UCLA hires Ben Howland
LOS ANGELES, April 3 (UPI) -- Ben Howland is about to get what he has called his dream job.
Howland, who resurrected the program at the University of Pittsburgh, has been lured back to the West Coast, accepting the position of basketball coach at UCLA. The school made the announcement late Wednesday night.
Howland, 45, replaces Steve Lavin, who was fired last month after the Bruins endured their first losing season since 1948.
The Southern California native has a deep respect for the traditions at UCLA built by the legendary John Wooden.
"Having grown up in Southern California as a Bruin fan, watching the television replays of the games was special for me," he said. "To now be the head coach of this program is something I dreamed about, but never thought possible."
Howland made himself a prime candidate for the job by leading Pittsburgh to back-to-back "Sweet 16" appearances for the first time in school history. The Panthers lost to Marquette, 77-74, in the Midwest Region semifinals last week.
"Ben Howland is an outstanding basketball coach, one of the best in the entire country, and he is the man we want to run our program," said UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. "He has built winning programs throughout his career, and we expect that he will return UCLA basketball to the nation's elite."
Last year, Howland signed a contract extension worth a reported $5.9 million over seven seasons, but the deal included a buyout clause.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that UCLA offered Howland a deal worth $850,000 a year, plus incentives, but he likely will make far more in endorsements and media appearances.
Pittsburgh had a string of five losing seasons in six years before Howland was hired in 1999. He had an 89-40 record at Pitt, including a 57-11 mark the last two years.
At UCLA, Howland will try to revive a once-stellar program that has fallen on hard times. The Bruins were just 10-19 this past season, and Howland becomes the school's eighth coach since Wooden retired in 1975.
"I have an appreciation for what these four letters mean in the world of college basketball," Howland said. "We should be competing for Pacific-10 titles and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament year in and year out, and I look forward to that challenge. At the same time, I want to make it clear how hard it was for me to leave the University of Pittsburgh. I can't imagine myself leaving Pittsburgh for anywhere except UCLA."
Howland grew up in Santa Barbara and Cerritos, Calif., at a time when the Bruins won seven straight NCAA titles under Wooden.
In California, he likely will have a more fertile recruiting base, and leaves behind a state-of-the-art $96 million arena in Pittsburgh. UCLA still plays at the aging Pauley Pavilion.
Perry made permanent at Georgia State
ATLANTA, April 3 (UPI) -- Michael Perry, who took over as basketball coach at Georgia State following the retirement of Lefty Driesell at mid-season, has signed a three-year contract.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Driesell, the fourth winningest coach in Division I basketball history, surprisingly stepped down on Jan. 3 after 41 years of coaching.
Perry took over the Panthers, guiding them to a 10-9 record, and a trip to the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
"We know that Michael Perry is the right person to continue to grow the basketball program at Georgia State," said Athletic Director Greg Manning. "He knows what it takes to win on the court and what it takes to help the young men earn their college degrees off the court."
Perry, 44, was an assistant at Georgia State for six seasons and was 6-1 while filling in for Driesell because of injury or illness.
Report: Virginia Tech to hire Greenberg
BLACKSBURG, Va., April 3 (UPI) -- Seth Greenberg, who spent the last seven seasons at South Florida, apparently is headed to Virginia Tech.
The Richmond Times Dispatch reported Thursday that Greenberg will be named the new basketball coach of the Hokies.
A Virginia Tech spokesman would not confirm the report, but said the school has called a news conference for 3 p.m. Eastern time to name a new coach.
Greenberg, 46, would replace Ricky Stokes, who was fired last month after Virginia Tech missed the Big East Conference Tournament for the third straight year.
In seven seasons at South Florida, Greenberg's teams posted a 108-100 record, including a 15-14 mark this year. He is the only coach in USF history to post a .500 record or better for six straight years, and twice took the Bulls to the National Invitation Tournament, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
Greenberg coached at Long Beach State for six seasons before coming to South Florida. He earned one NIT and two NCAA Tournament berths in that span.
Virginia Tech won 16 games in its first season under Stokes, but slumped to 8-19 in 2000-01 and was a mere 45-70 in his four-year tenure.
NIT final has a Big East flavor
NEW YORK, April 3 (UPI) -- Georgetown and St. John's, who have history, square off Thursday night at New York's Madison Square Garden, with the championship of the NIT at stake.
The contest basically serves as a home game for the Red Storm, who play a number of their games at the Garden each year. In the lone matchup this season, they beat the Hoyas, 77-72, on Jan. 18 at the MCI Center in the nation's capital.
Thursday's contest will be the 81st meeting between the long-time Big East Conference foes.
Georgetown (19-14) advanced to the title game with an 88-74 win over Minnesota in Tuesday's semifinals.
Bullish junior forward Mike Sweetney scored 32 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and was 16-of-18 from the foul line. Freshman Brandon Bowman, a reserve forward, added 14 points, and Georgetown outscored the Gophers from the foul line, 25-11.
The Red Storm (20-13) advanced with a 64-63 win over Texas Tech.
Guard Marcus Hatten, a senior who will be playing his last game at the Garden, had 24 points, including the game-winning basket with :16 left. Freshman guard Elijah Ingram added 16 points, and St. John's helped forced the Red Raiders into a season-high 20 turnovers.
The Red Storm have reached the 20-win plateau in four of Mike Jarvis' five seasons at the helm, and already have won the NIT a record five times.
They are 39-21 in NIT games played at the Garden.
Moore gets 10-day deal from Hawks
ATLANTA, April 3 (UPI) -- The Atlanta Hawks have signed forward-center Mikki Moore to a second 10-day contract.
The 6-11 Moore has appeared in five games, averaging 2.0 points per outing.
He played for the Roanoke Dazzle of the NBDL this season, and was their third-leading scorer, averaging 16.0 points per game in 42 contests.
The 1997 graduate of Nebraska played in three games for the Boston Celtics earlier this season after spending parts of the previous four seasons with the Detroit Pistons.
Lions sign Rainer
ALLEN PARK, Mich., April 3 (UPI) -- The Detroit Lions Thursday signed veteran middle linebacker Wali Rainer, an unrestricted free agent, who played at Jacksonville last season.
The 6-2, 242-pounder visited with the Lions on March 19, and was the third free agent linebacker the Lions brought in as a possible replacement for Chris Claiborne.
The four-year NFL veteran has been very active in his pro career. He averaged 156 tackles over that span, and started 58 of 62 contests for the Jaguars and Cleveland Browns.
The product of Virginia played his first three seasons with the Browns before he was sent to Jacksonville during a draft-day trade. He anchored the Jaguars defense with 188 tackles, 87 solo, one quarterback sack, and five passes defensed last season.
He originally was drafted by Cleveland in the fourth round in 1999, and was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie when Chris Spielman was forced to retire from the Browns. Rainer stepped up and led Cleveland with 191 tackles.
Also, he was honored by Kaleidoscope Magazine as one of 40 top professionals who have made an impact on their community, and was named the Browns' 2001 Man of the Year for his work with charities.
Rainer becomes the third unrestricted free agent to join the Lions this off-season. Detroit also inked cornerback Dre Bly and running back Shawn Bryson.
Seminoles OK use of name by Florida teams
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., April 3 (UPI) -- The Seminole Tribe of Florida has once again told Florida State University it is welcome to use "Seminoles" as a nickname of its athletic teams.
Max Osceola, acting chief of the Indian tribe, said members of the tribe don't think it's a problem and are proud of the relationship.
"Members of the Seminole Tribe do not consider it derogatory, demeaning and insulting," Osceola said during a trip to the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee for Florida State University Day.
Osceola presented new Florida State President T.K. Wetherell with a brightly covered jacket.
Many American Indians oppose the practice by many athletic teams of using Indians for team names and mascots. The National Council of American Indians has opposed the practice for years but won't oppose the Seminoles.
"Our position in general is that the tribes have the prerogative to address the mascot issue any way they'd like," said Adam Bailey, a spokesman for the National Council of American Indians.
But he said Thursday the organization's position is that the use of the names and mascots is degrading, and it wants them to be eliminated.
"We don't presume to speak for every tribe or every Indian, but we consider the mascots offensive and would like it to end," Bailey said.
In addition to the nickname, Florida State Seminoles, there are other references to the Seminoles.
Before each football game, a man dressed as the original Chief Osceola from the days of the Indian Wars rides the horse Renegade onto the field and drives a flaming spear into the ground.
"We don't look at it as a mascot, we look at it as a representation of the Seminole Tribe," Osceola said. "They work with us in representing our heritage. This is our tribe, and the tribe that is represented needs to have final say and they need to respect that."
Wetherell said the university is "extremely proud" of the relationship with the Seminoles, who often appear at special events such as homecoming ceremonies.
"We believe in the sovereignty of the Seminole Tribe," Wetherell said.
Lemieux to skip season-ender with Penguins
PITTSBURGH, April 3 (UPI) -- Conceding it's been a difficult season, All-Star center Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh hinted Wednesday he may retire again over the summer.
After setting up a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, Lemieux announced he will sit out Saturday's regular-season finale before determining his future.
"If this is my last game, it's been a great experience since I came back three years ago," Lemieux said. "I have no regrets on coming back."
While Lemieux ranks sixth in the NHL in scoring with 91 points, the Penguins have floundered. Forced to unload All-Star winger Alexei Kovalev to trim an already lean payroll, they struggled through a 16-game winless streak, and are next to last with 65 points.
"It's been difficult," Lemieux admitted. "That's not when you want to make a hasty decision. It's been on my mind for a while. The next few weeks, I'm going to take my time and make sure I make the right decision for myself, my family, and the franchise. When I'm ready, I'll let everyone know."
Forced into retirement by persistent back pain, the 37-year-old Lemieux made a remarkable comeback in 2000. He had 35 goals and 41 assists in just 43 games after sitting out three seasons.
A nagging hip injury limited him to 24 games in 2001-02, but he won a gold medal with Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics, and led the league in scoring this season before groin and back injuries sidelined him for 12 games.
Guerin to miss start of playoffs
DALLAS, April 3 (UPI) -- The return of star right wing Bill Guerin of Dallas will take longer than the Stars had hoped.
They have disclosed that Guerin, who has been out of action with a thigh injury since Feb. 27, will miss at least the first two games of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
"In keeping up with hockey injuries, he'll be out with a wrist injury starting in the playoffs," jokes Dallas General Manager Doug Armstrong.
Guerin suffered the injury when he collided with Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips in the third period of a 3-2 overtime loss. The injury caused a compartment syndrome in Guerin's thigh, a condition in which internal bleeding becomes so severe that it cuts off circulation to the muscle. The pressure must be relieved through surgery.
That procedure was performed at Baylor Medical Center March 1 by team physician Dr. Dan Cooper.
Guerin, signed over the summer to a five-year contract worth some $50 million, has 25 goals and 25 assists in 64 games. He scored a career-high 41 goals for Boston last season, and led the NHL with 355 shots.
Buddy Gil seeks respect at Santa Anita
ARCADIA, Calif., April 3 (UPI) -- Buddy Gil runs for the third time for trainer Jeff Mullins Saturday in the $750,000 race at Santa Anita Park.
It is one of the preludes to the Kentucky Derby over the next two weekends.
The unheralded colt posted a two-length win at the Baldwin Stakes earlier this year as a 26-1 choice. He then won the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita at 10-1, edging Atswhatimtalknbout by a razor-thin margin.
Even then, the horse was not even installed as the morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile event Saturday. That honor went to Atswhatimtalknbout, a 9-5 choice who will break from the No. 6 post in the 10-horse field.
Buddy Gil, who was not officially nominated for the Triple Crown races until this week, is the 5-2 second choice and breaks from the fourth post. Both wins came after Mullins took over as trainer.
Buddy Gil is named for 63-year-old Tom Gilmer, a California resident who was nicknamed "Buddy Gil" by a group of friends that include Donnie McFadden, the breeder and one of the colt's owners.
Gilmer and his wife, however, have other plans for the weekend.
"We're big fans of the Final Four, we go every year," Gilmer said.
Those in attendance Saturday will include Gary Stevens, who has won the Santa Anita Derby a record-tying eight times and will be aboard Buddy Gil.
"It's not as important to me as the Kentucky Derby, but it's right below that," Stevens said of the premier West Coast derby prep. "To me, it's a very prestigious race."
Fourteen Santa Anita Derby winners have won the Kentucky Derby, including two that Stevens rode at both Arcadia and Louisville, Winning Colors (1988) and Silver Charm (1997).
The celebrities in attendance Saturday should include Steven Spielberg and Gary Ross, the producer and director of the movie based on the best-seller "Seabiscuit." The duo are part-owners of Atswhatimtalknbout, the long-striding son of A.P. Indy, who will have David Flores aboard.
The Santa Anita Derby provides several chances for Bob Baffert to emerge with a viable Kentucky Derby candidate. Baffert, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown last year with War Emblem, has won the Santa Anita Derby four times, most recently with Point Given in 2001.
The third choice is Baffert's Kafwain (4-1 from post 8), who was a distant second in the Louisiana Derby, and later disqualified for an excessive level of the drug clenbuterol.
Baffert's other notable entry is Domestic Dispute, who lost as the favorite in the San Felipe Stakes and drew the outside post this week at 15-1. Baffert also will saddle Indian Express, a 30-1 long shot from the second post.
Ocean Terrace (6-1) will break from the rail and seeks his fourth win in as many starts. The winner of the El Camino Real Derby also will face that race's runner-up, Ministers Wild Cat, a 10-1 shot from the fifth post.
Another notable prep is the $500,000 Illinois Derby, which has moved to Hawthorne Race Course following the close of Sportsman Park. The Grade II race last year was won by War Emblem, whose strong performance led to his private purchase by the Thoroughbred Corporation and wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Gone this year is a $1 million bonus that goes to a horse that can win the Illinois and Kentucky Derby. As a result, no top-flight Kentucky Derby contenders are entered. The class of the field is Alysweep, the winner of the Grade III Gotham Stakes in his last start.
Saturday's schedule also includes the $250,000 Aventura Park at Gulfstream.
Empire Maker, considered the leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, will run in the Wood Memorial on April 12 at Aqueduct in New York.