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SPORTS DIGEST: Rams return is chosen 2016’s best sports story

The Rams over Vin Scully? Really?

That’s the way the L.A. Sports Council saw it.

The Rams getting NFL approval to move back to Southern California was 2016’s top sports moment in the Los Angeles-Orange County area. That award was handed out at the 12th Annual LA Sports Awards in Beverly Hills Feb. 27.

Vin Scully’s final season as voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers was second as voted by a media panel and an online vote of the public.

The region had been without an NFL team since 1994 until the 30-2 vote by NFL owners on Jan. 12, 2016, to approve the Rams move from St. Louis. The Rams playing their first home game at the Coliseum since 1979 was the ninth biggest sports moment of the season, according to the poll. Imagine how popular the Rams would have been if they had one more than four games.

The remaining top 10 sports moments of 2016 were: Kobe Bryant scoring 60 points in his final game; Mike Trout winning the American League MVP award; the Dodgers winning the National League Division Series on Clayton Kershaw’s first save; USC getting a berth in the Rose Bowl by winning its last eight regular season games; the Dodgers clinching the National League West Division at Vin Scully’s last home game; the Los Angeles Sparks winning the WNBA title; and Dodger shortstop Corey Seager being selected as National League Rookie of the Year.

Nominated moments must have taken place in the local area or have involved a local athlete or team.

I would have probably placed Scully’s last season as the number one story followed by Bryant’s 60-point finale.

USC’s football season deserved a higher mention then fifth, especially after the 1-3 start.

The Sports Council also gave out individual awards to local athletes.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout was honored as Sportsman of the Year; sprinter Allyson Felix was the Sportswomen of the Year; and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was as Coach of the Year.

Adam Krikorian was the first recipient of the Extraordinary Achievement in Olympic Sport Award for coaching the Huntington Beach-based U.S. women’s water polo team to its second consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Former Major League Baseball Commissioner and 1984 Olympics head Peter Ueberroth received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

I wonder where the UCLA men’s basketball team will end up in the 2017 rankings?

USC guard Elijah Stewart, the former City Player of the Year at Westchester, poured in a game-high 29 points to lead the Trojans to an 82-79 win over Arizona State earlier this season at the Galen Center. The Trojans need a pair of victories this week to try and secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

USC guard Elijah Stewart, the former City Player of the Year at Westchester, poured in a game-high 29 points to lead the Trojans to an 82-79 win over Arizona State earlier this season at the Galen Center. The Trojans need a pair of victories this week to try and secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

DOWN TO THE WIRE: I used to be a big fan of college basketball. That was before the era of conference tournaments, when what a team did during the regular season actually mattered.

Now I get interested in the sport when the conference tournaments start as a prelude to March Madness and the NCAA Tournament.

This year, the run-and-gun play of UCLA has caught my attention, as did USC’s undefeated preseason schedule. The two teams finish up their regular season schedule this week with games against Washington and Washington State.

UCLA is playing for seeding in the NCAA Tournament. If the Bruins win both games, they will be on a nine-game winning streak headed into the Pac 12 Tournament with key wins over Arizona, Oregon and Kentucky. That should be worth a number two seed at the worst in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bruins play Washington State March 4 after hosting Washington March 1.

After getting swept by the Arizona schools last week, USC is playing for its tournament life this week. After facing Washington State March 1, the Trojans end the season against Washington March 4 at 3:30 p.m. at the Galen Center.

After starting the season 13-0, the Trojans are now 21-8, 8-8 in Pac 12 play.

Of their 21 wins, only two have come against teams ranked in the top 25 — UCLA and SMU, which was ranked 14th when USC defeated it in December.

USC is tied for sixth in the Pac 12, but there are only three very good conference teams this year: UCLA, Arizona and Oregon. USC is on the bubble and desperately needs to end the season with wins over the Washington schools and then win its first game in next week’s Pac 12 Tournament to clinch an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Pac 12 Tournament takes place March 8-11 at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, eight of the 11 games will be shown on the Pac 12 Network, which is as easy to find in Los Angeles as the Los Angeles Dodgers games.

UCLA is currently the third seed in the conference and USC is seeded sixth. If that stands up through this weekend, USC could face UCLA in the second round of the tournament March 9, if the Trojans win their first-round game.

The top four seeds have a bye in the first round. That would be a game worth seeing.

Former USC running back coach John Jackson, shown with one-time East Los Angeles College star Lynn Cain during the 1979 season, has died. Jackson coached USC running backs Charles White and Marcus Allen during the years they won Heisman Trophies. (Photo courtesy of USC)

Former USC running back coach John Jackson, shown with one-time East Los Angeles College star Lynn Cain during the 1979 season, has died. Jackson coached USC running backs Charles White and Marcus Allen during the years they won Heisman Trophies. (Photo courtesy of USC)

RIP JOHN JACKSON: The USC football family and Southland sports in general have lost someone special.

John Jackson, who coached Heisman Trophy running backs Charles White and Marcus Allen at USC, and handled boxing and other events at the Forum in Inglewood for Jerry Buss for many years, died Feb. 16 in Torrance of complications following intestinal surgery, according to Tim Tessalone, USC’s sports information director. He was 81.

Jackson was the running backs coach at USC from 1976-81 under coach John Robinson, during which time the Trojans won the Rose Bowl three times and were selected as the 1978 national champions in the coaches poll conducted by United Press International.

Charles White won the Heisman Trophy in 1979 and finished as the NCAA’s second-leading career rusher with 6,234 yards under Jackson’s tutelage. Allen won the Heisman in 1981, becoming the first major college player to run for 2,000 yards in a season.

Jackson also coached USC All-American Ricky Bell; Lynn Cain, who set the Trojan fullback career rushing record; and future NFL fullback Mosi Tatupu.

After leaving USC, Jackson worked for 17 years with California Sports as a special assistant to Jerry Buss, the late owner of the Lakers and Forum. While there, Jackson ran Forum Boxing and helped develop the Prime Ticket sports cable network.

He also owned and operated the Culver City Ice Arena from 1982 to 2014.

Jackson returned to coaching in 1999 and spent six seasons as UNLV’s running backs coach, run game coordinator and assistant head coach, again working under Robinson.

Jackson served in the U.S. Marine Corps, reaching the rank of captain.

His son John was an Academic All-American football wide receiver and baseball outfielder at USC (1986-90), who went on to play in the NFL with the Cardinals and Bears and is now the analyst on USC football radio broadcasts, in addition to his announcing duties with Fox Sports West.

Other survivors include daughter Tracie, who works at USC, and his children’s mother, Lillian, along with four grandchildren and his brother, Pazel.

Funeral services were held at First AME Church in South Los Angeles Feb. 24, followed by a celebration of life program at USC’s Town and Gown.

PREP PLAYOFFS: The St. Paul High School boys basketball team is the last team standing in the Southern Section playoffs. The Swordsmen play for the 3A Division title at 4 p.m. March 4 against 29 Palms at Azusa Pacific University.

In L.A. City championship action, Westchester plays Birmingham form the boys Open Division title at 7:30 p.m. March 4 at Cal State Dominguez Hills. In Division I, Crenshaw plays Granada Hills Charter at 3 p.m. March 4 at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Carson plays Gardena at 8 p.m. March 3 at the Roybal Learning Center for the Division II title. Chavez played Hawkins March 1 for the Division IV title.

New Designs Watts won the Division V title Feb. 28, with an 87-80 victory over Smidt Tech.

For the girls, Fairfax will play Palisades at 5 p.m. March 4 at Cal State Dominguez Hills for the Open Division title. Westchester plays Venice at 1 p.m. March 4 at Cal State Dominguez Hills for the Division 1 championship.

King-Drew plays Cleveland at 6 p.m. March 3 at the Roybal Learning Center for the Division II championship.

Wilson plays Torres in a matchup of Eastside schools for the Division III title at 5 p.m. March 2 for the Division III title.

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