Penn State's Shane Conlan in NCAA '14 HOF class

ap-psu-shane-conlan.jpg

Penn State's Shane Conlan in NCAA '14 HOF class

The late great Derrick Thomas grew up in Miami and played his entire 11-year NFL career in Kansas City.

In between he spent four years at the University of Alabama, dominating on defense as few players have ever done in college football history.

"Alabama meant everything to Derrick, even after he moved to Kansas City," Edith Morgan, Thomas' mother, said Thursday. "He still had his Alabama (license) plates and went back to Alabama whenever he could."

It took longer than Crimson Tide fans would have liked, but Thomas was elected Thursday to the College Football Hall of Fame, highlighting a class of 14 players that also includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Sterling Sharpe and Tony Boselli.

Thomas, who died in 2000 at age 33 shortly after an automobile accident left him paralyzed, was one of the Hall of Fame's most obvious omissions. Alabama fans had been growing increasingly annoyed by the wait in recent years.

His credentials could not be argued against. After choosing to attend Alabama over Oklahoma, Thomas played for the Tide from 1985-88. He won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker as a senior when he had 27 sacks. He finished his career with 52 sacks, a school record.

"He was really, really fond of Alabama and he loved the Crimson Tide, not only the school but the city of Tuscaloosa itself," Morgan said.

Thomas was drafted fourth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989 and made nine Pro Bowls. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

The new College Football Hall of Fame class announced by the National Football Foundation at a news conference in Dallas also featured a couple of Heisman Trophy finalists and two of the best offensive linemen of the early 1990s.

Tomlinson led the nation in rushing in his final two seasons at TCU (1999 and 2000) and finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2000.

"This is a great honor," said Tomlinson, who attended the news conference. "As a kid you never set out to land in the College Football Hall of Fame. You're just playing with your buddies, having fun, playing a game that you love."

Tomlinson thanked TCU for giving him a chance.

"TCU was the first school to offer me a scholarship," he said. "I didn't have many, but they believed in me."

Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton was the Heisman runner-up to Ron Dayne in 1999.

Boselli played tackle at Southern California from 1991-94 and was the second overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. Louisiana Tech tackle Willie Roaf was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as a senior in 1992 before going on to a long NFL career.

Sterling Sharpe held virtually every receiving record when he left South Carolina after the 1987 season.

The rest of the players who will be inducted during the National Football Foundation's awards banquet in December are: North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly; Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz; Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan; Maine linebacker John Huard; Stanford running back Darrin Nelson; UCLA quarterback John Sciarra; McNeese State defensive back Leonard Smith; and Mississippi tight end Wesley Walls.

The two coaches who will join the Hall of Fame are Mike Bellotti, who led Oregon from 1995-2008, and Jerry Moore, who coached at North Texas, Texas Tech and Appalachian State.

Conlan, who was also in attendance, helped lead Penn State and coach Joe Paterno to the 1986 national championship.

"It's been a tough time the last few years at Penn State," he said, fighting back tears as he thanked the late Paterno. "We miss you, Coach," he said.

La Salle suffers demoralizing loss to struggling UMass

usa-john-giannini-la-salle-baskebtall.jpg
USA Today Images

La Salle suffers demoralizing loss to struggling UMass

AMHERST, Mass. -- Zach Lewis scored a career-high 37 points, including six three-pointers, and Massachusetts pulled away from La Salle 84-71 on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.

Lewis, whose 37-point effort was the best for any player in the Atlantic 10 this season, hit nine of his 16 field goal attempts overall and was a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line. Dejon Jarreau added 20 points and four three-ponters for UMass (14-15, 4-12).

Pookie Powell hit five 3-pointers and scored 24 points, and B.J. Johnson added 20 points to lead La Salle (14-13, 8-8).

Both teams shot similar percentages and had similar three-point totals, but the Minutemen finished with a plus-14 advantage at the free throw line.

La Salle remained within striking distance but a 13-4 stretch for UMass midway through the second half pushed its lead to 63-51. The Minutemen kept the Explorers at arm's length the rest of the way.

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career -- at least his Villanova career -- with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points -- 9½ below his average.

"He's getting better, that's the biggest thing," teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. "He's down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he's down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he's battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That's more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

"We know he's talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he's battling and the way he's not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that's the best part."

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5½ rebounds per game. The others were D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that's where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

"Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows," coach Jay Wright said. "We know. When he's in the game, we are executing at a high level. We're just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you've got to be able to (play defense) first and he's been doing that all year.

"(He's) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you'll probably see next year, but you've got to get the basics down first, which he's done an incredible job of this year. It's like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they're not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is because they don't get to see it all the time."

It's not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

"It was a process," Paschall said. "The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that's defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

"The guys welcomed me with open arms. It's a brotherhood here and we're all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It's just a matter of focusing on my job."

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he's 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

"Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he's come and in done what's expected," Jalen Brunson said.

'He's done a great job for us and we're extremely confident in him. It's hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he's done a good job."

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

"Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game," he said. "They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I'm trying to do."

As thin as Villanova is -- Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt -- Paschall has been a life-saver.

It's hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first, there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

"We see him getting better every day with his decision making," Hart said of Paschall. "Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

"One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he's doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he's going to do in the future."