Good morning to everyone but especially to…
THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Exactly one year ago, Texas A&M brought in the highest-rated recruiting class ever. Shortly thereafter Nick Saban said the Aggies “bought every player on their team.” Ah, the joys of college football recruiting.
Saban and his Alabama program wasted little time officially reclaiming the throne on Wednesday, wrapping up the top recruiting class of 2023 and the third highest-rated class ever, only behind the Aggies’ 2022 class and Alabama’s 2021 class.
- Alabama’s 2023 class includes a record nine five-star players, including EDGE Keon Keeley (No. 3 overall), offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor (No. 5 overall) and safety Caleb Downs (No. 8 overall)
- Of the Crimson Tide’s 28-player class, 27 are five- or four-star recruits. The only one who isn’t? Conor Talty, the second-ranked kicker in the country.
- Behind Alabama is Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State. Here are the 2023 team rankings.
Not every five-star recruit signed with the Crimson Tide, even though it sometimes seems that way. In fact, another SEC team — South Carolina — signed five-star athlete Nyckoles Harbor, and the Gamecocks were one of the big winners of National Signing Day, writes Brandon Huffman.
No recruiting battle was more dramatic, though, than Jaden Rashada‘s, and he ended up at Arizona State. I really enjoyed Dennis Dodd’s story on new Sun Devils head coach Kenny Dillingham.
- The Celtics crushed the Nets, 139-96.
- Devin Booker is nearing a return.
- Florida got a huge win over No. 2 Tennessee, 67-54.
- Rockets rookie Tari Eason posted a historic box score.
- The Arena Football League is returning in 2024.
And not such a good morning for…
THE CAROLINA PANTHERS AND MATT RHULE
Matt Rhule‘s tenure with the Panthers went poorly, and apparently, things still haven’t been smoothed over, even nearly four months after his firing. Last week, Rhule — who got hired by Nebraska in late November — filed an arbitration suit against the franchise, claiming the Panthers are refusing to pay his severance compensation.
Contract terms indicate there’s roughly $5 million being disputed, writes our NFL insider Jonathan Jones.
- The Panthers plan to argue that Rhule’s contract with Nebraska violates the league’s anti-tampering policy. Rhule signed an eight-year, $74-million contract with the Cornhuskers, up from the seven-year, $60-million deal with Carolina.
- “The argument is that Rhule’s Nebraska contract has an unreasonable increase of greater than 20 percent when factoring in deferred salary and other benefits,” Jonathan writes.
- From Rhule’s side of things, his Carolina contract states he’s owed $34 million from Feb. 1, 2023 through Jan. 31, 2027. The Nebraska contract pays him $29 million from the Nov. 2022 start date through Dec. 31, 2026. That’s where the $5 million difference comes from.
There should be a conclusion in the coming weeks.
What Tom Brady’s retirement means for Bucs and everyone else 🏈
Welcome to your first full day of retirement, Tom Brady! In case you somehow missed it, Brady is calling it quits — this time “for good,” he says — after 23 seasons, seven Super Bowl wins and so many ridiculous numbers that we’d be here forever if I listed them all. His career is truly one-of-one, and it will likely stay that way forever. Robert Kraft certainly thinks so. The winning, the longevity, the records… it’s truly overwhelming.
His retirement created shockwaves across the NFL — here’s how the sports world reacted, and here’s how two of his closest teammates reacted — and the impact of his departure will reach far and wide, especially ahead of what appears to be another hectic quarterback carousel this offseason.
Our Cody Benjamin looked at the ripple effects of Brady walking away, especially on one hypothetical destination.
- Benjamin: “The most popularly predicted Brady destination in the event of a move from Tampa, the Raiders made sense solely because of the Josh McDaniels connection… With that scenario evaporated, the Raiders are still primed to part ways with Derek Carr… Jimmy Garoppolo is potentially the next best thing for McDaniels, sharing the Patriots roots, but a Jarrett Stidham return, in conjunction with a rookie addition, is also a logical alternative.”
We also have winners and losers from the decision, and it’s important to note that Brady himself is the biggest winner, as our Bryan DeArdo writes. One big loser, though, is the Buccaneers, and Bryan has options for what’s next under center in Tampa Bay. Could it be Garoppolo? Maybe, says Tyler Sullivan. I have to give major props to our NFL team, which has every single angle covered:
- Career timeline
- Ranking Brady’s seven Super Bowls and a timeline of all seven, plus his favorite
- Brady’s favorite non-Super Bowl victory
- 12 crazy facts from Brady’s incredible career
- It was either Bucs or retirement, per report.
- Brady probably beat your favorite team… a lot
- Here’s how Brady spent his last year… away from the field.
- Here’s what the world looked like pre-Brady’s NFL career.
Breanna Stewart joins Liberty as a superteam grows in New York 🏀
Breanna Stewart is taking her talents to the Big Apple. And, my goodness, what a talented team the New York Liberty will be.
After being picked No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft Stewart spent the first seven years of her career with the Storm, where she filled up her trophy case:
- Two-time WNBA champion (2018, 2020)
- MVP (2018)
- Commissioner’s Cup champion and MVP (2021)
- Two-time Finals MVP
- 2022 scoring champion
- Four-time All-Star
- Five-time All-WNBA
- Four-time All-Defensive team
- Rookie of the Year
Stewart joins 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, acquired from the Sun in mid-January, and 2022 All-Star Sabrina Ionescu to form one heck of a “Big Three.” Expectations are now high, writes our Jack Maloney.
- Maloney: “There could be some growing pains as they figure out how to play together, but they’re all unselfish players and it’s hard to bet against that type of talent. … Barring any further surprises, the Liberty appear to be on a crash course with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces, who bolstered their squad by agreeing to a deal with Candace Parker. “
Stewart’s free agency was maybe the biggest in WNBA history, with Kevin Durant even recruiting her to New York. Now that she’s there, expect her to continue to be outspoken on some major issues — including chartered flights — off the court while dominating on the court. As Jack notes, “the WNBA has officially entered its superteam era.”
As LeBron James closes in on scoring title, enjoy the ride 🏀
LeBron James is 89 points from breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s all-time scoring record. It’s no longer a matter of “if,” but “when” and “when” is probably next week — potentially Feb. 7 at his current rate.
Of course, the gray cloud hanging over this is that the Lakers are not very good. Only the Spurs and Rockets are worse in the West. If the season ended today, James would miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year — something that hasn’t happened since his first two years in the league. Injuries, underperformance, bad luck, tension, questionable decisions. You name it, the Lakers have dealt with it.
For a few nights, though, let that subside and focus on James passing a record long believed to be untouchable, writes our Bill Reiter.
- Reiter: “Will it be enough freedom from angst — enough joy, and positivity — to spark a Lakers revival and a run between now and season’s end? Maybe. Maybe not. … But a reminder of a feeling — of the purple and gold sitting at the center of the basketball universe, of the game’s most talked about team again emanating from downtown L.A., of the entire NBA turning its often jaded and jealous eye toward the Lakers — will surge again, even if temporarily.”
What we’re watching Thursday 📺
🏀 No. 19 FAU at UAB, 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 Grizzlies at Cavaliers, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 8 Maryland at No. 6 Iowa, 8:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Clippers at Bucks, 10 p.m. on TNT