The NFL Draft, Charlotte Hornets Guard LaMelo Ball Returns And State High School Football Finals Preview
The 2021 NFL Draft is over, and defense and offense were on the Carolina Panthers list. Charlotte Hornets rookie guard sensation LaMelo Ball is back in the lineup and local football teams make it to the state championship games. With "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to talk sports is Langston Wertz Jr., a longtime sportswriter with The Charlotte Observer.
Glenn: Hi, Langston.
Langston Wertz Jr.: Happy Monday.
Glenn: Happy Monday. Well, let's start with the NFL Draft and the Carolina Panthers.
(recording) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: With the eighth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, defensive back South Carolina.
Glenn: So Langston, with former Ohio State University quarterback Justin Fields available, the Panthers passed over him and went for Horn. Here's what Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule had to say about picking Horn.
(recording) Matt Rhule: To us, corner is a position, you know, if you go back to last year there were times we just couldn’t get off the field. So it’s been an issue we tried to address in free agency. Think in the NFC South with the big receivers that we have to deal with. We think he’s a special player and we’re excited to see him.
Glenn: So, Langston, what do you think about that strategy?
Wertz: I remember that game in New Orleans when they couldn't get off the field and New Orleans kept converting third downs. You have to have somebody who can help to get off the field. And I think Horn could be a guy to help them do that. They had him highest rated on their board.
I think the Panthers really wanted Oregon tackle Penei Sewell but he went one pick earlier to Detroit. I know Carolina tried to trade down. They didn't like ... what they did was they were getting back and they say, let's go get the guy we have highest on our board, which was Horn. And that kind of surprised a lot of people because Patrick Surtain was generally considered the number one defensive player in the draft. But if Horn is the guy, it really makes the Panthers look good.
Glenn: OK, they also picked BYU offensive tackle Brady Christensen in the third round of the draft. He said he was surprised to get the Panthers call.
(recording) Brady Christensen: I wasn’t sure where I was gonna go but when I got the call from the Panthers, man I was just so excited. I’m married and I was telling my wife like it almost felt like ... it felt so good just right off the bat, you know, like that was the place for us to be.
Wertz: Carolina really liked this guy, they traded a sixth-round pick to move up three spots to get him. I think he's going to be a good left tackle. He's 6-6 305, he runs a 4.9 40, 4.8 40. He's got, you know, good measurables. I think he surprised people with some of his measurables at his pro day. I think he's going to be a really good player for the Panthers and a steal in the third round.
Glenn: OK, we talked last week about the team's weakness on offense. They also picked offensive linemen Deonte Brown, who was part of the Alabama Crimson Tide national championship team. And check this out — in the last three seasons and 865 snaps, he did not allow a single sack.
Wertz: Yeah, you have to wonder why a guy with those type of stats goes so late. But the guy's had weight problems his whole career, he was 400 pounds when he came into Alabama. He's 365 pounds now. If he can control his weight, Gwen, here's the same word again, another steal for the Panthers in the sixth round.
The Panthers also picked up Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round. He led the nation in rushing two years ago. I mean, he could be a steal. LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall and Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble are going to be two players, I think, that are going to contribute.
I think the Panthers really, really had a great draft. They picked up 11 players and normally do about six. So just anxious to see how it turns out when they hit the field.
Glenn: Moving on to the Charlotte Hornets, where over the weekend rookie guard LaMelo Ball made his return to the starting lineup after a 21-game absence due to a wrist injury.
(recording) Eric Collins: LaMelo … what a pass... finds Bridges. Welcome back LAMELO!
Dell Curry: You just cannot teach instincts like that.
Collins: Was that with his left hand?
Glenn: So, Ball had 11 points and seven assists on Saturday's 107-94 win against the Detroit Pistons. Here's Head Coach James Borrego on Ball's return.
(recording) Charlotte Hornets Head Coach James Borrego: It’s good to have him back, I expect it to only get better from here. But it was a breath of fresh air just to have that jolt back in the gym for us and all our guys have been playing with great pace, but Melo takes us to another level in that regard.
Wertz: Gwen, it's not so much the points and the rebounds and the assists that LaMelo had. The fun came back to Charlotte when LaMelo came back. He had a full-length scoop pass like Pete Maravich. He had a play when he crossed over guys and switched hands before he made a layup. He's a fun player. He brings fun and excitement back.
The Hornets right now are in the seven-eight (playoff) play-in game against Boston. But they're just one game ahead of Indiana from being in a nine-10 loser-go-home game. Good news for Charlotte: They have a crucial five-game homestand coming up starting Thursday. They got LaMelo back and they're 17-14 at home for the season.
Glenn: And they also have point guard Malik Monk back from his ankle injury.
Wertz: Yeah, Malik is at 11 points in the first two games back against Miami and Detroit, and the thing Gwen, he's shooting well. You know, he's always kind of struggled with his shooting. He's made 5-of-9 3s. If he continues to come back strong with that, with LaMelo back giving Charlotte a little more scoring punch, I think the bugs are going to be a problem for some people in the playoffs.
(recording) CBS Sports Jim Nantz: One more time. Yes, indeed ... fantastic.
Glenn: That was sound from Max Homa sinking the final putt to win the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship PGA Tournament at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. Now, it was canceled last year due to the pandemic but kicks off Monday. Langston, what's the field of golfers looking like, and any North Carolinians in the mix?
Wertz: Yeah, there's a guy, actually, I hope I'm saying his name right,
Akshay Bhatia from Raleigh area, he went to Wake Forest High School. He's become fast friends with Phil Mickelson. He's in the field on the sponsor's exemptions, he's 19 years old. He's like 6-foot, 140 pounds, he hits a ball a mile. Also, Wake Forest alum Will Zalatoris, who everybody knows finished second in the Masters, is going to be in the field. And then the big names are there — Rory McIlroy and Dustin Thomas, the Tony Finaus. There's 156 players playing for $8.1 million and 22 of the top 50 players in the world.
Glenn: Should be great to watch. And the state championship football games are coming up. Two Charlotte-area teams will be playing; fill us in.
Wertz: Yeah, Charlotte Catholic's going for a fourth-straight state championship in the 3A class. They're going to play Havelock, which they beat in 2017. Havelock has been in I think five state championships the last 10 years. So it's a battle of two titans in that game. And then in the 4AA finals, Vance playing their last game as Vance High School. They changed their name to Julius Chambers, the civil rights leader, starting in July. They're going to play Wake Forest-Roseville, which should be a really good game. Roseville basically playing a home game, they're 30 minutes away from Raleigh, and Vance is about three hours away from Raleigh.
Glenn: OK, and finally, Langston, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper lifted outdoor face mask restrictions. That went into effect Friday. How will this affect high school sports?
Wertz: Well, athletes do not have to wear a mask outside anymore. I know there was a lot of relief when that news came out. The coaches don't have to wear them on the sidelines either. Fans have been encouraged to wear them — CMS is still requiring fans to wear masks, but a lot of areas are just encouraging them to.
But I think it has been good for the players. I know a lot of football players have complained that it's hard to breathe wearing a mask when they're playing so they're really happy to see it happen.
Glenn: OK, thanks as always, Langston.
Langston Wertz Jr is a longtime sportswriter with The Charlotte Observer.