Middleton leads Bucks in 130-105 breeze by Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Khris Middleton had 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in three quarters, as the Milwaukee Bucks breezed to a 130-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.

Brook Lopez added 18 points and eight rebounds, Jrue Holiday pitched in 15 points and three steals, and the Bucks built a lead as big as 30 points early in the fourth quarter on the way to their second consecutive blowout. After losing six of nine games, the Bucks beat Orlando 124-87 on Sunday.

“It was a great effort all around, from everybody who stepped on the court,” Middleton said. “Just trying to play the right way, compete, defend.”

The Bucks played without the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player award winner, Giannis Antetokoumpo, because of left knee soreness for the sixth straight game. They’re 3-3 without him in this stretch.

Milwaukee, which is in control of the No. 3 seed for the playoffs, entered the evening with a three-game deficit behind Brooklyn and Philadelphia. The conference co-leaders were set to play on Wednesday night.

Anthony Edwards scored 24 points on 5-for-11 shooting from 3-point range for the Timberwolves, who have lost 11 of their past 15 games.

The Bucks scored 45 points in the third quarter, their second-highest period of the season that allowed coach Mike Budenholzer to rest Middleton, Holiday and Lopez for the final period with a back-to-back game looming against Atlanta.

Middleton, who had shooting performances of 4 for 16 and 6 for 27 on a road trip earlier this month, again showed his ability to shrug off a mini-slump. He’s 17 for 28 over the past two games.

“He has that confidence, and that’s why he’s the player he is,” Lopez said.

Middleton had 13 points in the third quarter alone.

“I loved that he kept finding ways to get opportunities,” Budenholzer said, adding: “The off nights are the blips. Those are the outliers.”


The Timberwolves were also missing their best player, Karl-Anthony Towns, for the second consecutive game. His absence was for personal reasons, surrounding the one-year anniversary of the death of his mother due to COVID-19.

After trailing Brooklyn by as many as 45 points in a 127-97 loss on Tuesday to a Nets team missing stars James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the Timberwolves were just as overmatched against another Eastern Conference power with Towns out of the lineup.

“Yesterday was flat. Today was soft. Not a lot of resistance to anything that we did,” coach Chris Finch said. “Our competitive spirit, again, has gone back down.”

The normally ebullient Edwards was especially glum in his postgame video interview.

Asked why the team has lost so lopsidedly this week, Edwards said, “Not caring about winning. That’s it. That’s the biggest thing.”


The game was played with the seats empty with the tip-off time moved up 3 1/2 hours as a safety precaution, given ongoing tension in the Twin Cities area following the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man.

Players from both teams again donned black warmup shirts reading, “With liberty and justice for all,” with the last two words underlined and in all caps for emphasis, and Timberwolves coaches wore them on the bench too.

With the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last summer, these teams have led the calls for racial justice as much as any in the league.

“That’s nothing, being able to change and get ready for whatever time tip-off was going to be,” Lopez said. “The real resilience is those people out in the streets dealing with injustices like this.”


Bucks: P.J. Tucker played for the first time in 11 games because of a strained left calf. He was scoreless in 10 minutes on a playing time restriction. … The season high quarter score for the Bucks is 48 points in the first period on March 22 against Indiana.

Timberwolves: Edwards notched his 25th game with 20-plus points, the most among NBA rookies. The franchise record is held by Christian Laettner, with 33 such games in the 1992-93 season. … Naz Reid, starting again for Towns, had nine points and a season-high 15 rebounds in 30 minutes.


Bucks: Visit the Hawks on Thursday, their first of two trips to Atlanta in an 11-day span.

Timberwolves: Host former teammate Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat on Friday. Towns and Josh Okogie are the only players remaining who overlapped with Butler.


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Interview: Kentucky governor sees useful lessons in pandemic

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday there are lessons to be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic – from a greater sense of shared responsibility to the outsized role social media plays in a crisis.

The first-term Democrat, who intends to run for reelection in 2023 in a state Republicans have dominated in recent years, downplayed questions about the political consequences of restrictions he imposed across many aspects of life in Kentucky to slow the virus’s spread.

Beshear remains popular in Kentucky but is likely to face a tough political battle in Republican-trending Kentucky. If his record in fighting the virus generates “negative repercussions, I’m ready for them,” he said. “If it comes with positive outcomes, OK. But that’s not why I’m doing it.”

And he’s already looking beyond the pandemic that has claimed more than 6,200 lives in Kentucky, a state of more than 4 million.

The state’s post-pandemic economy is “set to take off,” Beshear said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. He pointed to recent discussions with business prospects regarding potential billion-dollar-plus projects in Kentucky, noting that there’s more interest in “larger projects and expansions than at any point in my lifetime.”

Despite the divisions over mask wearing and restrictions on a cross-section of activities, the fight against the coronavirus “has taught us how connected we all are in what we thought was a disconnected world,” Beshear said.

For an activist governor who calls health care a basic human right, Beshear said that shared responsibility could have big consequences for future U.S. policies.

“In a world that sometimes said ‘you need to go out and do the best for just yourself and your family,’ now we know that our decisions have impacts on the people around us,” he said. “In the pandemic … every choice we made could have a positive or negative impact on the health – or even the life and death – of an individual.

“And now that we have spent a year and a couple months living for each other, and sacrificing for each other, I think we’ve got a chance to be better people coming out of this,” Beshear added.

Beshear – who has faced protests, lawsuits and impeachment petitions over his virus-related executive actions – criticized the role of “out of control” social media platforms in promoting “sensationalism” that in turn grabbed headlines during the pandemic. Those social media sites can make “a small group appear a lot larger than it is,” the governor said.

Beshear has faced steady criticism and occasional protests over his actions. Armed protesters gathered near the governor’s home last year and then hanged Beshear in effigy in a tree near the State Capitol. The event was billed as a rally in defense of constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms, but turned into a protest against the governor’s virus restrictions.

Earlier this year, Beshear pointed to a social media video that warned the governor risked being struck down by God unless he rescinded a COVID-19 order from applying to churches. The video showed a gun behind the man.

Beshear faced petitions this year seeking his impeachment. A Republican-led legislative panel recommended that the governor not face removal from office and the matter died after that.

The governor said Wednesday that he separated virus-related decisions from politics, and insisted that “the vast majority” of Kentuckians know his actions were necessary. That includes people who voted against him when he ousted Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in 2019.

“I can’t tell you how many times somebody has come up to me and said, ‘You know, I didn’t vote for you and I don’t apologize for it, but you’ve done a good job and I appreciate it.’ I get more of those every day than we ever see people at a protest,” Beshear said.

In two years, Beshear said he hopes the dominant issues are “how we’re doing then.”

“If in 2023 when I‘m up, if people aren’t thinking about the pandemic any more, then I’ve done my job,” he said. “Now whether that’s good or bad politically, again I can live with that. If it’s us defeating this virus this year, which I want to do, if it’s us defeating the virus this summer, which I hope we do, and that means it’s no longer on people’s minds by that point, good for us.”

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‘My mother’s fertility doctor is my father’

When a DNA test revealed a decades-old family secret, Maia’s life was turned upside down. What she learned next was even more disturbing.

Maia and her sister now believe a fertility doctor used his own sperm to artificially inseminate their mother – and he may be the biological father to many others. This is how her family’s life has changed since the discovery.

Video by Angélica M Casas

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Immigrant health care is on California Senate’s wish list

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Democrats in the California Senate said Wednesday they want to spend the state’s projected multibillion-dollar budget surplus on things such as making college debt-free for students, paying for the health care of some older, low-income adults living in the country illegally and partnering with first-time homebuyers in the state’s expensive market.

The proposal from Senate Democrats, who hold 31 of the chamber’s 40 seats, stands as a rough draft of how the budget in the nation’s most populous state might look later this year once negotiations are complete.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, outlined his spending proposal in January. But since then, California’s coffers have swelled because of better-than-expected tax collections and $26 billion in federal coronavirus aid for the state.

When the number crunchers sort everything out, California could have more than $45 billion in new money to spend this year, giving lawmakers financial whiplash following last year’s budget that cut spending and raised taxes to cover a projected $54.3 billion deficit stemming from the pandemic.

Newsom will update his budget proposal next month. Senate Democrats revealed their own proposal Monday, with the Senate leader calling it “probably more ambitious than any legislative budget proposal in memory.”

“We have a once in a generation opportunity to make transformative change for California,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, who has dubbed the plan “Build Back Boldly.”

Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk said the Democrats’ plan “shows that they still mistakenly believe we can just throw money at problems when fundamental changes are needed,” citing the state’s struggles to timely pay unemployment benefits while losing billions of dollars to fraudulent claims.

“Democrats wouldn’t need to ‘build back boldly’ if they hadn’t broken it in the first place,” Wilk said.

California home prices, among the highest in the nation, have jumped more than 20% during the pandemic, putting the median price of a single-family home at nearly $700,000 in January. The Senate‘s proposal would set aside an unspecified amount in a fund dedicated to helping first-time homebuyers.

In one example offered by Senate leaders, if a house cost $400,000, the fund could cover $180,000 of it so the buyer would only have to pay $220,000. This would make the fund a minority owner of the house. The state would sell shares of the fund to investors who would earn money based on the value of the homes, with the capital gains exempt from state taxes.

The buyers would still have to pay for all of the maintenance, property taxes and insurance. And they could buy out the fund’s share of the home at any time at the current fair market price. Details about who and what homes would be eligible were not available, but Senate leaders said it would be based on the price of the home and the prospective buyer’s income.

“Owning a home fundamentally changes a family, and it is the fastest way to wealth creation in our country,” said state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas. “The state is at its lowest home ownership since the 1940s. We have to do better.”

The Senate budget plan would also give government-funded health insurance to low-income adults 65 and older who are living in the country illegally. California already provides for children and adults up to 26. Expanding it to people 65 and older would cost roughly $100 million, Senate leaders said.

The plan would eventually cover all eligible adults regardless of their immigration status, but it’s unclear how much that would cost or when it would take effect. Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley and chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said that part of the proposal needs more work.

To help students pay for college without borrowing money, Senate Democrats want to expand the state’s Cal Grant program, which gives people money for school that they don’t have to pay back. The proposal would expand one type of grant to pay for full tuition. It would also expand a state tax deduction on student loan payments and make all lower and middle income students at the state’s two university systems eligible for a state scholarship.

“The Senate‘s debt free college approach will help support and expand pathways out of poverty, building back a strong middle class,” said state Sen. John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz.

Lawmakers must pass a state spending plan by June 15. If they don’t, state law says they don’t get paid.

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EXPLAINER: Chauvin defense suggests prone position not risky

CHICAGO (AP) – The attorney for the former officer charged with killing George Floyd says several studies suggest police can safely use their bodyweight to hold a handcuffed suspect facedown on the ground – or prone – as Floyd was in the last minutes of his life.

But those findings aren’t universally accepted and have been contradicted by a parade of law enforcement and medical experts central to prosecutors’ efforts to convict Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter.


Bystander and surveillance camera video shows Floyd on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back, pinned to the ground by three officers.

Chauvin was closest to Floyd‘s head, and a use-of-force expert testified that Chauvin applied pressure to Floyd‘s neck area for 9 minutes, 29 seconds.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson suggested Chauvin‘s knee was not on Floyd‘s neck for that entire time, but moved to his upper back, shoulder blades and arm.


Medical experts testified for the prosecution that the prone position cuts lung volume, reduces oxygen levels and makes it harder to breathe.

They also pointed to Chauvin‘s knee on Floyd‘s neck, his body being pressed against the hard asphalt and his head being turned to the side as factors that prevented Floyd from breathing, resulting in his death.


Nelson leaned on studies conducted by doctors at the University of California San Diego that concluded prone positions are not inherently risky.

Prosecutors showed jurors one photo of participants in a 2013 study laid on their stomach on a gymnastics mat, hands and feet tied together behind them. A disc-shaped weight rests on a towel covering one of the 25 volunteer’s bare back while researchers monitored the effect on his heart.

The researchers acknowledged that limitations included the generally healthy volunteers between the ages of 22 and 42 and the study’s controlled environment. They tested weights totaling 50 and 100 pounds (23 and 46 kilograms) and acknowledged it’s “possible larger amounts of force are used in actual practice in the field.” The source of the study’s funding was not provided.

A spokeswoman for UC San Diego Health on Wednesday said the researchers declined to speak with The Associated Press about their work and its role in the trial.

A retired medical examiner testifying for the defense, Dr. David Fowler, also described a Canadian law enforcement study on the use of prone positioning during arrests; it found no fatalities among about 3,000 arrests. That information was provided by police officers and the Canadian government paid for the research.

The study’s authors said they didn’t know how long officers held suspects in the prone position or whether the officers used their bodyweight to hold them down.


Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, said he has testified opposite the authors of several of the studies referenced during Chauvin’s trial. Alpert considers them flawed recreations of interactions between police and citizens.

He said police agencies have adopted training that recommends limiting the amount of time someone spends in the prone position – a clear sign that it is dangerous.

The U.S. Department of Justice warned agencies of the risks more than 25 years ago. Among the recommendations in that 1995 bulletin: “As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach.”

Alpert recalled the words of a police trainer in Florida: “The ground is your friend and then it becomes angry.”

Minneapolis committed to training officers on the dangers of positional asphyxia in a $3 million settlement following the 2010 death of David Smith, whom officers subdued with a Taser and pinned face down for minutes.

Steven Bird, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said restraining and weighing down volunteers is “completely different” to police holding handcuffed suspects to the ground.

“You can’t do a study that would adequately recapitulate the circumstances under which the patient died in restraint,” he said.


Legal experts say the case against Chauvin boils down to two questions: Did his actions cause Floyd’s death? Were those actions reasonable?

Nelson says Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s drug use and underlying health conditions caused his death. He’s hoping jurors will agree the research supports those arguments.

But several prosecution experts testified that Floyd died due to lack of oxygen because of how the officers were holding him down. Even the Minneapolis Police Department’s chief said Floyd should not have been pinned to the pavement for 9 1/2 minutes. Police officials also said Minneapolis officers are trained to turn suspects on their sides once handcuffed to ease breathing.

One use-of-force expert said no “reasonable” officer would have done what Chauvin did.


Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital and Loyola University’s medical school in Illinois, testified that the research involving weights on volunteers’ backs “highly misleading.”

The force of an officer’s knee, Tobin said, is 10 times greater than a large, flat weight spread over a volunteer’s upper back, and no study has pressed a weight onto someone’s neck.

“I suspect you’d have major trouble getting that through the ethics committee in any medical school,” Tobin said.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell on Wednesday aggressively questioned the studies’ relevance to Floyd‘s experience, getting Fowler, the former medical examiner, to acknowledge that the research did not examine the effect of a knee pressing into someone’s neck or keep weight on subjects for the same length of time Floyd was kept on the ground.


Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

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IndyCar opens season with stacked rookie class chasing Dixon

Jimmie Johnson, Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean, oh my! That’s quite the rookie class for IndyCar, which opens the season Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama stacked with storylines throughout the grid.

Johnson brings seven NASCAR championships to Chip Ganassi Racing for a career reset at 45 years old. Although he always wanted to be an IndyCar driver, his opportunities came in stock cars until Johnson was able to call his own shots.

The transition will be incredibly difficult. The opening practice Saturday on the road course will be the first for Johnson, who will be doing nearly everything for the first time this weekend.

“If there’s a rocky day, am I going to be surprised? Probably not,” team owner Ganassi said Wednesday. “He’s a damn hard worker. He sets the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team.

“I mean, the guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against when racing against him in NASCAR, and now I’ve got a little feel for it.”

Grosjean comes to IndyCar from Formula One, where he’d grown frustrated at team disparity that prevented him from winning in nine seasons. His F1 career came to an abrupt halt after a fiery November crash in Bahrain; and instead of taking a ride with another team not capable of winning, the Frenchman signed with Dale Coyne Racing.

Like Johnson, Grosjean does not plan to race the four ovals on IndyCar’s 17-race schedule.

McLaughlin is the three-time defending Australian V8 SuperCars champion who moved to the United States to drive the full season for Team Penske and will resurrect the iconic “Yellow Submarine” paint scheme in the Indianapolis 500 driven by Penske winners Helio Castroneves, Rick Mears, and Johnny Rutherford.

“I didn’t think I’d be racing Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean. It’s crazy. Very exciting,” McLaughlin said. “It just shows what IndyCar is all about right now. I hope the fans relish it.”

McLaughlin should easily take top rookie honors because he’s running the full schedule, but he’s got his sights set on winning races and even competing for the championship. But the competition is fierce starting at the top with six-time champion Scott Dixon and within Team Penske.

Dixon will be trying to tie A.J. Foyt’s record seven championships while leading an expanded Ganassi organization. The team will field four cars this season with only Marcus Ericsson returning for a second year. Dixon will be acclimating to new teammates Johnson and second-year IndyCar driver Alex Palou.

Dixon in 20 seasons has never won back-to-back titles but his current streak of two in the last three years is the best of his career. He turns 41 this July but noted Tom Brady recently won a sixth Super Bowl at 43.

“I don’t think you can ever really put a time scale on it or an age or anything like that,” Dixon said. “I think we’ve seen the longevity, not just in our sport but across sports in general, there’s so many different ways, whether it’s the mental game or training or anything like that.”

Penske has three IndyCar champions on its roster: Josef Newgarden has two titles, while Simon Pagenaud and Will Power each have one. Power has confirmed he’s in a contract year this season while Pagenaud declined to comment; Roger Penske said contract talks are ongoing with all his drivers, but he’s generally been on record as opposed to fielding four teams.

Penske has plenty on his plate beyond driver contracts as he begins his second season as owner of both IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His first year of ownership was decimated by the pandemic and he was forced to host the Indianapolis 500 without spectators for the first time in history.

He’s confident there will be fans this Memorial Day weekend – he wants the full 400,000 – and has held mass vaccination clinics at the speedway. IndyCar believes at least 90% of the paddock will have received at least the first shot by the time the the season begins Sunday. Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., said the series is considering regular COVID-19 testing for participants who choose not to receive the vaccine.

Penske is also negotiating a new television package as NBC enters the season in the final year of its contract. IndyCar will have a record nine races on network TV this season, but NBC has moved many practice sessions to its subscription streaming services and made production cuts that viewers will notice – Paul Tracy, for example, will be color analyst for just seven events as the network will use a two-person booth for the remaining 10.

Penske wouldn’t speculate on potential television partners and said he’s still learning about streaming services.

“We don’t really talk about the negotiations we’re having right now for the future, but we certainly want to have a broadcast partner as we go into the future, and if that entails streaming and other aspects of what might be available, we’re looking at all of those,” Penske said.


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Covid vaccines: ‘I jumped at the chance to get my jab early’

A 30-year-old man says he “jumped at the chance” when he was offered a Covid-19 jab earlier than expected.

Lawrence Dixon, from Cardiff, said he signed up to the reserve list in the morning and received a phone call in the evening asking if he wanted to come down for a vaccine.

Dr Emma Ynhell, also 30 and from Cardiff, received the jab after she spotted people “chatting about it on social media” and signed up to the reserve list.

Cardiff and Vale health board said it was a mistake that people in their 30s had been offered reserve slots so soon.

Although she said it was important no doses of vaccines went to waste, Ms Meredith told BBC Radio Wales that staff had been reminded to give older people the opportunity first.

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Playoff berths at stake as FCS regular season winds down

The final weekend for most leagues playing FCS spring football has arrived with 11 of the 16 spots in the pandemic-shortened 16-team playoffs field still to be determined.

Weber State (Big Sky), Monmouth (Big South), Sacred Heart (Northeast), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley) and Sam Houston (Southland) have already earned automatic berths as conference champions. Top-ranked James Madison and No. 2 North Dakota State have league championships on the line Saturday, though both are likely to be in the field regardless of the outcomes.

James Madison (4-0, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) hosts No. 11 Richmond (3-0, 3-0), the third time the teams have been scheduled to play this year. Each program was responsible for one postponement because of COVID-19 protocols.

The Dukes, who have played just once since March 6, need the game to meet the CAA’s three-game requirement to qualify for the conference’s automatic bid; Richmond needs the game to meet the NCAA’s four-game minimum requirement for at-large consideration. Either school, as well as Delaware (4-0, 3-0), which faces Villanova (2-1, 2-1), could wind up as the automatic qualifier from the CAA.

The Bison (6-1, 5-1 Missouri Valley), winners of eight of the last nine national titles, play host to No. 4 South Dakota State (4-1, 4-1). The loser will be eliminated from the MVC championship race, and the winner would share it with Missouri State (5-4, 5-1) and possibly North Dakota (4-1, 4-1), which plays Youngstown State (1-6, 1-6).

The CAA and Missouri Valley could each get at least two of the six at-large berths, and Eastern Washington (5-1, 5-1 Big Sky) is likely to lay claim to another.

VMI will win the Southern Conference’s automatic bid for the first time if it beats The Citadel, or if Mercer loses at Samford. Bucknell and Holy Cross are meeting for the Patriot League title, and Davidson needs only to beat visiting Stetson to claim the Pioneer Football League’s automatic berth, which would be the first in Wildcats history.


Deion Sanders probably wished he could have suited up.

Instead, the All Pro cornerback could only watch Alabama A&M; quarterback Aqeel Glass light up his Jackson State squad with six TD passes in the Bulldogs’ 52-43 victory.

Glass finished with 440 passing yards and also had a 5-yard TD run as the Bulldogs (3-0, 2-0 Southwest Athletic Conference) scored their most points against a Division I opponent in 12 years.

Alabama A&M; coach Connell Maynor said having Sanders on the other sideline is “good for Black college football. It’s good for Jackson State. It’s good for the SWAC.”

Benefits from Sanders’ arrival as the Tigers’ coach include additional exposure for the league, as well as a sponsorship deal with Pepsi that he helped broker for the SWAC.

“He’s making a big splash in a positive way to help generate money for HBCUs and Black college football and the SWAC,” Maynor said. “It’s only going to help our league.”


Montana is only playing two games this spring, and based on how the first one went, their normal opponents are probably thrilled to have been left off the schedule.

Undeterred by snow flurries and the rust of 485 days without a game, the Grizzlies needed just three minutes to score, amassed 529 yards of offense and got points on eight consecutive possessions in a 59-3 victory against Division II Central Washington.

Montana plays its only other game at home Saturday against Portland State.


Jaylan Adams, quarterback at The Citadel, earned Southern Conference offensive player of the week honors despite not completing a pass. Adams did run for 98 yards, including scoring runs of 25 and 43 yards, in the Bulldogs’ 26-7 victory over Furman. His misfired on both of his pass attempts. … Northwestern State and Incarnate Word combined for two touchdowns and a field goal in the last 88 seconds with Eddie Godina’s 32-yard field goal on the final play giving Northwestern State a 49-47 victory. The Demons scored with 1:28 left, but Incarnate Word blocked the extra point and scored 33 seconds later to lead 47-46. Godina’s field goal came on the final play of a four-play, 58-yard drive.


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Pandemic making NFL draft’s small school gems harder to find

Those diamonds in the rough selected in the late rounds of NFL drafts or signed as undrafted free agents are more like hidden gems this year.

Fewer schools outside the Football Bowl Subdivision hosted pro days this year, meaning college players from smaller schools with NFL hopes didn’t get the same exposure they would have otherwise from campus workouts in front of scouts.

Only three Football Championship Subdivision schools and one in Division III had pro days scheduled compared with 48 in the FCS and nine in Division II in 2019, the last year with a draft leadup unaffected by COVID-19.

“Every year we’ve had a guy shock us in the 40, a guy shock us in the 225 bench press, shock us in the broad jump. You won’t get to see that this year,” said Scorpio Horn, the Missouri Western defensive coordinator who’s the liaison to the NFL for the Division II school in St. Joseph, Missouri.

“The only guys from small schools that will get that opportunity are the dominant guys that are first-day or next-day guys. Everybody knows who they are. Those guys get an opportunity and the scouts see them, but it’s that one diamond in the rough that we’ll allow to come.”

There were 112 pro days this year, according to NFL.com. That compares with 171 in 2019, 196 in 2018 and 230 in 2017.

For the second straight year, NFL teams cut back on travel for scouts and personnel people as a precaution against COVID-19. With the February scouting combine in Indianapolis canceled, the importance of pro days was heightened, and smaller school players with established profiles were directed to the nearest big school pro days.

Another pandemic-related reason for fewer pro days was that many non-FBS schools that typically host them did not this year because their teams are playing this spring after having their fall seasons postponed.

The only FCS pro days this year were at Central Arkansas, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, according to NFL.com. Only two players worked out at Central Arkansas and SDSU and three at NDSU, down from normal years at all three schools. SDSU and NDSU are playing this spring.

“Is this maybe a year some of those later rounds there are less diamond-in-the rough picks? Potentially,” said Wisconsin-Whitewater tight ends coach and director of operations Tim Shields, a former player agent.

“If you’re choosing between someone at Missouri Western who you were only able to see once versus three of your scouts at Northwestern seeing someone work out, maybe this is the time you take the Northwestern kid because you have a more complete evaluation on the Northwestern kid.”

Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater held a pro day that drew representatives of all 32 teams but only because its Senior Bowl revelation, offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz, warranted a closer look after Whitewater did not play in the fall.

About 230 players lost opportunities for exposure with the cancelation of two all-star games, the East-West Shrine Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The NFLPA and Shrine games attract a bountiful number of third-day draft prospects or undrafted free agents.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tershawn Wharton out of Division II Missouri-Rolla was one of those undrafted free agents who was discovered in the 2020 Shrine game.

“These guys pop off the screen and they make you go back and look at their tape and you’re kind of anxious for their pro day to come and see what they run and jump,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “That will be the challenge.”

Wharton would have been at Missouri Western’s pro day last year if it had not been canceled, so his invitation to an all-star game proved especially valuable.

Horn said Missouri Western’s pro day traditionally draws 25-30 players from Missouri’s FCS and Division II teams, and almost every year three or four are invited to a rookie minicamp.

“I hope we get it back next year,” Horn said, “and kids can get the opportunity to play at the next level.”

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said even though the pandemic caused many pro days to be canceled last year, as it did this year, the task of evaluating 2021 prospects is more difficult.

“Last year, despite the fact the world essentially closed down mid-March, we had already had Indy, we had the all-star games and obviously had a full college season with full normal access,” Gettleman said.

At pro days this year, teams were limited to having three people attend, scouts often had to watch from the stands instead of on the field and face-to-face conversations with players usually weren’t allowed.

Teams adjusted, using videoconferencing to interview prospects, and they worked with schools to mine medical information.

Though some of the better-known players from small schools were able to get into pro days, what about those sleepers who don’t have much of a profile?

One of those was Dennis Gardeck, a linebacker at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota in 2017. He won his share of awards at the Division II level, but he was an unknown until his coach got him an invitation to the pro day at South Dakota State.

Gardeck simply dazzled. He had a 4.57-second 40-yard dash and 36.5-inch vertical jump to go with the 31 repetitions he did in the 225-pound bench press. The Arizona Cardinals signed him as an undrafted free agent and he’s played in 44 games the past three seasons. He earned $750,000 last year, when he was second on the team with seven sacks.

“His opportunity came specifically because of what he did at his pro day,” Sioux Falls coach Jon Anderson said. “I feel bad for this year’s guys and even last year’s guys who didn’t get opportunities for pro days. There are probably a lot of guys out there who are diamonds in the rough that have the ability to play that haven’t been given the chance.”


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


More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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‘Red’ states on U.S. electoral map lagging on vaccinations

SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) – With coronavirus shots now in the arms of nearly half of American adults, the parts of the U.S. that are excelling and those that are struggling with vaccinations are starting to look like the nation’s political map: deeply divided between red and blue states.

Out in front is New Hampshire, where 65% of the population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following close behind are New Mexico, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts at 55% or greater. All have a history of voting Democratic and supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, at the bottom are five states where fewer than 40% have rolled up their sleeves for a shot. Four of them – Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee – lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall. The fifth is Georgia, which has a Republican governor and supported GOP presidential candidates for nearly three decades before narrowly backing Biden.

The emerging pattern: Americans in so-called “blue states” that lean Democratic appear to be getting vaccinated at more robust rates, while those in “red” Republican states seem to be more hesitant.

“We can draw a conclusion that red states and voters that voted for Trump are going to be more difficult to vaccinate because we have real good survey data to support that,” said Dr. Howard Forman, a professor of public health and management at the Yale School of Medicine.

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in late March found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12% of Democrats. Similarly, a third of rural Americans said they were leaning against getting shots, while fewer than a fourth of people living in cities and suburbs shared that hesitancy.

Forman cautioned that in most U.S. states, which receive vaccine shipments based on population, demand for the shot still exceeds supply. So it’s hard to know how many people are resisting until everyone wanting the shots gets them. But if states soon start seeing significant numbers of unfilled appointments with many people still unvaccinated, he said consequences could be serious.

“We could see substantial outbreaks for a long time,” Forman said. “It will determine whether we go back to normal in some cases.”

Past AP-NORC polls have shown more Republicans than Democrats say the government has exaggerated the threat posed by the virus. Republicans have also been more opposed to restrictions and mask-wearing.

The CDC reports that nearly 121 million American adults – or 47% of the U.S. adult population – have received at least one coronavirus shot. California, the nation’s largest blue state, is slightly ahead of that pace, at 50%. The biggest red state, Texas, lags at less than 44%.

How swiftly states are vaccinating doesn’t always correlate with how they vote.

Deeply red South Dakota ranks among the most successful states, with 54% of its population getting injections. Slightly behind the U.S. as a whole are blue states Oregon and Michigan, at 45% each.

West Virginia, where Trump carried 66% of the vote last year, became an early success story in the vaccine rollout as the first U.S. state to cover all nursing homes. And while Republican Gov. Jim Justice has remained a vaccine cheerleader, West Virginia now lags the U.S. overall with less than 42% of its population having received at least one dose.

Among those who say they won’t get vaccinated is 58-year-old Martha Brown. Sitting outside her apartment complex in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown said she’s afraid of having a bad reaction after a flu shot last year left her with cold symptoms.

“I’m OK without it,” Brown said. “I wear my mask all the time.”

Experts said it’s too soon to tell whether pausing shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will increase reluctance to get vaccinated. Government scientists are investigating reports of unusual blood clots in six women who received the vaccine.

If the issue gets resolved quickly and it’s deemed safe to resume Johnson & Johnson shots, there should be little impact on public confidence, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. She hopes the response itself assures people “the system is working.”

“It’s really important to understand that’s how closely we monitor everyone getting the vaccine” for potential problems, Hannan said. “We have systems in place to connect the dots.”

In a suburb outside Chicago, Jennifer Rockwood was getting ready to drive an hour to get her Johnson & Johnson shot Tuesday morning when she heard about the recommended pause. She cancelled her appointment after waiting months to get the vaccine.

“Did it give me hesitancy? Yes it did,” said Rockwood, 49. “But I was immediately back at my kitchen counter flipping the laptop open again and seeing what I could do to schedule another one.”

She booked an appointment to get the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday.

Trump has publicly urged Americans to get vaccinated but also received his own injections secretly, disclosing them only after he left office. As president, he spent much of the pandemic minimizing the dangers of the virus, even after being hospitalized with COVID-19.

Some Republican governors have likewise kept their own vaccinations quiet.

In Florida, where about 44% of the population has gotten at least one shot, the fact that GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis got the single-dose Johnson& Johnson vaccine wasn’t revealed until a reporter asked the governor’s spokeswoman days later. Many other U.S. governors have gotten their shots on camera or held news conferences around them in an effort to assure people the vaccines are safe.

The Democratic governor of Kentucky, a Trump-voting state, is trying to persuade more people to get jabbed by promising to lift pandemic restrictions when vaccination rates improve. About 1.6 million people in Kentucky have gotten at least one dose, a rate equal to the U.S. overall.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday he’ll lift capacity restrictions on restaurants, retail stores, concert halls and other businesses once Kentucky reaches 2.5 million people who have had shots.

“Every single individual’s choices can get us closer to that normalcy we’ve been looking for,” Beshear said.


AP writers Cuneyt Dil in Charleston, West Virginia, and Sophia Eppolito in Salt Lake City contributed.

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