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Simone Biles soars to AP Female Athlete of the Year

By Will Graves (Associated Press) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 10:12am
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In this Aug. 7, 2016, file photo, United States' Simone Biles performs on the floor during the artistic gymnastics women's qualification at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Briles was selected as the AP Female Athlete of the Year, on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. | AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File
Simone Biles tried to treat the 2016 Summer Olympics like just your average ordinary gymnastics meet. So what if the stage and the stakes were different?

The floor was still the floor. The vault still the vault. The uneven bars still uneven. The balance beam still a four-inch wide test of nerves.

And the 19-year-old with the electric smile and boundless talent was still the best in the world. Maybe the best of all-time.

Over the course of 10 days in August, the biggest meet of her life ended like pretty much all the others in the four years that came before it: with Biles standing atop the podium, a gold medal around her neck and the sport she's redefining one boundary-pushing routine at a time staring up at her. Not that she remembers any of it.

"It's kind of a blur," Biles said.

Maybe to Biles, but not to the rest of the world. Her massive haul in Rio de Janeiro — a record-tying four golds to go along with a bronze for the dominant U.S. women's team — propelled her to stardom and rendered her last name superfluous. Now there's one more honor to add to what on Twitter is known simply as #SimoneThings: Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

In a vote by U.S. editors and news directors announced Monday, Biles received 31 votes out of a possible 59 votes. U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and a silver in Rio, finished second with 20 votes. Serena Williams, who won Wimbledon for the seventh time to tie Steffi Graf's record of 22 Grand Slam titles, and three-time AP women's NCAA basketball Player of the Year Breanna Stewart tied for third with four votes each.

The AP Male Athlete of the Year will be announced Tuesday.

Biles became the fifth gymnast to win the honor, joining Olga Korbut in 1972, Nadia Comaneci in 1976, Mary Lou Retton in 1984 and Gabby Douglas in 2012. It's company Biles joined while completing a run of dominance that included three straight all-around World Championships, an unprecedented run at the top in a sport where peaks are often measured in months, not years.

The teenager from Spring, Texas, hardly seemed burdened by the outsized expectations. If anything, she embraced them. She opted out of a verbal commitment to compete collegiately at UCLA to turn professional so she could cash in on the lucrative opportunities afforded an Olympic champion, a bit of a gamble considering the window is so narrow and directly tied to success at the Games.

Yet Biles seemed immune to it. At least on the outside. Inside, there were more than a few butterflies when she stepped onto the floor during team preliminaries on Aug. 7. They vanished the moment she stepped onto the green and cream colored floor at Rio Olympic Arena as she and the rest of her "Final Five" teammates — Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian — put on a clinic that showcased how substantial the gap between the Americans and the rest of the world has grown.

Then again, the gulf between Biles and every other gymnast on the planet — even her good friends in red, white and blue — may be even wider.

"In prelims I did very well I kind of shocked myself," Biles said. "I came in thinking, 'I've been to three worlds.' I knew the gist of it. Once I got (prelims) out of the way, I just kind of relaxed."

Mbala wants to play for Gilas

By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 12:00am
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Ben Mbala (left) with two-time Olympic cager Tony Genato.
MANILA, Philippines - La Salle’s Ben Mbala said yesterday if ever an invitation to join Gilas as a naturalized player comes his way, it would be an honor to play for the country that the Cameroonian calls his second home.

“I love the Philippines,” said the 6-7 Mbala who this season became La Salle’s first UAAP senior men’s basketball MVP in 17 years. “I can see myself settling down in the Philippines but right now, I’m not thinking of getting married or raising a family. My priorities are to win more championships for La Salle and earn a degree.”

Mbala, 21, is taking up Business Management. He was on the Dean’s List two terms back and almost made it again this past term. “I got an A in Economics Statistics but my GPA wasn’t high enough for the Dean’s List,” he said. “As a student athlete, I’m trying hard to be a good role model. You’ll notice when I play, I smile a lot. Coach Aldin (Ayo) always reminds me to keep my cool because opponents will try to get me out of my game and mess with my mind by roughing me up. But I just walk away from all that with a smile. They double team me, sometimes triple team me, they choke me, they hold me down. I try not to get frustrated when the referees don’t call the foul. It’s worse when I get banged up and I get called for the foul. I know if I mess up, it won’t be good for the team. I’d rather be on the court than on the bench.”

Next season, La Salle will miss Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Julian Sargent and Thomas Torres who’ve completed their years of UAAP eligibility but Mbala said the Archers will remain competitive. “I remember when we won the Filoil Flying V championship, Jason and Julian didn’t play and Jeron missed some key games because of injury,” he said. “Still, we were competitive. Of course, we’ll miss them all, especially Jeron. We’ll also miss Thomas who sets up our plays and is such a smart point guard. That means others must step up. We’ve got guys like Prince (Rivero), Abu (Tratter) and Kib (Montalbo). Aljun (Melecio) will only get better as he matures. Mark (Dyke) is adjusting to the college game and I expect him to contribute. He was a big man in high school and now, his role is different. Andrew (Langston) took a year off and it was a blessing. He played without pressure in the offseason and picked up his game. Then, we’ve got guys like Santi (Dodong Santillan) who’s a stretch four and Gabe (Capacio) who’s a deadshot shooter.”

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Mbala said there’s pressure on La Salle to repeat. “This early, they’re calling us the team to beat,” he said. “I know the other teams are beefing up so it will be a challenge for us to retain the title. But my goal is a three-peat. After I graduate, I hope to continue playing. Joining Gilas would be an option if I’m invited to play as a naturalized player.”

The other day, Mbala met two-time Olympic cager Tony Genato, a veteran of the Philippine team that took third place and the bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Genato, now 87, played at the 1952 Helsinki and 1954 Olympics. “Of course, it’s a dream to play in the Olympics,” he said. “I’ve been invited to train with the Cameroon national team but the schedule conflicts with my studies. Besides, basketball isn’t a priority sport in Cameroon where football is No. 1. NBA players from Cameroon don’t play for the national team because the game isn’t popular, there is little support and they’re not covered by insurance.”

Unloads a career best 32 pts King Japeth deals Star royal bashing

By Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 12:00am
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Japeth Aguilar
MANILA, Philippines - For all his wondrous shooting touch, behemoth Japeth Aguilar is actually being developed to be Barangay Ginebra’s pillar of defense.

But Sunday night at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, Aguilar lit up the showdown with Star with tremendous offensive thrust, going 5-of-5 from the long range and finishing with a career-best 32 points as the Gin Kings toppled the Hotshots, 86-79, in the PBA Philippine Cup.

“I was surprised my offense came along. To be honest, I was focused on defense as I was instructed by coach Tim (Cone),” said Aguilar.

“One of those moments in my basketball career that I never expected to happen – five out of five from the three-point line,” he added.

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But Ginebra coach Tim Cone insisted he wasn’t a bit surprised by Aguilar’s three-point shooting, saying they’ve long been urging their athletic center to take the shots from the long range.

“If you remember, I coached his dad Peter. And Peter was like the best shooting big man I’ve ever seen. So when I first saw Japeth, he looked exactly the same, same form, everything,” said Cone. “Japeth has great form and great ability to be that kind of player that can shoot shots like that. So I’m not surprised by it. Hopefully, we don’t live by it, but that is a nice weapon to keep.”

Alyssa Valdez to suit up for Thai squad

(philstar.com) | Updated December 25, 2016 - 3:37pm
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Bureau of Customs Transformers and former Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagle Alyssa Valdez | Shakey's V-League Photo
MANILA, Philippines — Volleyball superstar Alyssa Valdez will kick off the new year in a new uniform.

This after Thai Volleyball club 3BB Nakornnont announced on Christmas Eve that they’ve snared the services of the former Ateneo de Manila University ace for two leagues.

Through their Facebook page, 3BB Nakornnont indicated that Valdez will be lending her talents to the club for the Thailand League and the Thai-Denmark Super League. It said the Filipina’s edge lies in her offensive game.

Valdez is no stranger to the team as she is set to rejoin her Shakey’s V-League teammates in Bureau of Customs, Nic Jaisaen and Som Kuthaisong. The trio propelled the Transformers to the tournament Finals where they fell short against Pocari Sweat.

The news was first broken by ABS-CBN Sports. But according to Fox Sports PH editor-in-chief Josiah Albelda, who is also a close friend of the decorated athlete, nothing is final as of now.
24 Dec
Josiah Albelda @_josiahalbelda
.@AlyssaValdez2 herself talks about her possible stint with 3BB in Thailand.http://www.foxsportsasia.com/en-ph/news/ph-superstar-alyssa-valdez-excited-possible-thailand-stint/ … pic.twitter.com/NhCWgEaPQl
Josiah Albelda @_josiahalbelda
And while a Facebook post by 3BB reportedly said they have acquired her, Valdez clarified nothing is final and official just yet.
9:49 PM - 24 Dec 2016
40 40 Retweets 155 155 likes

Valdez, regarded as one of the faces of Philippine volleyball, was once the amateur arena’s decorated queen. A three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player, she led Ateneo to back-to-back UAAP titles in 2012 and 2013.

The 23-year-old has also suited up for various national contingents in the international arena.

Roach wants Pacquiao to fight Crawford at 140

By Dino Maragay (philstar.com) | Updated December 24, 2016 - 3:34pm

Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford
MANILA, Philippines – Stressing that his ward doesn’t back down from challenges, Freddie Roach has welcomed a showdown between Manny Pacquiao and undefeated rising star Terence Crawford.

Speaking to Ryan Burton of boxingscene.com, Roach said Pacquiao – who currently campaigns at the welterweight division (147 pounds) – can slide back to junior welterweight (140 pounds) to make the fight happen.

And Crawford, who holds the WBC and WBO junior welterweight championships, is considered the best fighter in the division.

“I like the fight at 140 but he (Pacquiao) hasn't fought at 140 in a long time. I think he will be a bit quicker and a bigger puncher but he's been at 147 for so long so we will see,” said Roach.

Benfica Striker Ola John has his mind on the clash with the Catalans

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