Confident McIlroy ready for weather at Merion

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Confident McIlroy ready for weather at Merion

ARDMORE, Pa. -- At some point, Rory McIlroy says, he wants to get into the city of Philadelphia so he can do one thing …

Run up the Art Museum steps like Rocky Balboa.

“I was half thinking of going to the steps in the city -- the Rocky steps -- wherever they are and run up them,” McIlroy said during his media availability for the U.S. Open at Merion East Golf Club.

As far as touristy things to do go, perhaps Philadelphians will catch McIlroy at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall or even Pat’s at 2 a.m. for a cheesesteak.

More likely, though, McIlroy will be front and center when the tournament begins on Thursday, playing alongside Tiger Woods and Adam Scott. That’s the top three-ranked golfers in the world playing together for the first two rounds at Merion.

With any luck, McIlroy hopes to be playing with Woods or Scott in the last group on Sunday.

“It's something that wasn't too much of a surprise. The guys at the USGA have done it quite a few times before,” McIlroy said. “It's always nice to be a part of a group like that. Something that I'm excited about. It's a good thing. I like it because you're in a group like that there's a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it and it gets you focused from the first shot.

“Teeing off on Thursday afternoon, there's obviously going to be a lot of attention on that group and it's just nice to be a part of it.”

A winner of two majors, including a record-breaking performance at the 2011 U.S. Open played at Congressional Country Club outside of Washington, D.C., McIlroy could very well remain in the spotlight come Sunday. A lot of that has to do with the condition of the golf course. The heavy rain that has hit the region has turned the grounds at Merion soft. That means the course will be easier and scores will be lower.

Often the U.S. Open is a war of attrition in which the winner is the last man left unbroken by the extreme rough and slick putting surfaces. But the rain takes control away from the course and gives it back to the players.

When McIlroy won in 2011 with the record-breaking score of 268 (16-under), the rain played a major role.

He expects the play at Merion to be very similar.

“I didn't really enjoy the [the 2012 U.S. Open at the] Olympic Club last year. I much prefer this sort of golf, I guess,” McIlroy said. “When you hit a shot and it doesn't bounce one way or the other, when you hit it and it stays where you think it's going to stay. There's still not going to be that many birdies out here. You've still got to hit it on the fairway. It's still a pretty tight golf course. So when you do get it in the rough, you're not going to make birdies out of there. So you're going to have chances, but you're going to have some holes where it's going to be very difficult.

“I expect the scores to be a little lower than what they would be if the course was a little firmer and drier, but I don't think you'll see scores like the scores that were shot at Congressional a couple of years ago.”

Maybe not yet, but the course could become even more water logged.

Forecasters are predicting more rain for Thursday. However, it doesn’t hurt that McIlroy feels confident about his game. In fact, McIlroy pointed out, his game might be in better shape heading into this week’s Open than it was when he won at Congressional.

“I guess that the two majors that I've won I've sort of come in a little bit like that, with low expectations,” McIlroy said. “I feel like coming into the U.S. Open this year, my game's in much better shape than it was last year. I came off the back of three missed cuts in a row and I wasn't playing very well. And this year I feel like my game is actually in good shape. So I feel coming in this year I've got a way better chance than I did last year.”

McIlroy doesn’t need to play alongside of Woods and Scott to get noticed. Chances are the gregarious 24-year old from Northern Ireland would have a large gallery following him around regardless of who he was lined up with.

Better yet, maybe Woods is happy that McIlroy will take some of the attention.

“I think it will be fantastic. I was part of that the first time they did it in ’08 and it was very electric out there,” Woods said. “Normally we don’t get those types of pairings very often. When you do it just makes it that much more enjoyable for us as players.”

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Pockets of NBA players have increasingly started to speak up about what they believe to be racial and social injustices taking place in the United States.

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem sparking protests from other players around the NFL and various sports, now the NBA as a whole is preparing for potential protests prior to games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association union executive director Michele Roberts came together last week to formulate a joint letter to players to express how the two sides plan to take "meaningful action."

Whatever that action is, Sixers veteran Elton Brand is all for it and the overall discussion of issues going on around the country.

"There are e-mails and direct texts from the NBPA. We’re working with the NBA. They’re going to talk to us soon,” Brand said. “My thing is if you want to stand up for something, that’s a good thing. Especially in America, the tensions and the injustices that are going on right now. 

“Even in our locker room we’re discussing who feels like this, who feels like what and ways that we can display how we feel about things. I’m all for it. I stand behind it and stand with other athletes and people that want to stand for a cause. Whatever their cause is, they want to stand for a cause. Our cause may be different.”

The NBA is significantly more diverse than the NFL, and Brand even admitted it’s been an eye-opening experience having talks about issues affecting African Americans inside a locker room with players from around the globe.

“We have a lot of international players,” he said. “I’m looking around the room and there are seven people that aren’t from this country. So you talk about the flag, talk about the constitution and to them it’s like, ‘I represent America because I’m working here, but I’m pro-Spain and I have problems there, too.’ We’re all sorting it out. We’ve had discussions internally also. I’m looking forward to what the NBPA and the NBA have to offer."

What the league and players association come up with will likely serve as something other than protesting during the actual anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule in place that explicitly states players, coaches and trainers must stand on the foul line or sidelines in a dignified posture during the playing of national anthems.

If Sixers players do ultimately decide on some sort of protest before games, they will have the support of the organization to express their rights.

"We haven't been together collectively long enough to have a real robust discussion about it," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said. "I think we just addressed it briefly this morning with the players in an opportunity to say the following. Basically, we as an organization are going to be supportive of the views of our players. As the league and the players association formulate perhaps an approach, they've already circulated some information to teams. Things are probably still at the discussion phase. I hope to think that's where things are with our players, that they're still at the discussion phase. 

"Once again, I'm assuming that there will be a desire to express an opinion or viewpoint. I've always been supportive of people in society having freedom to express a viewpoint. Again, going back to the league and the players association, in a positive way I think they've always been out in front of some of these social issues and if they can affect social change in a positive way they probably will. You can just anticipate that there's still some unknowns to this, but you can estimate that we will be supportive as an organization as to how our players want to express their views."

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The long wait could be over next week.

Joel Embiid expects to play in the Sixers' first preseason game Oct. 4 at UMass-Amherst against the Celtics, he said Monday at media day.

“The first thing for me is just get back on the court,” Embiid said of his expectations this season. “It looks like in a couple days I’m going to have the chance to do that.”

Embiid has missed the past two seasons since being drafted third overall because of foot injuries. Even though he is taking his rookie year one step at a time, he has a positive long-term outlook given how healthy he feels. 

“I’m confident that I’m going to have a long, successful career,” he said. “From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have a 20-year career.”

Embiid has grown as a player and a person during his recovery. He noted had he been competing in an 82-game season, he would not have had as much time to dedicate on his development. As a result of the specialized workouts and the hours he has spent in an individual practice format, he has improved his shooting and gained strength and speed. 

“What I was two years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better ... I’m not the same guy. I’m different.”

Embiid has been following a well-mapped out rehab plan during which he has had to adhere to restrictions, and will continue to do so this season. He admits the restrictions have been frustrating, but he now understands they are being implemented for his best interest long term. The lengthy recovery has forced him to change his outlook on maintaining his health. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab, going through that, the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor [said] you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to what people have to say.”

Head coach Brett Brown wants Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense. Embiid, who stands at a towering 7-foot-2, 275 pounds, is ready to embrace those expectations. He has studied tape of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, among others. Embiid likes the game of Marc Gasol and appreciates how DeAndre Jordan communicates as a big man. 

“I love playing defense,” he said. “I hate when the other team scores.”

Embiid's debut will be the culmination of years of work. Now that the season is approaching, he is eager to count down the days. 

“I’m really excited,” Embiid said. “I’ve gone through a lot and it’s been two years. The fact that I’m healthy now and ready to get back on the court, I just can’t wait.”