Why were a bunch of NBA stars in Africa?

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Why were a bunch of NBA stars in Africa?

From Comcast SportsNetOKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- For Nick Collison, taking a trip to Africa changed the world he lives in.The Oklahoma City Thunder forward was only in Kenya for three days, but it felt like three weeks. He witnessed people who walked 30 miles just to get two drops of polio vaccine, then turned around and walked home. He mingled among 100,000 people seeking refuge from wars and famine.He'll come back to the United States a changed person."To see things like that, it makes it real because you always hear about what's going on in different places of the world. To see it firsthand, for me, made it real," Collison said by phone Thursday from South Africa, where he's participating in the NBA's 10th Basketball Without Borders clinic."It's just an incredible trip."Before heading to Johannesburg, Collison stopped in Nairobi then headed out to the refugee camp with UNICEF."I'd say it's probably a life-changing experience. It's something that will give me a different perspective on my life and just how I see the world," Collison said."I think the goal of bringing the NBA as a partner of UNICEF is to get guys to talk about it and just kind of get the word out to a different audience, to let people know what groups are doing and people can get involved with what's going on."Collison is part of a hefty Thunder presence in Africa this week. Four of the seven NBA players participating in Basketball Without Borders this year are from the Oklahoma City roster. Serge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo, joins Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Cole Aldrich as camp coaches.Chicago's Luol Deng, Milwaukee's Luc Mbah a Moute and Brooklyn's C.J. Watson are also participating in the basketball clinic for 60 African boys and girls, and helping life skills seminars and education on HIV and AIDS."We're out here to not only change other people's lives but also to change ours, to give us a different perspective on other how other people live," Aldrich said. "Serge grew up in a totally different lifestyle than any of us did, and we're learning a little bit of that through this trip."It's been so much fun, there's a lot of things we've got to continue to do and we're just trying to spread the word of basketball and just help people that need help."Ibaka made a stop in his hometown, Brazzaville, for about a week and offered a basketball clinic there before linking up with his teammates in Johannesburg. Ibaka is the son of two Congolese basketball players, and is trying to do his part to spread the sport further now that he's developed into one of the NBA's top defenders."I'm trying to do my best I can to come back there and give something and show them that I'm still thinking about them," said Ibaka, who led the league in blocks last season and finished second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year.Sefolosha's father is from South Africa, and he, Ibaka and Collison all had participated in Basketball Without Borders before. Aldrich is a first-timer and took in a safari before the camp began."The goal is to try to improve the basketball development program for kids over here, to get more coaching, to get the national teams more involved, so that they can learn the game better," said Collison, who last participated in 2008. "I've seen a difference from four years ago. The coaching is better, the kids are more skilled, they have a better feel for the game. It's really great for the NBA to do."While passing along some tips on life and how to play hoops, the players also learn more about themselves and the people around them. Just as importantly, they'll live out unforgettable experiences that they can share with others through the platform of professional sports."You kind of look eye-to-eye with people and you start to actually relate to them because they're mothers, fathers and they're trying to do what's best for their children," Collison said. "They just have so many obstacles and difficulties."

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.