The Cardinal's unsung hero

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The Cardinal's unsung hero

Steve Berman
CSNBayArea.com

Ask a college football fan about Stanford, and if they even mention the defense you might hear names like Chase Thomas or the injured Shayne Skov. In the likelier event that the offense receives the focus, you'd probably hear names like Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and, of course, Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck. But if one takes a closer look at the 2011 Cardinal offense, a group that puts up nearly 50 points per game, it'd be a drastic mistake to overlook Stanford's offensive line. While the entire group is as big, strong and effective as any unit in college football, the line's leader is undoubtedly Jonathan "Moose" Martin.Stanford's left tackle might not be as well known among casual fans, but NFL scouts know all about Moose. According to Walter Football's 2012 NFL Mock Draft, Martin is currently slated to be chosen at No. 12 overall. Scott Wright's Draft Countdown has Martin going off the board at No. 10. FF Toolbox has Martin as a top-5 selection.With all the hype surrounding the supremely talented Luck, one could argue that Martin might be the safest bet on Stanford's entire roster to be an NFL starter for 10 years.After Martin made first team All-Pac-10 last year, he was a first team Playboy preseason All-America pick before the 2011 season. To say he's lived up to that billing would be an understatement. The 6-6, 304-pound Martin has protected Luck's blind side and opened up holes for Taylor and the rest of Stanford's deep running back corps to such a degree that he was recently named one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, annually given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. Thanks to Martin and the rest of Stanford's huge, powerful offensive line, Luck has completed over 70 of his passes this season and has only been sacked four times in nine games. Martin like most offensive linemen prefers run blocking to pass protection, and Cardinal runners average 5.7 yards per carry, 7th in the nation (Oregon leads the country at 7.0 yards per rush, incidentally). Beyond statistics, Martin is the leader of a group that sets the tone for Stanford. The Cardinal, unlike most that spread the field and live outside the hash marks, mixes complicated schemes (Stanford by all accounts makes their offensive players memorize more plays than any other team in the country) with old-school physicality.Martin, who originally committed to UCLA before the chance to play on The Farm changed his mind, is ranked so highly among potential pro prospects in large part due to his athleticism. His long arms and flexibility, paired with outstanding technique and intelligence (several members of Martin's family have attended Harvard) have made him invaluable to Luck and Stanford coach David Shaw.When Shaw moved up from offensive coordinator after Jim Harbaugh left to coach the San Francisco 49ers, it appeared Stanford would have a great chance at a successful season, especially with Luck returning. However, Martin was one of only two returning offensive linemen along with right guard David DeCastro, who in his own right is projected to be taken low in the first round or in the early second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The way that Martin and DeCastro have anchored Stanford's o-line and integrated new starters David Yankey, Sam Schwartzstein and Cameron Fleming has been invaluable to the No. 4 team in the BCS standings.Many believe Luck's chances to clinch the Heisman Trophy ride largely on how he does in Saturday's much-anticipated matchup against Oregon. If that indeed comes to pass, a large reason why will surely be the way Martin protects Luck's blindside when he drops back to do so.

Steve Berman is the Bay Area Sports Guy and a contributor to CSNBayArea.com. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @BASportsGuy

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

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AP

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's OK, Carolina, you can open your eyes.

An unwatchable game turned into a beautiful night for the Tar Heels, who turned a free-throw contest into a championship they've been waiting an entire year to celebrate.

Justin Jackson delivered the go-ahead 3-point play with 1:40 left Monday and North Carolina pulled away for a 71-65 win over Gonzaga that washed away a year's worth of heartache.

It was, in North Carolina's words, a redemption tour - filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year's title game on Kris Jenkins' 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova.

"Just unreal that we get a second chance at this," junior Theo Pinson said, recounting a pre-game conversation with teammate Joel Berry II. "Not a lot of people can say they can do that. I told him, `We're about to take this thing. I'm about to give everything I got.' I knew he would, too, We just didn't want to come up short again."

But to say everything went right for Roy Williams' team at this Final Four would be less than the truth.

The Tar Heels (33-7) followed a terrible-shooting night in the semifinal with an equally ice-cold performance in the final - going 4 for 27 from 3-point land and 26 for 73 overall.

Gonzaga, helped by 8 straight points from Nigel Williams-Goss, took a 2-point lead with 1:52 left, but the next possession was the game-changer.

Jackson took a zinger of a pass under the basket from Pinson and converted the shot, then the ensuing free throw to take the lead for good. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and could not elevate for a jumper that would've given the Bulldogs the lead.

Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push the lead to 3, then Kennedy Meeks, in foul trouble all night (who wasn't?), blocked Williams-Goss' shot and Jackson got a slam on the other end to put some icing on title No. 6 for the Tar Heels.

Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

"I think of Coach Smith, there's no question," Williams said. "I don't think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I've got these guys with me and that's all I care about right now - my guys."

Berry recovered from ankle injuries to lead the Tar Heels, but needed 19 shots for his 22 points. Jackson had 16 but went 0 for 9 from 3. Overall, the Tar Heels actually shot a percentage point worse than they did in Saturday night's win over Oregon.

Thank goodness for free throws.

They went 15 for 26 from the line and, in many corners, this game will be remembered for these three men: Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades, the referees who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busted up the flow of the game and sent Meeks, Gonzaga's 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and a host of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game "featured" 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

Most bizarre sequence: With 8:02 left, Berry got called for a foul for (maybe) making contact with Karnowski and stripping the ball from the big man's hands. But as Karnowski was flailing after the ball, he inadvertently grabbed Berry around the neck. After a long delay, the refs called Karnowski for a flagrant foul of his own.

"I'm not going to talk about refs," Karnowski said. "It was just a physical game."

Zags coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the refs "three of the best officials in the entire country," and insisting they did a fine job.

He might have wanted further review on the scrum with 50 seconds left. The refs were taking heat on social media for calling a held ball, which gave possession to the Tar Heels, on a pile-up underneath the Carolina basket. It set up the Hicks layup to put Carolina ahead by 3. One problem: Meeks' right hand looks to be very much touching out of bounds while he's trying to rip away the ball.

"That was probably on me," Few said. "From my angle, it didn't look like an out of bounds situation or I would have called a review. That's tough to hear."

The Bulldogs (37-2), the Cinderella-turned-Godzilla team from the small school in the West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run at that sort of place looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game.

"We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn't break," junior forward Johnathan Williams said.

And North Carolina got over a hump that, at times this season, felt like a mountain.

"They wanted redemption," Williams said. "I put it on the locker room up on the board - one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough tonight."