Tragedy to triumph -- Cal's Mike Tepper

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Tragedy to triumph -- Cal's Mike Tepper

Kelly Suckow
CSNBayArea.com

Not many athletes can say they have been run down by a car. Mike Tepper can.

The former Cal offensive lineman and current Indianapolis Colt had his life changed forever June 26, 2005.

While walking home in the early hours of the morning with a former Cal volleyball player, Tepper encountered a car full of men making lewd comments at his female friend. After trying to avoid the car, the two found themselves directly in its pathway.

True to his offensive lineman training, Tepper's instinct was to protect those around him. The Cypress, California native used his six-foot-six-inch, 330-pound frame to push his friend out of harms way.

Tepper was not so lucky.

The front end of the car hit him, and his leg caught in its wheel well. After being dragged nearly 30 feet under the moving vehicle, Tepper managed to cling to a metal grid in the road and wrench himself from the cars underbelly.

Once free from the car, Tepper looked up, only to see the car heading towards him yet again. With his life flashing before his eyes, the 19-year-old braced for the second blow that came moments later.

A block away, an undercover Berkeley police officer called for assistance and took off in pursuit of the fleeing vehicle. The driver, John Ray Smith, was apprehended and returned to prison after being out on parole. Three individuals were charged, but it is the driver who is now serving life in prison as a third-strike offender.

People called Tepper a hero, but heroisms double-edged blade hit him hard. After four breaks to his lower leg, a shattered fibula and a torn shoulder muscle, doctors told Tepper he would never walk again, much less play football. His life took a downward spiral -- post-traumatic stress disorder, his parents divorce and depression hung a dark cloud over his next six months.

"Those six months," Tepper classified, "were the closest thing to a living Hell that I could have ever got to."

The lowest of the low came while sitting on the edge of Cal's Memorial Stadium one day. Feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, there were brief moments when he thought how easy it would be to put an end to it right there.

A dream of playing in the National Football League provided the incentive to approach life with a newly-fortified constitution. Tepper withdrew from school and began seeing a psychiatrist. Slowly, the weight that spurred suicidal thoughts began to lift, becoming instead, a source of strength for Tepper.

The left tackle rebounded in 2006, competing in all 13 of the Bears' contests. In 2007, he started all 13 games at right tackle.

A pectoral injury put him on the bench in 2008, but Tepper topped his Cal career off as a first-team All-Pac 10 selection thanks to a sixth year of eligibility granted from the NCAA.

In April of 2010, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, only to be cut the day before the 53-man roster was finalized. No stranger to adversity, Tepper was prepared for his three-game stint with the UFL Sacramento Mountain Lions, and took it as an opportunity to keep his hands -- and eyes -- on the ball.

In January 2011, he signed a contract with the Colts. True to his story, last year's lockout denied Tepper from joining his team and forced him to remain in California, unsure of the next move.

With no obligations and sparse options, the 25-year-old packed his bags and moved to Colorado on a whim to become a certified rafting guide at Glenwood Adventure Company. Paddling down the raging rivers, squats with a boat trailer and daily runs up the trails in the area provided ample opportunities for him to stay in game shape.

When the lockout was lifted, Tepper was more than ready to move east for the Colts training camp. He survived the gauntlet of cuts and earned his first career start against the Titans on Oct. 30, 2011.

He finally made it.

Two major injuries, six collegiate seasons, two NFL teams, a lockout and a summer as a raft guide are only the bullet notes in Tepper's extraordinary story.

The scars that snake around his lower right leg remind him of how close he was to losing it all, and allow him to measure just how far he has come since that fateful night.

The best part is, his story is still being written. Life may have forced a few fumbles, but you havent seen the best of Mike Tepper yet.

"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Tepper relayed with a knowing smile, "and that is definitely an aspect of my life that I can look back on, that made me a stronger individual."
Kelly Suckow is an intern with CSNBayArea.com. She is a former staff writer for the Daily Californian and is studying psychology in her senior year at Cal. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJSuckow.

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."