National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Wilfork says he's close to ensuring he'll retire with Pats

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork says he's closer to achieving his goal of finishing his career with New England.

The 10-year veteran who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon has tweeted that he looks forward to returning to football and helping his team have a chance to win a Super Bowl.

Wilfork originally had balked at the Patriots attempt to restructure his contract to lessen the salary cap hit.

He tweeted amid reports that he had agreed to restructure his contract. The Patriots usually do not announce contract restructurings.

"It's been hard to remain quiet and let things take its course but it has been the best thing to do," Wilfork tweeted Thursday. "Negotiations are never easy especially when you have a 10 year history with a team and more importantly relationships. For those who have supported me I thank you, for those who have called me every name in the book I thank you too.

"My intentions have never changed," he wrote. "10 years ago my goal was to retire a patriot and as I sit here typing this I am closer to achieving my goal. I look forward to getting back to football and helping my team compete and have a chance at winning a Super Bowl."

At the bottom of the tweet was a reproduction of the top of a standard NFL Player Contract with his name and that of the New England Patriots.

RB Knowshon Moreno signs 1-year deal with Dolphins

MIAMI (AP) Running back Knowshon Moreno has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Miami Dolphins, and they hope he'll enliven a ground game that ranked 26th in the NFL last season.

Moreno, a five-year veteran, had his best season in 2013 when he rushed for 1,038 yards, caught 60 passes and scored 13 touchdowns playing with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. He ranked fifth in the NFL with 1,586 yards from scrimmage, and tied for fourth with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Montee Ball, a rookie last year, made Moreno expendable in Denver.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas were the Dolphins' primary ball carriers last season, and both remain on the roster. Moreno has a career average of 4.1 yards per carry, compared to 4.2 for Miller and 3.6 for Thomas.

The Dolphins' offensive line has been a big reason for their sputtering ground game. The unit also gave up a franchise-record 58 sacks and was rocked by the team's bullying scandal last year.

Center Mike Pouncey is the lone holdover in the line, and while the Dolphins added left tackle Branden Albert, they're still shopping for upgrades at guard and right tackle.

Denver made Moreno the 12th overall pick in the 2009 draft after he played at Georgia. He has career rushing totals of 3,468 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Moreno became a social media sensation he cried during the national anthem before a game in December. He has been slowed by injuries and has played in all 16 games just twice in his career.

Ravens' Rice indicted on aggravated assault charge

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been indicted on a charge he assaulted his fiancee in an elevator at casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

Rice had been charged with simple assault after police said he knocked out Janay Palmer on Feb. 15 at the Revel Casino. But a grand jury indicted him Thursday on a more serious count of aggravated assault. It carries a three-to-five-year sentence.

Palmer also had been charged with simple assault. Prosecutors say that complaint was dismissed.

The couple lives in the Baltimore suburb of Reistertown.

Palmer's attorney has said he's certain no crime was committed. Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, says Rice denies the charge and that the couple are happy and in counseling.

The Ravens issued a statement saying "we know there is more to Ray Rice than this one incident."

Syracuse's Tyler Ennis entering NBA draft

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis is entering the NBA draft.

Ennis made the announcement Thursday in an email from the university.

"I'd like to thank coach (Jim) Boeheim, the coaching staff, my teammates and the amazing fans of Syracuse for the opportunity to play at a great university like Syracuse," Ennis said in the statement released by the school. "I feel this experience has helped prepare me to fulfill my lifelong dream - to play in the NBA."

Ennis finished second on the Orange in scoring at 12.9 points per game and averaged 5.5 assists to go with 1.7 turnovers, one of the top assist-to-turnover marks in the nation.

"He sat down with us and we talked about it," Ennis's father, Tony McIntyre, said Thursday. "He feels like he's in a good place in the draft. There are not too many point guards and he feels that he can be valuable to a team in this year's draft."

McIntyre said the family spoke with Boeheim before announcing the decision.

"He just said he'd be there to help Tyler in anything he needs," McIntyre said.

A native of Brampton, Ontario, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Ennis displayed an uncanny calmness for a freshman in leading the Orange to a school-record 25 wins to start the season and a No. 1 ranking for three weeks.

Ennis's 3-pointer at the buzzer beat Pittsburgh in mid-February. He took the team's last shot of the season, missing a 3 from the top of the key at the final horn in a 55-53 loss to Dayton in the third round of the NCAA tournament last Saturday night in Buffalo, N.Y. Syracuse finished 28-6.

"He did a great job here," Boeheim told The Post-Standard of Syracuse. "We're very proud of him. We'll move on."

One of those who wasn't surprised was Mark Taylor, Ennis's coach at St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey.

"He's going to be a lottery pick. My gut would have been two (years at Syracuse)," Taylor told The Associated Press at midseason. "The numbers he's putting up, it's going to be hard for him not to go. He's going to be forecast to go so high in the draft, he might have to go just because it's so much money."

Ennis joins Carmelo Anthony and Donte Greene as the only Syracuse players to enter the NBA after their freshman season.

Still, it won't be so easy to leave.

"It's hard because he loves Syracuse," McIntyre said. "He loves playing there, he loves the fans, he loves his teammates, and he loves coach - all the coaches. That's the hard part, but, you know, when you're a little kid and you play basketball, you want to play in the NBA.

"I think that part makes it somewhat easier because the reality of it is he's got the shot to do that this year."

Bills appoint 7 to stadium search group

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Bills are beginning their search for a new stadium in an attempt to secure their long-term future in Buffalo.

The team appointed seven people to "A New Stadium Working Group," with club President Russ Brandon and Sen. Charles Schumer among them. The move comes two days after the death of the franchise's 95-year-old owner Ralph Wilson.

"There is no better way to honor Ralph Wilson's legacy than keeping the Bills right where they belong: in western New York," Schumer said in a statement. "I am certain Ralph would want all of us to do everything we can to keep his dear Bills in Buffalo."

The Bills also announced private funeral services for Wilson will be held in his hometown of Detroit on Saturday. A public remembrance will be held at a date yet to be determined.

The other five appointees are: local developer Louis Ciminelli; Buffalo-based new Era Cap Co. CEO Christopher Koch; Jordan Levy, managing partner of SoftBank Capital; Bills chief financial officer Jeffrey Littman; and Mary Owen, a Bills vice president and Wilson's niece.

Brandon said the appointees are "passionate" about the team and recognize its importance "economically and socially to the western New York community."

The seven become the final additions to what will be a 19-member group made up of private and public leaders from across the region.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed five members to the group last month. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz named seven appointees three weeks ago.

The stadium group was a requirement of the 10-year lease the Bills negotiated with the state and county in December 2012.

The $271 million lease included the commitment of $130 million in public and private funds for upgrades at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which opened in 1973. The deal also set aside money to fund a potential new stadium or future renovations at the team's current home.

The Bills are entering their 55th year since being among founding teams of the American Football League.

Wilson's death has brought questions because the Pro Football Hall of Fame member failed to provide a clear succession plan. The Bills are expected to be operated out of a trust and then sold, raising the possibility a new owner could relocate the team.

The Bills are essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through 2019. The lease features a $400 million penalty the Bills would have to pay in the event a court ruled in favor of the team breaking its lease. In 2020, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to opt out of the lease for about $28 million.

Several local groups have already been formed with an eye on keeping the franchise in Buffalo.

Two years ago, Nicholas Stracick established the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex. The group is proposing to use private and public funds to build a $1.4 billion waterfront sports and entertainment facility that would include a 70,000-plus-seat, retractable-roofed stadium to one day serve as the Bills' new home.

The group's proposal has the backing of Buffalo's city council, but has not been recognized by the Bills.

Earlier this year, longtime Bills season-ticket holder Matt Sabuda, helped found the Buffalo Fan Alliance. The group is proposing to seek donations from Bills fans to raise $200 million. The funds would be made available to the next owner in the form of an interest-free loan to help offset purchase or capital costs.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Dog days for Brewers: Hank gets his own bobblehead

MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Brewers and their fans can look forward to the dog days this season.

The Brewers announced Thursday that popular pup Hank will have his own bobblehead night in September.

Hank is the little dog that wandered into the Brewers' complex at spring training. The stray became the unofficial team mascot, and is now living in Milwaukee with the family of a club executive.

Bobblehead Hank night will be Sept. 13 against Cincinnati at Miller Park.

Brewers pitcher Brandon Kintzler says the team wants to help other animals in need. Part of the ticket sales from the bobblehead night will go to the "Hank Fund" at the Wisconsin Humane Society.

The Brewers will also hold an adopt-a-pet event at the ballpark that night.

Police: Colts owner had $29K in cash when arrested

CARMEL, Ind. (AP) Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had $29,000 in cash and bottles of prescription drugs in his vehicle when he was arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving and other charges, according to the arrest report.

The cash was in Irsay's wallet, metal briefcase and two laundry bags. The briefcase and bags, which were on the front passenger-side floor, also contained bottles of pills of various colors, including orange, green and white ones, the police report states.

Irsay, 54, denied being drunk when he was arrested in suburban Carmel on March 16, although the billionaire was so disoriented that officers made him sit on the hood of a patrol car to keep him from falling, the report said. The arresting officer said he "believed Irsay to be intoxicated on a substance other than alcohol," according to the report.

The arrest report listed a dozen pieces of evidence identified as prescription drugs, but it didn't specify which drugs they were. Irsay told the officer that he had taken several prescription medications that day but had not been drinking.

The contents of the arrest report by Carmel police were first reported Thursday by The Indianapolis Star, which obtained the report through a public records request.

Irsay's attorney, James Voyles did not return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday. His spokeswoman, Myra Borshoff Cook, had no comment.

The report said an officer pulled over Irsay's slow-moving SUV after it stopped twice on a city street for no apparent reason and failed to use a turn signal. Police said Irsay told the officer that he sometimes has trouble finding his home. The Star reported that Irsay bought a home in late February less than a half-mile from where he was stopped.

"I observed the vehicle come to a complete stop on W. Main Street for no apparent reason. ... As I was approaching the vehicle it began to slowly move eastbound and came to another complete stop in the lane of travel for no apparent reason," Officer James Morris wrote in the report.

Earlier this week, prosecutors postponed an initial court appearance for Irsay "unless or until" formal charges are filed against him. Irsay was arrested on preliminary charges of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated on a controlled substance and four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. The report said police don't believe Irsay was drunk when he was arrested.

Hamilton County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Andre Miksha said prosecutors are not bound by preliminary booking charges.

Irsay's family said after his arrest that he is undergoing treatment "to help him meet his challenges head-on" at a facility outside of Indiana. They have not identified the facility.

Irsay acknowledged in 2002 that he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations but said he had overcome the problem after undergoing treatment.

The report said Irsay stumbled out of his SUV and failed field sobriety tests, such as having to stand on one foot. After Irsay refused a blood draw, a judge approved a search warrant to draw his blood. Those results have not been released and the results of the breath test administered to Irsay at the scene were redacted from the report.

Refusing the blood test means Irsay's driver's license will be automatically suspended for one year.

Irsay declined to answer questions without his attorney present and was not questioned at the jail. He was released the following day.

-----

Follow Charles D. Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/-cdwilson

Arsenal confirms preseason game against Red Bulls

LONDON (AP) Arsenal will make its first U.S. trip in 25 years to play a preseason exhibition against the New York Red Bulls and former Gunners star Thierry Henry.

The leading scorer in Arsenal history, Thierry has scored 42 goals in 94 matches for Red Bulls. Arsenal said "the fact that Thierry is the New York Red Bulls club captain makes this a particularly special fixture."

The July 26 game at Red Bull Arena will be Arsenal's only match outside Europe this summer.

Arsenal last played in the U.S. on Aug. 6, 1989, beating Argentina's Independiente 2-1 at Miami Gardens, Fla., on a pair of goals by David Rocastle.

New York and Arsenal tied 1-1 in an exhibition at London in 2011.

Williams beats Sharapova for 15th straight time

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova for the 15th consecutive time, rallying in both sets Thursday for a 6-4, 6-3 victory in the Sony Open semifinals.

Williams is seeking a record seventh Key Biscayne title. She improved to 16-2 against Sharapova and hasn't lost to her favorite foil since 2004.

The No. 1-ranked Williams won with a superior serve and better returns. She hit nine aces and broke five times, helping her rebound from deficits of 4-1 in the first set and 2-0 in the second.

Williams earned her 14th consecutive victory against a top-10 player. Her opponent in Saturday's final will be the winner of the semifinal Thursday night between reigning Australian Open champion Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova.

Manziel wows elder Bush, others at pro day

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Johnny Manziel put on a show at his NFL pro day for an audience that included former President George H.W. Bush.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 75 officials from 30 teams on the Texas A&M campus on Thursday.

He also had some special guests, as the former President and wife Barbara rolled into the facility on golf carts about 10 minutes into the workout.

Manziel threw about 65 passes to six receivers, including A&M teammate Mike Evans, who like Manziel is expected to a first round pick in May's draft. Manziel caused a stir by choosing to wear a helmet and shoulder pads during the workout.

Manziel didn't understand why it was a big deal, saying: "You play the game on shoulder pads on Sundays. Why not come out and do it? ... For me it was a no-brainer."

Pacers use rally late to beat Heat 84-83

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George scored 23 points and Roy Hibbert had 21, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit for an 84-83 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

The NBA's best home team ended a two-game losing streak, took a 2-1 lead in the season series against the two-time defending champions and rebuilt a three-game advantage in the race for the Eastern Conference's top seed. Indiana (52-20) also clinched its second straight Central Division crown, something it hadn't done since 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

LeBron James scored 38 points, but missed a potential go-ahead 3 late. Chris Bosh had a jumper at the buzzer to win it but it hit nothing but air.

George had two monster dunks - one over LeBron James - to get the Pacers back in the game.

Duncan leads Spurs over Nuggets 108-103

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tim Duncan had 29 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a fourth-quarter collapse to beat the Denver Nuggets 108-103 Wednesday night for their 15th straight victory.

Danny Green scored 16 points before leaving with a foot injury early in the second half. Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had 10 points apiece for San Antonio (55-16), which maintained the league's best record.

Aaron Brooks scored 25 points and Kenneth Faried had 24 points, including 15 points in a frenzied final quarter for Denver. Timofey Mozgov added 14 points and 11 rebounds and Quincy Miller had 11 points.

After leading by as many as 24 points and by 20 midway through the third quarter, San Antonio needed Duncan's late heroics to preserve its win streak.

Denver went on a 34-20 run in the final 11 minutes.

Dodgers ace Kershaw to miss upcoming start

LOS ANGELES (AP) Clayton Kershaw will miss his scheduled start for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the San Diego Padres this weekend because of an inflamed muscle in his back.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner had an MRI on Wednesday that showed the swollen muscle in his left upper back. Kershaw had complained of tightness while throwing at a workout on Tuesday.

The team said Kershaw's next start will be decided by his progress while throwing in the next week.

The Dodgers open the North American portion of their schedule at San Diego on Sunday. They began the season with two victories over Arizona in Australia last week. Kershaw started the first game Down Under, winning 3-1.

College athletes can unionize, federal agency says

CHICAGO (AP) In a stunning ruling that could revolutionize a college sports industry worth billions of dollars and have dramatic repercussion at schools coast to coast, a federal agency said Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation's first union of college athletes.

The decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board answered the question at the heart of the debate over the unionization bid: Do football players who receive full scholarships to the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize?

Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, said in a 24-page decision that the players "fall squarely" within the broad definition of employee.

Pro-union activists cheered as they learned of the ruling.

"It's like preparing so long for a big game and then when you win - it is pure joy," said former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, the designated president of Northwestern's would-be football players' union.

An employee is regarded by law as someone who, among other things, receives compensation for a service and is under the strict, direct control of managers. In the case of the Northwestern players, coaches are the managers and scholarships are a form of compensation, Ohr concluded.

The Evanston, Ill., university argued that college athletes, as students, do not fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. The school announced plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.

Supporters of the union bid argued that the university ultimately treats football as more important than academics for scholarship players. Ohr sided with the players.

"The record makes clear that the employer's scholarship players are identified and recruited in the first instance because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school," Ohr wrote. He also noted that among the evidence presented by Northwestern, "no examples were provided of scholarship players being permitted to miss entire practices and/or games to attend their studies."

The ruling described how the life of a football player at Northwestern is far more regimented than that of a typical student, down to requirements about what they can eat and whether they can live off campus or purchase a car. At times, players put 50 or 60 hours a week into football, Ohr added.

Alan Cubbage, Northwestern's vice president for university relations, said in a statement that while the school respects "the NLRB process and the regional director's opinion, we disagree with it."

Huma said scholarship players would vote within 30 days on whether to formally authorize the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, to represent them.

The specific goals of CAPA include guaranteeing coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former players, reducing head injuries and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.

Critics have argued that giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize could hurt college sports in numerous ways, including raising the prospect of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.

For now, the push is to unionize athletes at private schools, such as Northwestern, because the federal labor agency does not have jurisdiction over public universities. But Huma said Wednesday's decision is the "first domino to fall" and that teams at schools - both public and private - could eventually follow the Wildcats' lead.

Outgoing Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing CAPA. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills.

Colter, who has entered the NFL draft, said nearly all of the 85 scholarship players on the Wildcats roster backed the union bid, though only he expressed his support publicly.

He said the No. 1 reason to unionize was to ensure injured players have their medical needs met.

"With the sacrifices we make athletically, medically and with our bodies, we need to be taken care of," Colter told ESPN.

The NCAA has been under increasing scrutiny over its amateurism rules and is fighting a class-action federal lawsuit by former players seeking a cut of the billions of dollars earned from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games. Other lawsuits allege the NCAA failed to protect players from debilitating head injuries.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has pushed for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some expenses. Critics say that is not nearly enough, considering players help bring in millions of dollars to their schools and conferences.

In a written statement, the NCAA said it disagreed with the notion that student-athletes are employees.

"We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid," the NCAA said.

All of the big NCAA conferences, including the SEC, also disagreed with the decision.

"Notwithstanding today's decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend," the SEC said in a written statement.

The developments are coming to a head at a time when major college programs are awash in cash generated by new television deals that include separate networks for the big conferences. The NCAA tournament generates an average of $771 million a year in television rights itself, much of which is distributed back to member schools by the NCAA.

Attorneys for CAPA argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players' labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. The NLRB ruling noted that from 2003 to 2013 the Northwestern program generated $235 million in revenue - profits the university says went to subsidize other sports.

During the NLRB's five days of hearings in February, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald took the stand for union opponents, and his testimony sometimes was at odds with Colter's.

Colter told the hearing that players' performance on the field was more important to Northwestern than their in-class performance, saying, "You fulfill the football requirement and, if you can, you fit in academics." Asked why Northwestern gave him a scholarship of $75,000 a year, he responded: "To play football. To perform an athletic service."

But Fitzgerald said he tells players academics come first, saying, "We want them to be the best they can be ... to be a champion in life."

---

Follow Michael Tarm at https://twitter.com/mtarm .

No surgery for former Bills QB Kelly for cancer

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Doctors treating Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly said Wednesday he will not immediately undergo surgery for a recurrence of cancer.

Instead, the longtime Buffalo Bills star will likely first be treated with chemotherapy and radiation, according to a statement from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"Jim Kelly's condition remains very treatable and potentially curable," Dr. Peter Costantino said in the statement. "Our immediate focus is on controlling his pain and beginning the process of eradicating the cancer."

Kelly underwent surgery in Buffalo last June to remove a squamous cell carcinoma from his upper jaw. He had been expected to undergo additional surgery this week or next week after the cancer was found to have returned, his brother, Dan Kelly, said Tuesday.

Costantino said surgery remains a potential part of the treatment strategy for the cancer that he said is present in Kelly's maxillary sinus and adjacent tissues.

"His cancer returned in a location that requires specialized expertise in the treatment of skull-based tumors," the hospital statement said.

Kelly's wife, Jill, in an online posting said the plan had changed because of "the complexity and aggressive nature of this cancer and after more scans and tests."

"The cancer is in areas that surgery cannot successfully eradicate," Jill Kelly wrote.

Kelly spent 11 seasons with the Bills and led them to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s, only to lose them all. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Well wishes have poured in by the thousands on Twitter under the hashtag "prayersforjk," including from numerous NFL franchises and players.

Masiello's lack of degree costs him USF hoop job

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Steve Masiello's promising coaching career is in limbo after his deal with South Florida fell apart because he doesn't have a college diploma.

Manhattan College said Wednesday that it had placed him on leave while Masiello is "reviewing his degree status."

South Florida confirmed earlier Wednesday that the school had an agreement in principle to lure Masiello away from Manhattan, but that the contract was contingent on "a verification of credentials."

USF requires its basketball coach to have at least a bachelor's degree. The 39-year-old Masiello did not graduate after attending Kentucky, where he played for Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith from 1996-2000.

"Through the verification process it was determined the candidate's credentials could not be substantiated and therefore he did not meet the requirements for the position," the school said in a brief statement. "The national search continues and USF looks forward to introducing a new coach at the appropriate time."

Masiello has a 61-39 record in three seasons at Manhattan. The Jaspers went 28-5 this season, which ended with a close loss to Louisville in the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton verified Masiello was a student there from 1996-2000 in the college of communication, but did not graduate. Masiello's bio on Manhattan's web site says the coach graduated from Kentucky in 2000 with a degree in communications.

Manhattan said in a statement that it "learned there is a question of the validity" of Masiello's degree after South Florida commissioned a background check.

"Masiello is currently in the process of reviewing his degree status with the University of Kentucky," the statement said. "Manhattan College has placed Masiello on leave while he completes this process with the university."

Masiello, a former assistant under Pitino at Louisville, was going to replace former USF coach Stan Heath, who was fired this month.

A one-time ball boy for Pitino when his mentor was coach of the New York Knicks, Masiello was a walk-on at Kentucky and part of a team that made two trips to the Final Four and won one national championship. He was an assistant at Manhattan and Tulane before spending six seasons on Pitino's staff at Louisville.

USF fired Heath on March 14 after the Bulls finished 12-20, including 3-15 in their first season in the American Athletic Conference. The Bulls appeared to be on the rise two years ago, when they tied a school record with 22 wins and made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament in two decades.

But Heath won just 24 games over his final two seasons.

Notre Dame defense looks to be more aggressive

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame's defense has a different mindset.

Under former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, now the head coach at Connecticut, the Fighting Irish focused on keeping the play in front of them and not giving up big plays. Irish players say new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder wants to be more aggressive.

"Coach Diaco's defense was bend-but-don't break, play a little soft, let them catch the curl-ins that aren't going to beat you, prevent big plays," cornerback KeiVarae Russell said. "This year we're going to change that bend-don't-break to attack. A lot more man-to-man, a lot more aggressive mindset. I'm excited."

Defense was a key for the Irish in 2012 when they posted their first undefeated regular season since winning the national championship in 1988, losing 42-14 to Alabama in the title game. The Irish finished second in the nation in points allowed at 12.8 points a game, and seventh in total defense, giving up 305 yards a game. The Irish defense was not nearly as strong this past season, allowing 22.4 points a game, finishing 27th in the nation, and was 31st in total defense at 366.2 yards a game.

VanGorder said he believes the key to defense is trying to take control by being aggressive, saying it starts with the play of the cornerbacks.

"That's where you start your decisions as a coach. Can we hold up out there? If you have a corner that can press and take a guy out of a game, that's huge," he said.

That's quite a change from the past few years, when the Irish depended on the front seven to make the big plays and the secondary was seen as the weak link. Russell said he can see that VanGorder is counting on the secondary, saying it the Irish have only been in zone defense a handful of times this spring. He said the Irish also are blitzing more.

"That's how you create turnovers, break up a lot of passes and you have a lot of opportunities to be around the ball and pick it off," he said.

VanGorder said it's still early to speculate about who will be playing where or exactly what the defense will look like when the Irish open the season against Rice on Aug. 30. The Irish are moving some players around, switching John Turner from safety to linebacker, Matthias Farley from safety to cornberback and playing the nickel and moving outside linebacker Jaylon Smith to different positions to keep opponents guessing.

"We're trying to get speed on the field," VanGorder said.

Safety Austin Collinsworth said it's been difficult trying to take in all the changes.

"It's kind of like being in final exams for three weeks straight, that's how this spring has been," Collinsworth said. "It's new terminology, new hand signals, new this, new that. Everything's different."

Collinsworth isn't the only one struggling to take it all in.

"It's just a new system," said defensive end Ishaq Williams, who played linebacker last season. "It's a whole different thinking process from the 3-4 so I'm trying to get used to it."

While Williams alluded to the Irish switching away from a 3-4 defense, coach Brian Kelly and VanGorder say Notre Dame will continue to switch between the 3-4 and 4-3 base defenses as it did under Diaco. So far during the sessions open to the media, the Irish have been running almost all 4-3.

"We want to be multiple, so we want to keep building that way," VanGorder said. "It just so happens that as you see the early install, you're seeing a lot of a 4-3 look. But there's 3-4 look out there, too. We're mixing that in and trying to evaluate and see what works best for us."

VanGorder said it is challenge trying to install a new defense in 15 spring practices.

"All of a sudden you're getting out there and you're behind in some things you're getting from the offense and you're coaching on the run and then you try to repair it through film and you hope it solves that issue," he said. "It's going to come up at times because I can't cover everything we're going to get from our offense."

The key for the Irish is being able to cover everything they get from opposing offenses this fall.

76ers on brink tying NBA record for futility

PHILADELPHIA (AP) They are a loss away from becoming the Philadelphia 26ers.

As in, losers of 26 in a row.

A skid that would match the longest losing streak in NBA history and leave the 76ers one loss of holding the record for the four major professional sports.

"It's tough we lose them consecutively, but it's the NBA," guard Tony Wroten said. "You play another day."

With a another loss Thursday at Houston, the Sixers (15-56) will tie the NBA record of 26 straight losses set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. The potential record setter is Saturday at home against Detroit.

But the 76ers say this seemingly infinite skid comes with a purpose: Finishing first.

Philadelphia is losing to win the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Former Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy is among the critics that call Philly's style of lottery-bound losing, tanking. Sixers management simply says it's old-fashioned rebuilding. Whatever the label, the team with the worst record in the NBA has a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick.

But there's a flaw in the Sixers' plan: Even with the avalanche of defeats, they still don't have the worst record in the NBA, Milwaukee does. Entering Thursday, the Bucks are 13-58 and that puts them in the driver's seat as they plummet toward the top spot.

The Bucks may be serving as motivation for the Sixers; there's no suspense these days in the outcome of Philadelphia games. The Sixers been outscored by 16.9 points during the losing streak; Cleveland was outscored by 13.7 while setting the record.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said the Sixers will be better off as a result of the losing.

"It's those short-term, real pains for what we hope will be a bunch of long-term gains," Brown said. "This period of time is not pleasant for any of us. But it's necessary."

But it's a hefty price to pay.

"Nobody wants to have that record," said Cavs forward Anderson Varejao, a member of the Cleveland squad that lost 26 straight. "It is what it is. If they get it, it's too bad for them. It's a tough time and it's not easy. I don't even think they think about how many games they've lost.

"It's just one of those things where you go out to win and you end up losing."

The Sixers last won on Jan. 29 on former guard Evan Turner's buzzer-beater at Boston. They've been crushed (123-78 by the Clippers and 123-80 by Golden State in consecutive games) and had a few close calls (losing 93-92 to the Knicks). And this week they were called out by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said the losing streak was "bad for everyone."

"It's potentially damaging to the players involved and the culture they're trying to create," Silver said, "but those decisions are left to management."

Mired in mediocrity for most of the last decade, first-year general manager Sam Hinkie decided to start from scratch, trading assets for draft picks all in the hope that the Sixers can build a winner from within. Hinkie started on draft night, when he traded All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel. In February, he dealt starters Turner and Spencer Hawes, and Lavoy Allen at the trade deadline.

The 76ers went 0 for February. They are three losses away from 0 for March.

These aren't the `62 Mets. The Sixers are more laughable losers, than lovable.

Team owners Joshua Harris and Dave Blitzer, who also own the New Jersey Devils, have sold hope to the disenfranchised fanbase with the "Together We Build" slogan. Fed-up fans, though, have had more fun with the Twitter feed (at)didthesixerswin.

"There's not a person in this organization that doesn't have a will to win, that isn't competitive, that doesn't feel sick to their stomach after a loss," team CEO Scott O'Neil said. "That goes for me, and Sam and Coach, Josh, David. Everyone involved with the organization.

"We signed up for this, we can get through this together. But it doesn't make it any easier. It doesn't."

The Sixers are closing in on setting the longest losing streak in sports history. According to STATS LLC, the longest streaks in the four major sports are held by:

- In the NBA, the Cavaliers, 26 losses in row, from Dec. 20, 2010-Feb. 9, 2011.

- In the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 26 losses in row, from Sept. 12, 1976-Dec. 4 1977.

- In MLB, the Philadelphia Phillies, 23 losses in a row, from Jan. 29, 1961-Aug. 20, 1961.

- In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 18 losses in a row, from Jan. 13, 2004-Feb. 22, 2004.

The 76ers' skid is the latest example of Philadelphia's sports futility.

The Phillies hold the longest losing streak in major league history and were the first team to lose 10,000 games. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl and haven't won an NFL championship since 1960. The Flyers are closing in on four decades without a Stanley Cup.

Though it's hard to remember now, but the Sixers started the season 3-0, featuring wins over Miami and Chicago. Now, with a gutted roster made up of mostly D-League castoffs and 10-day contract hopefuls, the 76ers face the bleak reality they might not win again this season.

The Sixers, however, will be remembered if they notch their 26th loss in a row.

---

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report

ACC tournament moving to Brooklyn for 2017-18

NEW YORK (AP) With banners celebrating the history of the Nets and Jay-Z's concert sellout streak over his shoulder, ACC Commissioner John Swofford announced that the league's men's basketball tournament is coming to Brooklyn.

There isn't an Atlantic Coast Conference school within 200 miles, but New York is home to several large alumni bases and, perhaps more importantly, is a "media capital," Swofford said at Barclays Center on Wednesday.

"I firmly believe that the experience for our players, our coaches and our fans will be second to none when we come to Barclays," Swofford said. "It's the media capital of the world, and we want our brand in this city, in this facility, in Brooklyn. So we're really excited about this and what it can do for the Atlantic Coast Conference."

The league will crown its champion at the arena in 2017 and '18, after holding the tournament in Greensboro, N.C., in 2015 and in Washington in 2016.

The move to New York represents a shift from the ACC tournament's Southern roots after years of conference realignment. The state of North Carolina has hosted 50 of the 61 events in league history.

But Louisville's arrival in July will make it the seventh former Big East school to join the 15-team ACC since 2004, so those program were accustomed to playing their conference tournament in Madison Square Garden.

"Times change, and almost half of our league are former Big East schools, so we should pay attention to what everyone likes," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame - they're not in North Carolina."

The Atlantic 10 was scheduled to play its tournament at Barclays Center through 2017, but it will move in exchange for playing an ACC/A-10 doubleheader at Barclays during the 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. The A-10 tournament will return to Barclays for three years starting in 2019.

Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said the league would be seeking a new location "within the footprint" of its geography for 2017 and '18, possibly in Washington or Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, the ACC, which now reaches from Boston to Tallahassee, Fla., will be coming to New York, where throngs of hollering, orange-clad Syracuse fans once packed the Garden for the Big East tournament. The new Big East formed by the conference's non-football schools still plays its tourney at the Garden.

But in three years, the biggest tournament in town will be at the newer arena, in the borough that seems to vacuum up all the cultural cachet lately.

"Obviously, we would encourage the ACC to put us in what potentially might be a rotation of venues," Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said. "We've got to earn our stripes. We've got to provide an extraordinary experience to get them to come back, and that would certainly be the goal."

---

Follow Rick Freeman at https://twitter.com/RWFreeman

---

AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.

Goodell: Davis' gay message 'important'

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Former NFL player Wade Davis' speech to the owners, coaches and general managers delivered a significant message about sexual orientation in sports, Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday.

Goodell had previously met with Davis, who is gay, "and I found his message to be very important for all of us to hear."

"He was talking about (how) he's professional, he's part of the family that we all are in the NFL and he just wants to make sure that he provides that kind of workplace where people can go and play football, and be comfortable playing football," Goodell said. "He wants to work to help us do that. He recognizes everyone's not an advocate or someone who's going to carry the flag, but these young men who want to play in the NFL, they want an opportunity. Our job is to make sure we provide the opportunity."

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL if he is drafted next month. He is expected to be a mid-round choice.

What knowledge did Goodell want NFL teams to take from Smith's appearance at the owners meetings?

"Just a better understanding of what these young men are thinking about, going through," he said, "and what they can do to provide them the right opportunity and the right environment. That's the key."

---

GOODELL ON VICK: New York Jets owner Woody Johnson spoke with Goodell before the team signed quarterback Michael Vick as a free agent. Goodell wouldn't discuss specifics of his conversation with Johnson, but he gave Vick a ringing endorsement at a news conference Wednesday.

"I think Michael is a young man who made a tragic mistake. He paid a very high price for it," Goodell said of Vick's involvement in a dog fighting ring that led to Vick spending 18 months in a federal prison before returning to the NFL in 2009. "But I've seen him, in everything he's done, exceed expectations. He's worked very hard to be a positive force in a lot different areas. That's something I admire about him.

"When we went through the process of reviewing whether he would enter back into the league, he demonstrated he was someone committed to `I'm going to do this the right way. I'm going to be a positive force.' And he has. I'm proud of what he's done."

---

STAYING ON TOP: Winning a Super Bowl was great. Doing it again would be even better to Pete Carroll.

The Seahawks coach, who won two national championships at Southern California, sees plenty of similarities in trying to defend a title.

"I hope it is," he said with a smile about getting to experience a repeat championship in the NFL. "This is the challenge I cherish most, to stay up there.

"It's the same language, same intent, how you focus and what you can maintain. Develop that mentality it takes to get back. I take it seriously and I'm eager to see how we do it."

Asked if a coach's philosophy remains the same after reaching the pinnacle, Carroll related a story about when he asked John Wooden that question.

"I looked at coach Wooden and immediately said to myself, `Why did I ask that question?' `' Carroll said, chuckling at the memory. "You stay with what you believe and keep the message as much the same as you can. Hopefully the philosophy we have in place is one we ride next year and the next and the next."

---

HALL OF FAME COACH COUGHLIN?: Two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin was asked if he ever thinks about being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Several coaches, including George Allen, Marv Levy and Bud Grant, never won an NFL title, but are in the Canton, Ohio shrine.

"If the highest point of recognition is the Hall of Fame, why not think about it," said Coughlin, who has a 158-130 record in 18 pro seasons as a head coach: eight with the Jaguars, an expansion team he helped build, and the last 10 with the Giants.

Coughlin helped engineer one of the biggest upsets in sports history when New York beat the undefeated New England Patriots for the 2007 championship. He led the Giants past the Patriots in for the 2011 title, too.

"I think it merits consideration," Coughlin added while making it clear he was not campaigning, simply answering a question whether a double Super Bowl winner is worthy of the hall. "That's as far as I am going.

"I don't think about it every day. I'd rather think about putting a group of players together to win games."

---

NO DUNKS: Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith appreciated the timing of the NFL's ban on goal-post dunks. Had it come one year sooner, with recently retired tight end Tony Gonzalez still in the league, it would have created an uncomfortable issue for Smith.

Gonzalez gets credit for popularizing the goal-post dunk during his days with the Kansas City and Atlanta.

"I know the guy that we had the last five years, Tony Gonzalez, he was the pioneer of many things," Smith said Wednesday. "I'm glad that Tony's not here, because that's a conversation that you wouldn't want to have, but you'd have to have."

Atlanta was playing New Orleans last year when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham dunked the goal post, knocked it out of alignment and caused a 20-minute delay.

"It did take a significant amount of time to get the goal post level," Smith said. "But they have clarified that now. The goal posts are considered props. So not only is the dunk illegal, but you won't be allowed to use it as a punching bag, either."

---

AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall and Mark Long and Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this story.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Pages