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SPORTS DIGEST: Top pick provides Lakers fans with hope for future

The beauty of drafts held by professional sports leagues is that they give fans a reason to believe there is hope for the future.

And for the last two years, that’s about all Lakers fans have had. After enduring the worst two years in franchise history, Lakers fans were ecstatic June 25 when Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell was selected with the second pick overall in the NBA draft. The last time the Lakers drafted that high, some guy named James Worthy was the selection and Lakers fans all remember how that worked out.

Actually, the Lakers could have done just as well by picking Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who fell to the Philadelphia 76ers as the third overall choice. Okafor is a center and the Lakers are a team that has always had a dominant center when they were winning championships.

But Russell is a more exciting choice for a couple of reasons. For one, he is a point guard, the best point guard the Lakers have had possibly since Nick Van Exel.

Derek Fisher, for all the rings he helped provide, was never a dynamic point guard and Gary Payton was on the downhill side of his career when he arrived in 2004.

The trend in the NBA is small ball and that requires a point guard who cannot only move the ball to open teammates who can score, but who can also create his own shots and make them.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers are a playoff team next April.

No one knows how much Kobe Bryant has left in the tank. Julius Randle is still an unknown quantity and there is still the free agent signing period that will actually determine whether the Lakers are pretenders or contenders next year.

But by drafting Russell, the Lakers gave their fans some reason to be optimistic while waiting for next season to begin.

ANOTHER BLACK EYE — Boxing can’t help itself. What was once the third or fourth most popular sport in the country 50 or 60 years ago, now struggles to be more than a niche sport after losing many of its younger fans to mixed martial arts or ultimate fighting.

The June 27 fight at StubHub Center in Carson is another example.

Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley defeated previously unbeaten Jesse Vargas to win the interim World Boxing Organization’s welterweight title with a unanimous 12-round decision.

But the way the fight ended left Vargas thinking he had won in a last-round technical knockout and the sport wiping egg off its face again.

Referee Pat Russell stepped in between the two fighters with seven seconds left in the bout, apparently because he “thought” he heard the bell. At the time, Bradley was trying to hold off a last-round onslaught by Vargas that included a hard punch to the chin with 30 second remaining that stunned and dazed Bradley.

When the referee stepped in early, Vargas thought he was stopping the fight, which would have made him the winner.

Russell told HBO’s Max Kellerman, “It was very loud in the 12th round and I thought I heard the bell” to signal the end of the round.

“I made the call that I made based on what I heard,” he said. “That’s all that I can say. It was an honest call on an honest issue.”

Vargas was gracious enough to say Russell made “an honest mistake.”

“We all acknowledge that, but those 10 seconds possibly cost me the fight,” he added, after suffering the first loss of his career.

Bradley compounded Russell’s mistake by dismissing Vargas’ request for a rematch.

“I’m not in the rematch business,” he said after the fight.

Vargas plans to ask the California State Athletic Commission and the WBO to overturn the result or declare the fight “no contest.”

Either way, it isn’t a pretty way to end a championship fight.

Defender Christie Rampone clears the ball away from a Nigerian player in the June 16 World Cup game. Rampone and her teammates play for the World Cup championship July 5 against the winner of the England versus Japan game. (Photo by Nick Koza)
Defender Christie Rampone clears the ball away from a Nigerian player in the June 16 World Cup game. Rampone and her teammates play for the World Cup championship July 5 against the winner of the England versus Japan game. (Photo by Nick Koza)

WORLD CUP FINALE: Every two years, sports fans in the United States realize what the rest of the world already knows: soccer is a good spectator sport.

It takes the World Cup competition (men or women) to get most of us interested in the sport, but with the U.S. women’s team playing in the championship game July 5, expect a lot of your friends and neighbors to be watching Channel 11 at 4 p.m.

The U.S. will play the winner of the England-Japan game for the championship (Germany plays the loser July 4 for third place).

A sports bar I’ve been known to frequent was busy June 30 for the U.S.’s 2-0 win over Germany in the semifinal match. The last time people there were interested in soccer was two years ago when the men’s World Cup was taking place.

Soccer would be an even better game if they would get rid of that offsides rule.

Sol-Jay Maiava, who will be in eighth grade at Kahuko High School in Hawaii this fall, Hawaii 8th grade in fall works out at the National Underclassmen Combine that was held June 27-28 at East Los Angeles College. (Photo by Mario Villegas)
Sol-Jay Maiava, who will be in eighth grade at Kahuko High School in Hawaii this fall, Hawaii 8th grade in fall works out at the National Underclassmen Combine that was held June 27-28 at East Los Angeles College. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

SUMMER FOOTBALL: High school football is on the verge of becoming a year-round sport, with the advent of seven-on-seven passing league tournaments and the like. Last weekend, a number of top high school underclassmen from throughout the western United Stated gathered at East Los Angeles in Monterey Park for a National Underclassmen Combine. Kids as young as 13 participated in the program and sports writer and photographer Mario Villegas sent us pictures of some of the players.

NEWS AND NOTES: Salesian High School in Boyle Heights has announced that several members of the class of 2015 will be continuing their academic and athletic careers next year. Cross country runners Santiago Banuleos, Anthony Partida and Tomas Navarro will continue racing at Whittier College, Aurora University in Illinois and New Mexico State, respectively. Soccer players Diego Cabrera and Michael Mojarro will continue playing at Findlandia University in Michigan and DePaul University in Chicago.

Baseball player Saul Garcia will play next season at Cal Poly Pomona.

Four football players also will continue playing, topped by defensive tackle Kevin Scott, who will attend USC. Jeremy Kelly will attend San Jose State, Kyahva Tezino will attend San Diego State and Dameon Wright will attend Boise State. …

The L.A. Fight Club returns to its first Thursday of the month home at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles July 2. Put on by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, the evening will feature five fights, headlined by Mexico City’s Gilberto Gonzalez versus John Karl Sosa of Peurto Rico in a 10-round super lightweight bout. The co-main event features Diego De La Hoya of Mexicali, Mexico against Jose Estrella of Tijuana. …

Trump National Golf Course in Los Angeles, owned by always-in-the-news Donald Trump, will host the PGA Grand Slam of Golf Tournament Oct. 19-21. The tournament features the winners of the four major PGA tournaments of the year — the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Jordan Spieth has won the first two majors of the year, so the tournament has announced that last year’s champion, Martin Kaymer of Germany also will play this year. Volunteers also are being sought to help with the tournament. Inquire at pga.com/grandslam/.

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