire on all cylinders, and they have looked good these first couple of weeks of the season. Games like their overtime win against the New York Liberty (who were red hot) on May 29th, show their true capabilities, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two losses have come in the aftermath of Chennedy’s elbow injury (at the moment a return date isn’t known). Chennedy is such a vital part of the lineup, and the Dream are nearly impossible to defeat when she can get 20 points or more. Needless to say, when one goes down, that’s when you have to gather as a group to still get the job done.

As far as Seattle, by now we are all aware of who the Storm are and what they do. In short, the Storm are gonna Storm, and everybody did their part Wednesday night to get the W. The Storm look great, almost like a team that is picking up right where they left off from their championship campaign last year. Again it’s far too early to start making postseason predictions, but man do they look good. If they have a performance similar to Wednesday’s game, then they could very well walk out of Atlanta with another win.

Prediction: The Storm Beats The Dream On The Road

Dallas Wings vs Phoenix Mercury

This is another “repeat” matchup. Dallas and Phoenix faced each other on Tuesday night, and it was an Arike vs Skylar showdown with both scoring 22 points. The Wings were able to slip one away from the Mercury on the road, winning 85-81, and I’d venture to say that tonight’s game will probably be another close matchup that goes down to the wire. Diana Taurasi is still out, which is a bummer because that would make this game even more fun, but Brittney Griner had herself a monster game with 27 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 assists. If BG has another performance like that, I think it will be very hard for the Mercury to drop a second straight game at home.

Now onto Dallas. Arike Ogunbowale was her usual stellar self notching, but she also got the contributions of her teammates, making the win a total team effort. Satou Sabally and Marina Mabrey brought in 11 and 14 points respectively, while Isabelle Harrison, Kayla Thorton, and Allisha Gray each scored 9 points. The Wings matchup well against the Storm, and proved that Tuesday night when they grabbed the win. They too will need another similar team production effort if they want to steal one more on the road against Phoenix.

Prediction: Phoenix Get Their Revenge At Home

That’s going to do it for this week! Be sure to tune into the games tonight, and follow me on Twitter as I will have some cool surprises coming soon.

Categories
Sports Strength

ONE37pm’s WNBA Preview for the Weekend of June 4th

It’s hard to believe that we are officially in weekend number four of what has been an eventful start to the new campaign. Right now we are sort of in this space of the season still being new, but not brand new anymore if you know what I mean. Unfortunately there have been some key injuries to players such as Candace Parker who is still out with a nagging ankle injury, and Diana Taurasi who has also missed time, but there have been plenty of bright spots as well. Kia Nurse hit an incredible half-court buzzer beater in Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Sky, and Betnijah Laney and Brittney Griner rightfully earned Player of the Week honors for their performances last week. The Liberty as a whole look good to start the year, and it will be interesting to see their season evolution alongside some of the other teams who have had good starts like Connecticut, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Atlanta. We’re in a good groove.

This week’s roundup of Friday night games are slightly different compared to the previous three we’ve done thus far because there are only two games as opposed to four, which is a little sad because we definitely enjoy a full Friday night schedule. This looks to be the case for the next couple of weeks so maybe we’ll experiment with throwing a couple of Saturday previews in the mix. Let us know if that is something you would be interested in. For now though, this is what we have to look forward to.

Atlanta Dream vs Minnesota Lynx

Minnesota was having a tough start to their season, but to be fair, they weren’t able to fully find their cohesiveness as a unit due to roster changes, injuries, and as we mentioned last week, missing key players Naphessa Collier and Kayla McBride through training camp and these first couple of weeks due to them being overseas. However things are starting to look up as the Lynx got their first win of the season this past Sunday in an overtime effort against the Connecticut Sun. That victory was a team effort with Sylvia Fowles being her usual dominant self scoring 24 points, and McBride and Collier both bringing in 11. Damiris Dantas added 9 points, new addition Layshia Clarendon scored 12 points, and the Lynx were able to take down a Suns team who had been previously been rolling. If they have a similar performance, they could very well get the win in front of their home crowd.

Now onto ATL. The Dream themselves are coming off an overtime victory against the New York Liberty, and have looked good these first couple of weeks. Courtney Williams went off with an incredible statline of 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists, and had the help of her teammates with Chennedy Carter, Tiffany Hayes, and Elizabeth Williams all bringing in 12 points. The Dream seem to be clicking with their two losses being the first two games of the season thus far. I’d say the Dream and Minnesota are pretty evenly matched now, and this could end up being a close game that goes down to the wire.

Prediction: Minnesota will get the win at home.

2. Dallas Wings vs Seattle Storm

Moving on to Dallas vs Seattle. Tonight is the first of a back to back matchup between the two teams. Dallas is coming off a win against the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday night, and while they only have one other win at the moment (which was also against the Sparks), there have been some positive signs even within their losses as all of those games were decided by less than ten points. Tyasha Harris was the leading scorer that night with 18 points, and many of the Wings players also hit double figures as well including Kayla Thorton (15 points) and Arike Ogunbowale (14 points). If the Wings can manage to split their series with Seattle, that could give them some momentum for their back to back matchup against the Phoenix Mercury (which is also on the road).

Now over to the Storm. Noelle Quinn’s coaching debut was a success Tuesday night as Seattle defeated the Indiana Fever in the third night of their five game homestand. Seattle hasn’t lost since their May 18th matchup against the Las Vegas Aces, and are winning pretty handily. The Storm are super tough to beat in general, but that task is especially difficult when they are at home. The usual suspects (Stewie, Jewell Loyd, Sue Bird) have been at it again this season, and while it is still way too early to throw in postseason predictions, the defending champs are making it clear that they are going to be hard to dethrone.

Prediction: Seattle also gets the win at home

You can catch all of the weekend games on League Pass, so make sure you get your if you haven’t already.