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Daughter and Dad, Chasing Salmon in Upstate New York

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My dad and I were on the rocky bank of Sandy Creek when I saw the first salmon close enough to catch. Like a phantom, it glided against the current, its rhythm just a beat slower than the water around it. Two decades of fishing experience vanished the moment its body — three feet long, at least — swam in front of me.

I was as anxious and clumsy as a child. I was also not in Alaska, the assumed home of this prized fish; I was an hour north of Syracuse, N.Y.

Every fisherman or woman has a catch they dream of landing. King salmon, with its signature pink streak and hooked jaw, is almost certainly on any angler’s list. Its very mention brings fantasies of deep woods and roaring streams, dammed by hordes of slick green backs begging to be hooked.

That fishermen wish for salmon is no surprise. The twist in that fantasy is that such visions are not pipe dreams restricted to the West. Thousands of coho and king salmon swim inland every autumn just five hours northwest of New York City, pouring out of Lake Ontario and into dozens of tributaries across Oswego County to spawn and die upstream.

They are joined by throngs of hopeful anglers who aim to arrive in Oswego County just as the salmon begin their annual “run,” when the fish leave the lake’s relative safety and begin their doomed mission upstream.

My dad and I were two of those hopefuls this fall, trekking upstate with my uncle and cousins one October weekend to bring home a fish of our own. Both of us had fished in countless states and waterways, but never had either of us landed one of those coveted trophies. My uncle, who has pulled salmon from these waters for years, predicted the week’s early rain would spur the fish upstream, toward us.

The salmon run itself is its own ambiguous fish tale. It occurs every year, sometime between September and the end of November, and is usually spurred by the first frost. A handful of blogs and fishing reports keep tabs on its status, as does the region’s whisper network of tackle shops and fishing lodges.

Some say Oswego County’s major run is almost always on Columbus Day, and any other weekend is a waste. Others say it can happen as late as Halloween. The fisherman on your right might say it happened last week, as the one on your left says it hasn’t happened yet.

Whichever angler you choose to believe, if you venture to an Oswego County waterway sometime between September and November, you are likely to see a salmon or one of their trout cousins, the equally coveted steelhead.

If you see them, you may be able to catch them, which is what brought us to this marshy waterway 15 miles outside Pulaski, N.Y.

I still remember the first fish I caught with my dad. I was 7, and we hooked a foot-long catfish off Lake Ontelaunee, in the middle of a Pennsylvania summer. We nailed it to a board and gutted it. Then, according to my father, I paraded around the neighborhood with a bloody fish skeleton on a two-by-four.

The debacle was the start of our own chapter in a family heritage, passed down by my grandfather who often joined our excursions. When he died, my father inherited his poles, tokens reminding us to keep that tradition alive.

Growing up and moving out has made that difficult, but still, fishing is our long-distance communion. I send my dad pictures of the trout I pull from Colorado mountain lakes, and he regales me with stories from his foray into fly fishing. To miss a weekend fishing together for king salmon would be sacrilege.

For years, my dad and my uncle have traveled to Pulaski, a tiny fishing hamlet just east of the Canadian border on Lake Ontario. The area is an angler’s Promised Land, brimming with trout, bass and pike year round.

But it is the coveted salmon and steelhead that make these streams a sort of angling Mecca for the East Coast fisherman.





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College Basketball Just Started. Here’s What There Is to Know So Far.

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The opening week of college basketball featured some incredible individual performances, several tremendous team wins and also a number of off-the-court issues.

Unlike last November, when a select group looked like it was destined to separate from the rest of the sport, this season could be more balanced from now until Selection Sunday, when teams are picked for the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Cole Anthony is appointment television. Through two games, Anthony, a 6-foot-3 guard, has already broken records at North Carolina. Anthony scored 34 points in his first game at North Carolina, more than any other freshman in his debut for the program. Anthony is also the only Tar Heels freshman to post 20 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive games. He is an early favorite for the national player of the year awards.

Shaka Smart is getting back to his roots. Smart, the Texas coach, made his name at Virginia Commonwealth by playing smaller lineups that featured four perimeter players. It looks like he’s now finally set on doing the same thing at Texas. After years of having two traditional frontcourt players on the floor at the same time, Smart appears to be committed to using the versatile 6-8 sophomore Gerald Liddell at power forward in an effort to maximize both skill and spacing. “When your second-biggest guy on the floor thinks like a guard and passes like a guard, it changes things,” Smart said. “We haven’t had the personnel to play that way the past few years.” That alignment was critical in a 70-66 win at Purdue on Saturday, especially down the stretch when Texas trailed by 5 with 3 minutes 14 seconds to play. Liddell finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.



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Why Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum stay loyal to Portland Trail Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have no interest in joining the NBA’s player movement — even as the stars have seen their competitors demand trades and forge new allegiances.

“I don’t care what the trend is,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports. “Players are taking control of the power and influence they have. I don’t have an issue with it because there’s been times in the league that players didn’t have that and players were taken advantage of and put in tough situations. So I understand it. But I play for a great organization. I play for a great coach. I love where I live. I have a great situation.”

LeBron James and Anthony Davis have teamed up with the Los Angeles Lakers. So did Paul George and Kawhi Leonard with the Los Angeles Clippers. After winning two NBA titles in Golden State with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Kevin Durant bolted this summer so he could play with Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets. After Chris Paul became decimated with injuries, the Houston Rockets traded him to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook to pair with James Harden.

As for Lillard and McCollum? They represent the rare stars who have resisted forging new alliances in different uniforms. Why do that when they have each other?

“Everybody has the right to make the decision that they feel is best for themselves, That’s the way the league has gone,” McCollum told USA TODAY Sports. “But I’m indifferent. I really just work on myself and work on how I can get better for our team.”

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Some needed context: Lillard and McCollum have yet to win an NBA championship, let alone appear in the NBA Finals. Yet, these two stars have not labored on a rebuilding team. As Portland coach Terry Stotts said, “There is that commitment, but I wouldn’t oversell it; they’ve been part of success.”

Ever since Portland drafted Lillard (No. 6 in 2012) and McCollum (No. 10 in 2013), the Trail Blazers have become one of five NBA teams to make the playoffs for the past six seasons. They won two Pacific Divisions. They advanced last year to the Western Conference Finals. Lillard and McCollum have talked openly with teammates about their confidence that Portland can win an NBA title this season.

As Portland’s 4-6 start indicates, though, Lillard and McCollum have encountered challenges. They sniffed three first-round exits. Despite holding double-digit leads in three of the four games, the Warriors swept Portland last year in the Western Conference Finals without a healthy Durant. The Western Conference remains loaded partly because of fluid player movement. Portland currently has a spate of injuries to Jusuf Norkic, Zach Collins and Pau Gasol. Even when Lillard scored a season-high 60 points last week against Brooklyn, the Blazers still lost.

And yet….

“They’d rather be a really important player on a very successful franchise than to go team up with other players just for the sake of making their lives easier,” Portland general manager Neil Olshey told USA TODAY Sports. “They know the challenges we face as a small market with player acquisition and retention. But they take the responsibility to help build an environment.”

Embracing Portland’s culture

Sure, Portland has become appealing partly because of how Lillard and McCollum play basketball.

They have both averaged at least 20 points in the last four seasons. Lillard delivered playoff daggers to eliminate Houston (2014) and Oklahoma City (2019) in the playoffs. McCollum set a franchise record for most points scored in a Game 7 when he had 37 points in a decisive win over Denver last season in the second round.

Those on the Trail Blazers do not just marvel on how Lillard and McCollum play, though. They also admire them for how they act.

“The culture often times in the NBA is often defined by your best player,” Stotts said. “Dame and CJ are very professional in their approach. We cater to being on time, being professional and being respectful of your teammates and co-workers. They are all about that.”

Lillard and McCollum have shown those qualities in different ways.

They empower teammates to arrive early and stay late by doing that themselves. They ensure that everyone keeps the practice facility and locker room areas clean without leaning on their equipment managers. They host team dinners. They embrace Stotts for critiquing them in film session in front of their teammates. As Lillard observed, “if you were a fly on the wall, you would see it’s real.”

“When you work hard and do things the right way and you’re one of the higher paid players on the team, I think it’s easier for other guys to follow in line and understand,” McCollum said. “It sets the tone for how everything goes. How we play, how we mentor and how we lead – it rubs off on everybody.”

It has rubbed off on the dynamic between Lillard and McCollum, who represent the rare star duo  who  do not seem threatened with each other’s greatness. They do not fight over touches. They do not fight over shots. They do not resent the other’s success, even if it overshadows their own.

“We’re in the era that teams like to put stars against each other. With us being the two best players on our team, it’s never been a competition,” Lillard said. “It’s always been a partnership and a friendship. I always appreciate that from him. Our friendship is always first.”

It has rubbed off on the coaching staff.  Stotts has often solicited feedback from Lillard and McCollum on the team’s playcalls, defensive schemes and spacing. No wonder Lillard called Stotts “an easy-going coach that gives guys a lot of opportunity.”

“They know the game and they’re out there on the floor. I think it’s important to involve them in things and I respect their opinion,” Stotts said. “When you got guys that know the game and are committed to it and care about it, how can you not take what they have to say into account?”

It has rubbed off on the front office. The Trail Blazers might face limitations that most small-market teams face. They have not been part of the major free-agency sweepstakes, and they lost All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge four years ago. Yet, the Blazers have remained competitive partly by acquiring complementary players in recent year, which includes Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood, Mario Hezonia, Anthony Tolliver and Gasol this season.  Olshey has made several moves and resisted others often after consulting with Lillard and McCollum.

 “That doesn’t mean they’re sitting in a room telling us ‘yay’ or ‘no’ to certain guys,” Olshey said. “What I try to do is shift the conversation to positional need, fit and skillset. These guys are on the floor and know what elements we’re strong in and lacking in. I take that feedback. They’re the ones out there playing the game.”

Showing loyalty

Lillard and McCollum did not need to spend as much time with Olshey to discuss their own futures. Shortly after the Blazers’ playoff-run ended last year, Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million extension that keeps him under contract through 2025. McCollum then agreed to a three-year, $100 million extension, and has an additional two years left on his deal.

“I just feel like there’s always a reward at the end. When you do things the right way and you do the work, you’re going to get the results,” Lillard said. “I really believe that. We’ve gotten the results. Even after failures, we come back and answer to it. We’re staying the course. That’s worth it to me.”

That has left the Blazers feeling grateful for keeping their All-Star point guards. Yet, they never sensed any sign that they were on the verge of ever losing them.

“I don’t think there was ever a seminal moment,” Olshey said. “It’s never gotten to the point with Dame and CJ where they were impending free agents and they played it out to maximize their leverage over the organization. Obviously, our goal was always to retain them for the extent of their careers and we did everything in our power to do it. But there were never hints or any fractures where we felt vulnerable with any one of them. That’s why it was so much easier to reward them with contracts at the first possible opportunity.”

Unlike some of their contemporaries, Lillard and McCollum signed at that first possible opportunity. When that does not happen, a star player could demand a trade. That has left NBA teams feeling pressure to make a deal so their star does not eventually leave for nothing.

“A lot of the people that are forcing things or using that power to do what they want regardless of who they might cross, put on the backburner or leave in a bad spot, I think that lines you up,” Lillard said. “At the end of your career and that power is gone and you’re no longer at the top of the top and you lose that power, how are you going to go out? What’s going to happen when they remember when you were pulling all of these (moves)? They might not (do anything), but that’s the stuff I think about when I’m looking at all of this stuff. It’s going to come back”

Lillard and McCollum both stressed they do not resent their contemporaries for either forming or joining super teams. Still, McCollum teased Durant on his podcast in the 2018 offseason for joining the Warriors, while Durant predicted McCollum would never win an NBA title if he stayed in Portland. McCollum considered the exchange to be “playful banter” and expressed support for Durant’s move last summer to Brooklyn. Still, the episode offered a window into both how McCollum and Lillard think through both success and failure.  

“You’re not going to succeed in everything that you do. There’s only one winner every year,” McCollum said. “Regardless of how much success I’m having or how much turmoil I’m having, you just figure out ways to continue to work. Your process stays the same and you just build on that.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 



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How to Watch: Cowboys Host Vikings on Sunday Night Football

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The Dallas Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in a game with playoff implications for each team.

The Cowboys enter the matchup in first place in the NFC East at 5-3, half a game in front of the Philadelphia Eagles, while the Vikings, at 6-3, are 1 1/2 games back of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

The matchup will highlight two of the NFL’s top rushers, in Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. Cook leads the league with 894 rushing yards, while Elliott is seventh with 741 yards.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and wide receiver Amari Cooper will be on the field for Dallas, while Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen will miss the game with a hamstring injury.

NBC Sports will have live coverage of the Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys beginning at 6:00pm CT on Sunday, November 10. Fans can catch all the action in spectacular high definition via NBC Sports online at NBCSports.com/Live, or through the NBC Sports app which is available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.





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