Two North Carolina A&T Track Athletes Win Gold
There's been a lot going on in the sports world lately. The Charlotte Hornets made some tweaks to the roster as the NBA Summer League games kick off. North Carolina A&T athletes return to Greensboro with Olympic gold. And the Carolina Panthers have less than a week until their first preseason game. Langston Wertz Jr. with The Charlotte Observer helps us catch up on the latest news.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi, Langston.
Langston Wertz Jr.: Hey, Gwen. How are you doing?
Glenn: All is well. We have to start with the Summer Olympics, Langston. The closing ceremony was Sunday night. Locally, North Carolina A&T sprinter Randolph Ross Jr. returned home with the gold as a member of the men’s 4x4 relay team.
Randolph Ross (recording, as he arrives back in the U.S.): It's great bringing home something. A lot of people go and have a chance to compete, but being able to place top three on a world stage is amazing.
Wertz: Gwen, that's really cool to come home with an Olympic gold medal. That doesn't happen every day. Ross and his teammate from A&T, Trevor Stewart, they didn't run in the 400-meter final relay, but they won gold because they helped us get out of the first round. This (was) phenomenal run for the U.S. and the championship round. Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon and Rai Benjamin ran away as expected in a time of 2:55.70. But the A&T guys won the first gold medal in school history. Stewart earlier won bronze in the 400 mixed relay. So it's a phenomenal run for Ross.
Glenn: I’m sure Ross’s dad, A&T’s track coach and an Olympian himself, is very proud of his son and Stewart. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t as great for Providence Day graduate and track star Anna Cockrell. She was disqualified for the 400-meter hurdles finals. Tell us about that ruling.
Wertz: Yeah, Anna was disqualified for stepping on a line. I think she finished seventh in the race.
Glenn: You have to stay in that lane from start to finish, right?
Wertz: Yeah, that's correct. Earlier this year, she became the second person ever to win a 100- and 400-meter hurdles championship in the NCAA. And then she qualified for the Olympics with the late rally at the U.S. Olympic trials. And she's had a memorable run. Just getting started. She's turning pro now. So I expect to see her in some future Olympics.
Glenn: OK, so let’s move to the NBA and free agency, which started over the weekend. The Charlotte Hornets added forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who’s played with several teams, including the Washington Wizards and last season with the Golden State Warriors. Oubre averaged 15 points and six rebounds with Golden State last year. Langston, what does he bring to the Hornets and how do you see him fitting in?
Wertz: Kelly Oubre is a guy that Damian Lillard was trying to get to come to Portland to help them get deep into the playoffs. Kelly Oubre signed two years, $26 million. He's going into his seventh year. He's going to be the guy who provides depth. If Gordon Hayward gets hurt, you got another guy who can come in and give you 20. It's just an excellent, excellent pickup for the Hornets.
Glenn: Oubre wasn’t the only player brought in via free agency. The Hornets also signed former Central Cabarrus High School and Wake Forest point guard Ish Smith. What will he provide in the backup point guard position for the Hornets?
Wertz: Well, Ish is one of the fastest players in the NBA. I remember him in high school. He'd go baseline to baseline before you could blink. He's going to bring experience, so I think it's another great pickup of the Hornets in just what's been a phenomenal offseason.
Glenn: The Hornets had their first Summer League game against the Portland Trailblazers Sunday and they lost 93-86. Your observations?
Wertz: Well, I wouldn't put a lot of stock in the winning and losing some of these games. James Bouknight's jump shot remains a work in progress, Gwen, but he is a professional scorer. He's going to play a little faster, but he can really put the ball in the hole. Kai Jones, a 6-10 kid out of Texas: Did you see that dunk he had yesterday? Ten points, 10 rebounds. He dunked on everybody. He dunked on the bench. He dunked on the fans — everybody. He's going to be really good.
Glenn: The Carolina Panthers are less than a week away from their first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. Langston, they had a few issues this week, including safety J.T. Ibe’s hit on wide-receiver Keith Kirkwood during the Panthers' first practice in pads. Here’s what quarterback Sam Darnold had to say about the incident.
Sam Darnold (recording): It's a sad, sad part about our game. We've got to do a lot better job of taking care of each other out here. You hate to see that, for anyone.”
Glenn: Langston, I’ve heard that hard-hitting was something coaches were having issues with in practice, and the Panthers cut Ibe immediately after that hit on Kirkwood. Was that the right thing to do?
Wertz: I have to say it was. They've been making an emphasis of that. I know some guys that are kind of on the fringe, want to make an impression with these big hits. But you shouldn't be going at your teammates like that, particularly Gwen, when shoulder-to-neck-type hits have been emphasized so much in the league. And it also sends a message to anybody else who was trying to go that avenue with these blow-up hits to try to make the team — it's just not going to be tolerated. I think that was the right move.
Glenn: Also this week, a Panthers coaching staff official unveiled a new sign with just the letters "D," "B" and "O" on it. What was that about? And how is it supposed to translate on the field?
Wertz: Well, it means "don't beat ourselves." Any Panthers fan probably knows a lot, last year, the Panthers had games in their clutches and let it slip away. And I think Matt Rhule's made it a point to to not have those types of things happen. And players who make a mistake have to run over and tap the sign as a reminder not to do it again. Kind of a neat little thing, almost a collegey-type of thing. But, you know, Rhule's a college guy. So I like it, and the players seem to be taking to it.
Glenn: So, how do you think, overall, the team is shaping up?
Wertz: I tell you what, Christian McCaffrey is back and having one (of the best) running backs in the league certainly helps. Word from practice is Sam Darnold is throwing to his checkdowns a lot more, throwing to the tight ends a lot more. The defense is looking good. You know, Gwen, I'm thinking nine or 10 wins is realistic for this team — and definitely a shot at the playoffs.
Glenn: And is it a new thing for the Panthers to allow high school teams to practice on their new turf field? I hear that's going to be happening.
Wertz: Yeah, first time this year. Last week, they had Nations Ford high School out of Rock Hill, and they had Hickory Ridge out of Concord and they also had West Mecklenberg out of t Charlotte come over and practice on that new turf field. And I understand the kids had a really good time. It's a really cool way to kind of give back to the community. It creates memories. These kids are going to talk about the rest of their lives. Many of them won't even play in college. But they'll be able to tell their grandkids, when they take the kid to a game, "You know, I played on that field. I practiced on that field.". And that's a really cool thing. It's good to see, and they're going to do it in the future.
Glenn: And Langston, a Johnson C. Smith University redshirt freshman receiver became the first athlete from an HBCU to sign an endorsement deal with Bojangles. Tell us about it.
Wertz: Yeah, Ky'Wuan Dukes, I hope I'm saying your name right. Dukes was just scrolling through his Instagram feed one day, Gwen. He got a note from VaynerSports, it's a New York agency that reps athletes. And they were trying to reach out to him because Bojangles was looking for people to rep the brand. They thought he'd be a good fit. Bam. He said, "Of course I would." And there he is. So free Bojangles for Ky'Wuan.
Glenn: Thanks as always, Langston.
Wertz: All right. Thank you.
Glenn: Langston Wertz Jr. is a longtime sportswriter for The Charlotte Observer.