Hawks fire Babcock
ATLANTA, April 2 (UPI) -- The Atlanta Hawks announced Wednesday that Pete Babcock has been released from his position of Vice President and General Manager with the club.
President Stan Kasten said a nationwide search for Babcock's replacement will begin immediately.
Kasten said Billy Knight, the team's Director of Basketball Operations, will assume the lead in handling the organization's efforts concerning the 2003 NBA Draft.
Babcock, who replaced Kasten as GM on Feb. 14, 1990, was in charge of all decisions related to the basketball operations department. His responsibilities included overseeing the daily management and direction of the team as well as the procurement of players through trades, free agency, and the college draft.
In his 13 seasons with the Hawks, the team compiled a record of 529-497 (.516), and reached the playoffs in eight of those years. The 1993-94 squad finished with an Eastern Conference-best 57-25 record on the way to winning the franchise's first Central Division title in seven seasons.
Prior to joining the Hawks, Babcock spent more than six years with the Denver Nuggets (1984-90). In his final three seasons, he served as the team's President/General Manager. During his tenure in Denver, the Nuggets won two division championships, and reached the 1985 Western Conference finals.
He began his career as a high school basketball coach in the Phoenix area for nine years prior to entering the NBA. After six years of volunteer and regional scouting for the New Orleans Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, and Milwaukee, the San Diego Clippers hired him as an assistant coach in 1980. Within four seasons, he was appointed to the position of Vice President of Basketball Operations with the Clippers and moved on to the Nuggets organization in 1984.
In addition to his responsibilities with the Hawks, Babcock also served on various committees for the league, among them the Steering Committee for Competition and Rules, and Director of the NBA Pre-Draft Camp.
Wallace agrees to drug rehab
PORTLAND, Ore., April 2 (UPI) -- Veteran forward Rasheed Wallace of Portland has agreed to enter a drug rehabilitation program.
The decision was reached as a part of a plea made in Lewis County (Wash.) District Court in connection with a misdemeanor drug charge levied against him in late November.
Additionally, Wallace will attend drug counseling, pay a $650 fine, and stay out of legal problems for the next six months. If he does, the drug charge will be dropped.
This season, Wallace is averaging 18.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest in 65 games.
Wallace and teammate Damon Stoudamire were cited for marijuana possession Nov. 22 during a traffic stop on Interstate 5 near Chehalis, Wash.
Stoudamire already has been sentenced to 12 months' probation, and also was hit with a $650 fine.
Less than a year earlier, Stoudamire was charged with felony drug possession after police found less than a pound of marijuana in a crawl space in his home. A judge suppressed evidence in that case, saying police did not have the right to conduct the search.
Prosecutors are appealing that decision.
The number of Portland players facing marijuana problems rose to three this week when rookie Qyntel Woods admitted to being "addicted" to the drug. He told police that during traffic stop last weekend.
President Bob Whittsitt told the Portland Oregonian that the team is not taking the incidents lightly.
""We are spending a lot of time, energy and resources, and developing things for the future, to continue to educate the players even more, make them understand more, and make things available to them to help their personal lives improve," Whitsitt told the paper. "I'm concerned if one player has an alleged issue."
Reserve center Chris Dudley, who is retiring at season's end, is lobbying to fill the position of Director of Player Programs that Whitsitt wants to establish. He said that would be a major first step.
"It's not good for the team," Dudley told the paper about the drug matters. "It's tough to put a positive light on it. It's something that people need to be aware of. I don't know where the flaw is, whether something is wrong with the NBA as a whole, or this team specifically, but it has been a problem."
Monthly honors for Brown, Popovich
NEW YORK, April 2 (UPI) -- After leading San Antonio to the best record in the NBA in March, Gregg Popovich has been Coach of the Month in the Western Conference in March.
The Spurs went an NBA-best 14-3 record in March, including a 6-0 mark on the road. San Antonio, which owns the league's longest current winning streak at five games, beat division leaders Sacramento, New Jersey, and Dallas in the month.
Larry Brown of Philadelphia earned Eastern Conference honors for the second straight month.
Brown guided the 76ers to a conference-best 11-5 record in March, going 9-3 on the road. Philadelphia closed out the month with a 118-113 overtime victory over Orlando that clinched a playoff berth, and moved it within 2 1/2 games of the Eastern Conference-leading Detroit Pistons.
Contract extension for Bruce Pearl
MILWAUKEE, April 2 (UPI) -- Bruce Pearl, who guided Wisconsin-Milwaukee to its first NCAA Tournament berth this spring, has been rewarded with a contract extension.
It runs through the 2007-08 season. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Pearl, a two-time Horizon League Coach of the Year, led the Panthers to 24 wins, the most in its Division I history, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where they were edged by Notre Dame, 70-69, in the first round.
He has a 40-21 record since arriving from the University of Southern Indiana two years ago.
"I expected this team to play well," Pearl said. "What I didn't expect was for the enthusiastic support to be what it was. Our charge now is to build on last season's success. We've all been granted a look at what it can be with the continued support of the students, the alumni, and the city of Milwaukee. I'm excited to be a part of it."
Despite losing three starters and seven seniors to graduation, the Panthers will bring back All-Horizon League forward Dylan Page next season.
A-10 to retain St. Bonaventure
WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- St. Bonaventure has been assured by the presidents of the Atlantic 10 Conference that the school will remain a league member.
That despite the fact that an ongoing conference investigation into the use of an ineligible player continues.
The issues were among those discussed Tuesday in a regularly scheduled meeting by the Presidents Council of the Atlantic 10. St. Joseph's University President Nicholas Rashford said in a statement that the league has no intention of expunging the Buffalo, N.Y., school.
"St. Bonaventure remains a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference and reports to the contrary should be put to rest," he said.
The meeting was attended by St. Bonaventure interim president Rev. Dominic Monti and Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Swan, who updated the council on the status of the investigation.
The school offered to provide to the council as soon as possible the results of its internal investigation, and the results of any pending NCAA probe.
St. Bonaventure also offered to reimburse A-10 schools and the conference for any financial losses incurred by its decision last month to not play the last two games of the regular season.
In turn, the league banned the Bonnies from the conference tournament.
"We all agree this is a difficult time at St. Bonaventure and appreciate the candor in which (Rev.) Monti and Mr. Swan have assured us that they will keep us abreast of any developments as they occur," Rashford said.
The tone of the meeting seemed far more understanding than anticipated. After St. Bonaventure made its decision to suspend its season, A-10 Commissioner Linda Bruno said the league was "extremely disappointed."
The situation resulted in the removal of St. Bonaventure President Robert Wickenheiser and the suspension of basketball coach Jan van Breda Kolff.
In a team meeting, coaches and players reached the decision to forfeit six wins and not play the last two games of the regular season. The team was upset with the league's decision to ban it from the conference tournament.
The problems centered around junior Jamil Terrell, a junior college transfer, who reportedly had nothing more than a welding certificate to validate his education. He was declared ineligible on Feb. 26.
Terrell was supposed to wait one year before joining the basketball team. There was speculation that van Breda Kolff went outside the athletic department to Wickenheiser for permission to play Terrell, who came to the Bonnies from Georgia Coastal Community College.
Packers come to terms with Gbaja-Biamila
GREEN BAY, Wis., April 2 (UPI) -- The Green Bay Packers have reached agreement on a multi-year contract with defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
Coach and General Manager Mike Sherman said the agreement was reached late Tuesday night.
The agreement locks up one of the NFL's top pass rushers for the prime of his career, and also continues the team's long-standing commitment to re-sign its premier young players before they reach unrestricted free agency.
Gbaja-Biamila, who had been a restricted free agent, officially will sign his new Packers contract Wednesday afternoon.
"After much deliberation and prayer, I'm glad that this matter has been brought to a positive resolution," Gbaja-Biamila said. "I really thank God that I will be able to enjoy a long career with the Green Bay Packers, the team that I started with. I'm excited to get back to work and hopefully play a role in helping the Packers return to the Super Bowl, by the grace of God."
Originally a fifth-round draft choice of Green Bay in 2000 out of San Diego State, Gbaja-Biamila has recorded the fifth-most sacks in the NFL over the past two seasons with 25 ½, a feat accomplished though he did not become a full-time starter until Week 6 of last year.
In 2002, "KGB" posted 12 sacks among a career-high 45 tackles, in addition to one interception, which he returned for a touchdown, a career-best four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and four passes defensed.
Now seventh on the Packers' all-time list with 27 career sacks, Gbaja-Biamila will have the opportunity to pass No. 6 Vonnie Holliday (32.0), No. 5 Bryce Paup (32.5), and No. 4 Tony Bennett (36.0), among others, during the 2003 season. The fourth-year pro also will be vying to become the first player in team history to record three consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks.
Bears legend Connor dead at 78
LAKE FOREST, Ill., April 2 (UPI) -- Hall of Fame linebacker George Connor, the first of the great linebackers of the Chicago Bears, died Monday after a long illness.
He was 78.
In his eight-year career with the Bears from 1948-55, Connor earned All-Pro honors at three different positions, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and linebacker, but it was at linebacker where Connor made his biggest mark and defined the position for future generations of Bears greats like Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
The Philadelphia Eagles were running roughshod over the NFL in 1949 with Steve Van Buren sweeping around end behind two pulling guards and a fullback. The Bears' coaching staff moved the agile Connor into a linebacking slot to try to stop the play.
The experiment was successful and Connor became a linebacker for good.
The Notre Dame graduate was always one of the smartest players on the field. He seemed instinctively to know about keys, the tips that the movements of certain offensive players will provide to the defender as to which way the play is going, long before keys became the vogue.
A knee injury cut Connor's career short after eight seasons.
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975, he was an All-American at Holy Cross before World War II interrupted his college career. When he returned, Connor made All-American twice on two undefeated Notre Dame teams, and was the first winner of the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's top lineman, in 1946.
Connor is survived by his wife, Suzanne, sons George Jr. and Albert, and a brother and sister. A funeral mass will be held Saturday morning, and a burial in Des Plaines, Ill.
Fox Sports, MLS reach deal
NEW YORK, April 2 (UPI) -- MLS and Fox Sports International have reached a four-year television deal with Fox Sports World and Fox Sports en Espanol cable networks.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
The agreement calls for at least 25 regular-season games and at least eight playoff games per season to be aired on the networks, and will extend to affiliated networks of Fox in Latin America and the Middle East.
The games will air on Saturday nights, beginning with a contest between D.C. United and Kansas City Wizards on April 12.
"Major League Soccer is ecstatic about the opportunity to showcase our regular-season and playoff contests, the competitive nature of our teams, and the personality of our players on a cable network that has become a destination for soccer fans in the Western Hemisphere," said MLS CEO Mark Abbott. "Our fans have been clamoring for a weekly highlight show and Spanish-language broadcasts, and Fox Sports World has helped us deliver."
MLS games already air on ESPN and ESPN2, but those games air on Saturday afternoons.
Fox Sports World already airs games of prominent leagues in Europe and Latin America.
"Our mission is to continue growing our network," said Fox Sports World General Manager David Sternberg. "And to broaden its appeal for the United States soccer fan, and truly make this a global sports network, we're announcing that we have added the American professional soccer league to our international roster of top-flight competition."
Finalists named for Hobey Baker Award
APPLE VALLEY, Minn., April 2 (UPI) -- Chris Kunitz of Ferris State, who recently signed with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.
Cornell goaltender Dave LeNeveu and Colorado College forward Peter Sejna also have been named as finalists for the award, which honors the best player in college hockey.
Kunitz had 35 goals and 44 assists in just 42 games, and led the Bulldogs to a school-record 31 wins this season.
LeNeveu posted the best goals-against average in college hockey history (1.44), and has guided Cornell to a date in the NCAA Frozen Four next week. He posted a 28-2-1 record, and broke many of the school records held by former Montreal Canadiens goalie and Hall of Famer Ken Dryden.
The native of Slovakia had 36 goals and 46 assists, and recorded a point in all but one of Tigers' 42 games.
The winner will be announced on April 11 at the Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y.