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National Sports Briefs: Okafor happy

Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Mild-mannered Emeka Okafor rarely raises his voice. Yet there was the Charlotte Bobcats big man in December, pounding his fist into his palm in a heated exchange with coach Sam Vincent at the end of practice.
Three months later, Okafor asked for a meeting with Vincent after his playing time diminished.
Shortly after Vincent’s rocky first year ended with a disappointing 32-50 record, Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan fired the rookie coach and replaced him with Hall of Famer Larry Brown.
The move might be the reason why Okafor was sitting at a podium in front of a Bobcats’ banner Tuesday, a week after he agreed to a six-year, $72 million deal to remain in Charlotte.
“When the Bobcats hired him, it showed me they were committed to making the franchise better,” Okafor said without directly answering whether he’d have re-signed if Vincent was still in charge. “Hiring Larry Brown, an elite coach, you have to take notice of that.
“Larry Brown, he brings a certain dynamic and insight to the game that would make most teams better,” Okafor said. “I think he’s a perfect fit for us. Our team is young. We are hard working and he can give us that discipline and those little insights to the game that will take us to the next level.”
– CHARLOTTE ó Brown will begin his record ninth NBA head coaching job when the Bobcats visit LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But Brown’s hiring didn’t create any more interest in the Bobcats from the league’s TV partners. The schedule released Wednesday doesn’t have Charlotte appearing in any nationally televised games.
The Bobcats open the season Thursday, Oct. 30 in Cleveland. It will be the Cavaliers’ second game, after they open at defending champion Boston two days earlier.
– CHARLOTTE ó The Charlotte Bobcats have signed guard Shannon Brown to a one-year deal for the league minimum of about $800,000. The 6-foot-4 Brown played in 21 games for Cleveland and Chicago last season and had two stints in the NBA Development League.
COLLEGE HOOPS
TOLEDO, Ohio ó A former University of Toledo basketball player has been charged with fixing games.
A federal indictment filed in federal court in Detroit says Sammy Villegas shaved points in games during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
Villegas is charged with conspiracy to influence sports contests by bribery.
The indictment says Villegas intentionally missed two free throws in a game against Wright State in 2006. Federal prosecutors say the player received money and other gifts in exchange for fixing games.
– KANSAS CITY, Mo. ó Bill Self, the Kansas basketball coach who guided the Jayhawks to their first NCAA championship in 20 years, signed a 10-year, $30 million contract Wednesday.
– COLUMBIA, S.C. ó South Carolina and new men’s basketball coach Darrin Horn are off to Europe.
But it won’t all be sightseeing. The Gamecocks depart Wednesday and will be gone for more than a week as they play exhibition games in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria.
Horn was hired last spring to replace the retiring Dave Odom.
SOCCER
QINHUANGDAO, China ó Norway jumped on the United States from the opening whistle, getting two goals in the first four minutes Wednesday to beat the U.S. women’s soccer team 2-0 at the Beijing Olympics.
– ZURICH, Switzerland ó The United States dropped one spot to 31st in the FIFA world soccer rankings released Wednesday, matching its low since 1997.
Since the Americans sank to a low of 35th in October 1997, they have been as far down as 31st only four other times.

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