COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (AP) - The United States will play Ghana, Portugal and Germany in a tough first-round group at next year's World Cup that will take them on a lengthy 9,000-mile trip around Brazil.
Making their seventh straight appearance at soccer's showcase, the Americans were drawn Friday into Group G and will open on June 16 in Natal against Ghana, which eliminated the Americans at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments
The U.S. meets Portugal and 2008 FIFA Player of the Year Cristian Ronaldo on June 22 in the Amazon rain forest city Manaus. The Americans close group play on June 26 in Recife against Germany, which beat the U.S. in the 2002 quarterfinal.
"Difficult draw, but a group the U.S. can get through if they play well," former U.S. coach Bruce Arena told The Associated Press.
The United States, ranked 14th in the world, has alternated quick exits with advancement since returning to soccer's showcase in 1990.
Second-ranked Germany and fifth-ranked Portugal are the favorites to advance to the second round. The U.S. will feel pressure to open with a win against Ghana, which is ranked 24th.
At the 2002 tournament, the U.S. opened with a 3-2 upset of Portugal.
COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil - Defending champion Spain will play its opening World Cup game against the Netherlands, a repeat of the 2010 final, while host Brazil faces a relatively easy path to the knockout stage after Friday's draw.
The United States was drawn into the toughest group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
"Difficult draw, but a group the U.S. can get through if they play well," former U.S. coach Bruce Arena told The Associated Press.
Brazil starts its campaign for a sixth World Cup title with an opener against Croatia. Mexico and Cameroon are also in the group.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only World Cup newcomer among the 32 teams, plays its opener against Argentina. Iran and Nigeria were also drawn in that Group F.
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are in Group C, with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy in a strong Group D.
One of the easiest groups on paper looked to be E, with Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras.
Russia, host of the next World Cup, is in Group H with Belgium, Algeria and Korea.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State quarterback and Heisman hopeful Jameis Winston will not face any charges in a sexual assault case, mostly because there were too many gaps in his accuser's story, a prosecutor said Thursday.
State Attorney Willie Meggs said the woman's memory lapses about the events last December were problematic and there was not enough evidence to win a conviction.
"It's not inconsistencies, it's lack of memory most of the time," Meggs said.
The woman told police she had been drinking at a bar with friends and went home with a man she didn't know. She said she the alleged assault took place at an off-campus apartment, but she couldn't remember where it was.
A month later, she identified her alleged attacker as the quarterback. Winston's attorney said the sex was consensual.
The quarterback said in a statement he was relieved.
"It's been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am," Winston said.
The alleged assault happened long before Winston became a star on the national stage. Reports about an investigation didn't surface in the public until last month, as the redshirt freshman was well into a remarkable season with Florida State.
Winston, 19, has led the Seminoles to a No. 1 ranking and a shot at a national championship if they defeat Duke on Saturday in the ACC title game. As for the Heisman, many voters were waiting to see whether he would be charged before casting their ballot. The deadline is Monday and Winston is considered a leading contender for the trophy for the nation's top player. It will be awarded Dec. 14.
The accuser's family has been sharply critical of the Tallahassee Police Department, accusing the agency of delaying the investigation and discouraging her from going forward with the case because of the public attention it would receive.
"The victim has grave concerns that her experience, as it unfolded in the public eye and through social media, will discourage other victims of rape from coming forward and reporting," according to a statement from the accuser and her family.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
On Thursday, specific details of the alleged assault were released. The woman told police she and friends were drinking at Potbelly's and said she remembered getting into a cab with a man she didn't know.
At the apartment, she said she tried to fight the man off, but he wouldn't stop. At some point, she said another man came into the room and told her attacker to stop, but he didn't.
Her next memory was of the suspect dressing her, putting her on a scooter and dropping her off at a campus intersection. Once she got back to her room, she called police and later went to the hospital.
Police said they opened an investigation and were collecting evidence when they were told in February she didn't want to pursue the charges. The woman's attorney has denied she wanted to drop the investigation.
Winston refused to be interviewed by police and has not answered questions from the media. Two of his teammates backed his story in statements they gave last month to an investigator for the quarterback's attorney, Timothy Jansen. The statements were part of an investigative file released Thursday.
Teammates Christopher Casher and Ronald Darby said they were at Potbelly's with Winston when the accuser struck up a conversation with the quarterback and got into the cab with the three men.
Once at the apartment, the teammates said they peeked through Winston's bedroom door and saw the woman having sex with the quarterback. At one point, Casher said he "busted into the room to embarrass Jameis" and the girl yelled at him to "get out."
In a later interview with police, Casher changed this part of his story, saying he went into the room because he hoped the woman would also have sex with him, something he said had happened in the past when he and Winston brought a woman to the apartment.
Casher left the room and was not accused of having sex with the woman, and no other women have made accusations against Casher or Darby.
Meggs' office took over the case last month. Investigators interviewed the accuser, other witnesses and collected evidence before the prosecutor made his decision.
He said the woman's blood-alcohol content at the hospital was .04 and investigators estimated it to be about .10 at the time of the incident, based on the amount of time that had passed. The legal limit to drive in Florida is .08.
They also took DNA from Winston and matched it to DNA collected from the woman's underwear. DNA on her shorts matched her boyfriend at the time.
The accuser's family has said they pushed police to take a DNA sample from Winston earlier in the investigation, only to be told by a police detective that it would alert Winston and make the case public.
The family said the accuser's attorney, Patricia Carroll, was warned by police that Tallahassee is a "big football town, and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable."
Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case.
The alleged victim was an FSU student, but she left school last month as media reports of the case surfaced. Meggs said when his office spoke with the woman last month, she wanted the case to move forward.
At a restaurant on campus, students high-fived one another and did the Seminole's chant and tomahawk chop when Meggs' said no charges would be filed.
"It's been a tough couple weeks," said Justin Savage, a 21-year-old senior sports management major from Fort Walton Beach. "I'm just so grateful. He's just so lovable a guy. You can see him on campus and he'll talk to you, it doesn't matter who you are."
When it came to sports, Nelson Mandela had the ability to inspire inspirational figures and leave global stars star-struck.
The former South African president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid leader died Thursday at the age of 95, leading to a vast outpouring of tributes from the world's best-known athletes and top sporting bodies.
"It's sad for everyone who got a chance to not only meet him, but I've been influenced by him," golfer Tiger Woods said. "I got a chance to meet him with my father back in `98. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the inspiring times I've ever had in my life."
Boxing great Muhammad Ali said Mandela inspired others to "reach for what appeared to be impossible."
"What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge," Ali said in a statement through his foundation.
NBA star LeBron James said: "In his 95 years, he was able to do unbelievable things not only for South Africa but for the whole world. What he meant to this world while he was able to be here is everything."
Sprinter Usain Bolt posted on Twitter: "One of the greatest human beings ever ... The world's greatest fighter," while Brazilian World Cup winner Pele wrote "He was my hero, my friend."
As much as sportsmen and women loved Mandela, he in turn loved sport and appreciated its enormous potential to do good. Nowhere more than in his own country, where he famously used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to knock down the last barriers of apartheid.
"A remarkable man who understood that sport could build bridges, break down walls, and reveal our common humanity," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The IOC will fly the Olympic flag at half-staff for three days for Mandela, he said.
Bach later choked up while speaking about when he met Mandela in 1996 and asked the former political prisoner if he felt hatred toward the apartheid regime that imprisoned him for 27 years.
"His immediate response was `no' but he saw the doubt in my eyes," Bach said Friday. "`You don't believe me?' he asked. `I can tell you why. If I hate I would not be a free man anymore."'
Bach wasn't the only one to show his emotions. Gary Player paused while speaking at a golf tournament in South Africa to compose himself and wipe away tears.
"When you think of a man going to jail for all those years for doing the right thing, not the wrong thing, it's hard to comprehend that a man can come out and be like that," Player said. "He was an exceptional man, just exceptional."
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he and world soccer were in mourning at Mandela's passing and ordered that the 209 flags of the world body's member countries at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland be flown at half-staff.
"It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person, probably one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela," Blatter said.
From a cricket test in Australia to basketball games in the United States, Mandela was remembered by players and fans across sport with moments of silence in the hours after his death was announced.
A keen amateur boxer and runner in his youth, Mandela understood the intricacies of rugby, soccer and cricket, the most popular sports in his country, but even games and players the South African wouldn't have been familiar with were touched by him.
"Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA," NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "... and while we mourn his passing, we know that his legacy and quest for equality will endure."
Sport was never far from Mandela's mind. He was there when South Africa returned to the Olympic family, won rugby's World Cup, won soccer's African Cup and earned the right to host FIFA's World Cup in 2010, the first in Africa. It was fitting that Mandela's last appearance for an adoring public was when he greeted fans in a packed stadium on the outskirts of Soweto ahead of the 2010 World Cup final.
"When he was honored and cheered by the crowd ... it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts, and it was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced," Blatter said.
A string of Spain's World Cup winners from that year and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo all tweeted messages of condolence, with many including photographs of themselves with Mandela. Global superstars Woods and David Beckham both made a point of meeting Mandela. Woods came out of his audience with a copy of the man's autobiography and Beckham was almost reverent in their 2003 meeting.
"We have lost a true gentleman and a courageous human being," Beckham said on his Facebook page. "It was truly an honor to have known a man who had genuine love for so many people."
South African golfer Ernie Els said that from around 1996 onwards Mandela would call him every time he won a tournament and they once exchanged gifts after Mandela visited him at a tournament near the former president's Johannesburg home.
"I've still got that picture in my office in the U.S.," Els said.
But Mandela's interest in sport wasn't just for the grand occasion and the photo opportunity.
Recalling his first meeting with a still imprisoned Mandela in 1986 and away from the media spotlight, former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser said Mandela's first question was about cricket and the man regarded as that sport's greatest player.
"His first remark to me, after hello, was ... `Mr. Fraser is Donald Bradman still alive?"'
Fraser later brought him a bat signed by Bradman. Cricket's finest batsman had written "in recognition of a great unfinished innings" on the bat.
What Mandela did with rugby at that 1995 World Cup final is one of sport's defining moments and enshrined in the new South Africa's conscience.
By pulling on the green and gold jersey of the Springboks, the national team previously all-white and associated with the apartheid regime, Mandela signaled to all South Africans that they should unite. His presentation of the trophy to the Springboks' blond captain Francois Pienaar provided a lasting image of reconciliation that politics just couldn't match.
"It was our privilege to have lived in this country during his lifetime," South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins said in a statement. After 1995, Mandela commonly referred to the team that had previously been boycotted abroad for its associations with apartheid as "my beloved Springboks."
Current Springboks captain Jean de Villiers said: "His presence at a test match just lifted the crowd and energized the team - it is actually hard to describe."
Even for New Zealand's losing rugby captain on that famous June day in 1995, Sean Fitzpatrick, Mandela's effect was too momentous not to appreciate.
"Afterwards, when we were driving back to our hotel crying, to see the sheer enjoyment of everyone running down the streets ... black, white, colored, whatever they were, just arm in arm celebrating sport," Fitzpatrick said. "He saw the bigger picture."
Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP
NEW YORK (AP) The Knicks are no longer the biggest losers in New York. The Brooklyn Nets look like the real Big Apple busts.
Carmelo Anthony had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Iman Shumpert scored a season-high 17 points, and the Knicks ended a nine-game losing streak with 113-83 romp Thursday night in the first meeting of the season between the city rivals.
The Knicks (4-13) snapped a tie with the Nets (5-14) for most losses in New York, winning the game and the crowd with a dominant second half that had Spike Lee and the rest of the fans wearing blue and orange cheering perhaps the Knicks' most complete performance of the season.
Andrea Bargnani scored 16 before he was ejected in the fourth quarter, Knicks fans roaring in support of him standing up to Kevin Garnett.
Brook Lopez had 24 points and nine rebounds for the Nets, who again played without Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, or much passion in the second half.
The game was nationally televised, as all four matchups are this season, but neither team had been giving fans much reason to watch. Nets coach Jason Kidd said Tuesday that both teams "stink," and Anthony not only agreed but added that the Knicks were the "laughingstock" of the league.
Nobody was laughing at the Knicks on this night.
New York made a season-high 16 3-pointers in 27 attempts (59 percent), rediscovering a stroke that has been missing all season after it set an NBA record for makes in 2012-13, and led by as many as 34 points.
Shumpert, who has been the subject of trade rumors and has struggled, hit five 3s and added six rebounds.
The Nets hung in while the Knicks made 16 of their first 21 shots overall and trailed by only seven at halftime before their season-long woes in the third quarter returned, when the Knicks outscored them 34-16.
When the public address announcer urged fans to stand and cheer before the fourth, they responded by booing, clearly sick of watching Brooklyn get hammered over the previous 12 minutes yet again.
Tensions rose a couple of times, chiefly in the fourth quarter when Bargnani and Garnett became tangled as Bargnani fell to the court while trying to box out. Both players, along with Amare Stoudemire, were called for technical fouls, and Bargnani was hit with a second and thrown out shortly after when he appeared to say something toward Garnett after making a jumper.
There were also double technicals and words exchanged after Andray Blatche set a hard pick on Shumpert in the first half, but that was about all the fight the Nets showed on the way to their sixth straight home loss.
Both teams were booed during the introduction of starting lineups by split fan bases who are united in their early season disgust. The Nets believed they were a championship contender after acquiring Garnett and Pierce from Boston, the centerpieces of a roster that will cost more than $180 million in salary and luxury taxes. The Knicks are second to the Nets in payroll but had never gotten going after losing Tyson Chandler to a broken leg in their fourth game of the season.
But they were the better team right from the tip. The Knicks made 12 of their first 14 shots and were ahead 30-15 after Anthony's 3-pointer with 2:36 remaining in the opening quarter. But the Nets scored the final eight of the period and were down only 30-23 heading to the second.
NOTES: There was a moment of silence before the game for Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, who died Thursday at 95. Commissioner David Stern called Mandela "one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA." ... The Knicks will try to end their seven-game home skid Friday against Orlando.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Muhammad Ali paid tribute to Nelson Mandela as a symbol of forgiveness who inspired others to "reach for what appeared to be impossible," as the boxing great joined in mourning the death of the South African anti-apartheid leader Thursday.
The icons who shared a boxing background met twice - once in South Africa and once in North America, said a spokeswoman for the Ali Center in Louisville, Ali's hometown.
"What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge," Ali said in his statement released by the Ali Center. "He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale."
Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa. He later became the country's first black president.
"He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically," Ali said. "He made us realize, we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colors."
Among the exhibits at the Ali Center is a photo of Ali and Mandela, their hands clenched into fists as if they're boxing.
That photo was taken during Ali's trip to South Africa, said Ronald DiNicola, Ali's longtime attorney who accompanied the boxing great on the trip.
"Mandela was a former fighter, so there was a kindred spirit there," DiNicola said by phone Thursday evening. "There was always that connection."
Thousands greeted Ali on his arrival in South Africa, he recalled. Ali's visit came as the country was mourning the assassination of Chris Hani, another anti-apartheid leader who was killed in 1993. Ali visited Hani's family and attended the funeral, DiNicola said.
"It had a deep emotional impact on the mourners and the country that Muhammad happened to be there at that moment," he said. "It gave them, I think, a level of comfort."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Chad Henne threw two touchdown passes, Jordan Todman scored on some trickery and the Jacksonville Jaguars held on to beat the Houston Texans 27-20 on Thursday night.
The Jaguars (4-9) won their third straight - their fourth victory in five games since a bye - and continued to show signs of progress under first-year coach Gus Bradley.
They also won at home for the first time since Nov. 25, 2012, against Tennessee.
Houston (2-11) extended its franchise-record losing streak to 11 games, a stunning stretch of futility that could lead the franchise to fire coach Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak and the Texans looked as if they would end the streak after a quarterback change, but Geno Hayes intercepted Matt Schuab's pass with 2:08 remaining to seal Jacksonville's first series sweep since 2009.
ROME (AP) Tim Tebow has been offered a four-month contract by the Italian federation for American football, and the Milano Seamen are hoping to sign the free agent quarterback.
Excerpts of an offer sent by federation president Leoluca Orlando to Tebow's representatives were posted on the federation's website Thursday.
"The offer has been made to his agent and now we're waiting for a response," Seamen president Marco Mutti told The Associated Press. "We would be more than happy to have him."
A federation spokesman, James Dewar, told AP that the offer is for $200,000 and that it was sent Wednesday on the recommendation of a sponsor.
The 26-year-old Tebow was cut by the New England Patriots before this NFL season. He would be the most prominent player to appear in the Italian league - by far.
The eight-team Italian league is divided into two divisions. The other teams are located in Ancona, Bologna, Bolzano, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Rome, while Milan has two teams.
The season begins in March and concludes with the Italian Super Bowl in July.
In last season's title game, the Parma Panthers beat the Seamen 51-28.
The Seamen have the league's largest stadium, with 8,000 seats. Fashion designer Giorgio Armani is a former owner of the team.
Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 with the University of Florida and tasted NFL success with the Denver Broncos, leading them to the playoffs in 2011 before his pro career faded with the New York Jets. He was released in the last cut by the Patriots before this season began and has not been picked up by anyone, even though many teams have had problems at quarterback.
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers believe their quarterback merits some Heisman Trophy consideration.
Nick Marshall has made clutch plays and maneuvered the third-ranked Tigers' offense with increasing proficiency in win after win, leading to a low-key Heisman push from his coaches.
Coach Gus Malzahn said Marshall "should be in the mix" for the award after leading Auburn into Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 5 Missouri. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is courting the undecided vote.
"Look, in a year when they seem to be having trouble deciding who they want to give it to, you look at all the teams that are winning and who is most valuable to their team," Lashlee said early this week. "I don't think you can say any more about Nick than what he's been able to do to get us to where we're at.
"He's no question our team leader, our guys believe in him and he just seems to make play after play after play."
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the appears to be the leading candidate. A prosecutor announced Thursday that he won't be charged in sexual assault case.
Whether Marshall is a viable Heisman candidate or not, the junior college transfer has come a long way since fumbling his first snap against Washington State. He's forged a season of timely plays while directing one of the nation's top running attacks.
Now, Marshall must face a quarterback-harassing Missouri defense that may have just dealt a fatal blow to the hopes of a repeat Heisman for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's Marshall's turn.
"I don't get to watch other teams like all of you (reporters) do but he should be in the mix," Malzahn said. "He is one of the better players in college football. He is leading our team."
Marshall is returning to the Georgia Dome, where he led Wilcox County to a 30-21 victory over Savannah Christian in the Class A state championship game as a high school junior.
The onetime Georgia defensive back has defied the odds to make it back to the Dome on a much bigger stage. It wasn't Marshall's focus at the start of the season when he'd only had preseason camp to get the offense down.
"I really wasn't thinking about it," he said. "I was just focused on bonding with my team and just getting that playbook down. As I got used to it, and as we got on a roll, I figured it would be a good road to glory."
Marshall hasn't put up big stats in a run-oriented offense. He's 91st in passing yards per game and only North Carolina's Marquise Williams has played in at least 11 games and attempted fewer passes (201-184) among the top 100. He has passed for 1,627 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 922 yards and 10 scores.
Marshall, though, has been clutch for the Tigers since following the SEC-to-JUCO-and-back route once traveled by Cam Newton, Auburn's 2010 Heisman winner.
He threw the game-winning Hail Mary to beat Georgia and made a 39-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left to tie Alabama after suggesting to coaches that the play would work. It was overshadowed by Chris Davis's return of a missed field goal on the final play.
Marshall, who also scored on a 45-yard run against Alabama, led the go-ahead touchdown drive late against Texas A&M and hit C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left in a 24-20 victory over Mississippi State early in the season.
Marshall said his philosophy late in games is simple.
"I just stay calm and just keep doing what coach tells me to do," he said. "Just don't get too rattled, just be cool, calm and collected, and everything else will fall into place."
Now, he faces SEC sack leader Michael Sam and a defense that held Manziel to 195 passing yards and 21 yards on 11 rushes.
"Marshall is obviously a great runner, probably the best runner other than Manziel that we faced this year," Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner said. "So just focusing on knowing our assignment and being in our gap when we're supposed to be there.
"You have to trust your keys as a linebacker and also the safeties too. So if they scream downhill, and it's play action, that could be a pass also. So we're just going to focus on trusting our eyes."
And Auburn is going to keep trusting in Marshall.
The Kansas City Royals acquired outfielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee to be their leadoff hitter Thursday, which also means the Brewers are likely to shift Ryan Braun to right field.
Milwaukee received left-hander Will Smith, who spent most of the past couple seasons shuffling between Kansas City and Triple-A Omaha, and between the bullpen and the starting rotation.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore on a conference call that he envisions Aoki batting at the top of the order, just as he did with the Brewers, which would allow Alex Gordon to slide down into an RBI-producing role. Aoki hit .286 with eight homers, 37 RBIs and 20 steals last season.
Aoki, who turns 32 next month, also ranked second in the majors with 40 infield hits, and .339 against left-handed pitching, the best average by a left-handed hitter in the big leagues. He struck out just 40 times in 674 plate appearances.
"We like his energy, we like his work ethic. He's a pro," Moore said. "We had a chance to see him a lot in Japan coming up. ... We'll see how it plays out."
Aoki, who is in the last year of his contract, is due $1.25 million this season. He can also make up to $1,087,500 in performance bonuses based on starts and games played.
The Royals already bolstered their rotation this offseason by agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal with Jason Vargas. Now they've acquired the leadoff hitter they have long coveted.
Moore said he's still working on adding an impact bat, especially in the outfield. Veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, who began his career with the Royals, spent time in Kansas City earlier this week. He's reportedly seeking a three-year, $48 million deal.
"They're far and few," Moore said. "That being said, that's an area we're trying to pursue, but let me say this, we definitely feel all our offensive players are still improving. They have not reached their peak performance. They're going to continue to get better."
By moving Aoki, the Brewers could head into next season with rookie Khris Davis in left field, Gold Glove-winner Carlos Gomez in center and Braun in right. Braun is expected back after his season-ending, 65-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug agreement. Davis emerged down the stretch last season, filling in for Braun in left by hitting .279 with 11 homers.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had said in late September there were discussions within the organization about whether to move Braun across the outfield.
"The thinking is it's a little easier to find left fielders than it is right fielders," Melvin said. "If you're trying to field right field with a platoon situation, then both guys have to be able to throw well. Both guys have to be good defenders."
Melvin said he's been watching Smith for a couple years. He called Smith a "24-year-old, big, physical left-hander who we feel can be part of our staff."
The Brewers finished last season with five right-handed starters, headlined by Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse, and Smith gives them an option for a left-hander to slot into the rotation. He went 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA in 16 starts two years ago.
Smith went 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 35 games, including 17 starts, during his time in Kansas City. He was 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA last year, with 43 strikeouts in 33 innings, pitching primarily in relief.
Smith said Thursday that while he developed a slider to complement his fastball during relief work, "I am excited to get a shot back in the rotation."
And yes, he's preparing to hear a fresh round of jokes from his new team about sharing the same name as the famous Hollywood actor.
"I get them all the time," the easygoing Smith said in a conference call. "I think I'm just learning to live with it ... It's all good."
The Royals' deep bullpen ultimately made Smith expendable.
"I feel like our team is improved with the signing of Jason Vargas and the trade for Nori," Moore said, "knowing full well we're going to have to continue to look for ways to improve if we're going to win a world championship. I don't view this move as us being complete."
LAS VEGAS (AP) Dale Earnhardt Jr. set a record Thursday with his 11th consecutive win as NASCAR's most popular driver.
Earnhardt, who was presented with the NASCAR NMPA Most Popular Driver Award at the annual Myers Brothers luncheon, broke a tie with 16-time winner Bill Elliott for the most consecutive years as winner.
"I don't really keep track of the stats or the score, but Bill was a great driver and ambassador for the sport," Earnhardt said. "He represents the sport really well to this day, as does his son Chase, who's coming up and carrying on the family name. But, I've always looked up to Bill as a driver so it's pretty neat."
Earnhardt's run has required renovations at JR Motorsports, where his trophies are kept. Two trophy cases have either had to be rebuilt or installed to hold his first 10 trophies.
Earnhardt thanked his loyal fan base, which continuously votes him tops in the Sprint Cup Series. More than 1 million votes were cast for 39 drivers, and although fans could only vote once per day, Earnhardt still collected more than 700,000.
"It humbles me deeply to know that you have so many fans in your corner each race weekend," Earnhardt said. "There are a lot of motivating factors in life that drive our race team to be the best we can but none impact us more than the support of our race fans that they've shown over the years. We thank you for your devotion to NASCAR and we look forward to giving you a lot to be excited about in 2014."
Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt's teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, finished second and third in voting. Fourth went to Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick was fifth.
Only 17 drivers have won the most popular driver award since its inception in 1956. Elliott removed his name from consideration following his 16th victory in 2002.
Earnhardt's streak began the next season.
"We always have such great support from our fans," Earnhardt said. "They always come through every year, and this year we feel like we were giving them a lot to cheer for on the race track and paying them back for all the years they've voted for us to win this award."
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Tiger Woods said the death of Nelson Mandela was "a sad day for many people," especially those who had the chance to meet him.
That moment was 15 years ago for Woods when he was in South Africa for the Million Dollar Challenge.
"It's sad for everyone who got a chance to not only meet him, but I've been influenced by him," Woods said Thursday after the first round of his World Challenge. "I got a chance to meet him with my father back in `98. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the inspiring times I've ever had in my life."
Woods did not go into details of stories about Mandela that he has told many times over the years.
At the British Open this summer, when Mandela's health was failing, he told of walking into a living room in Mandela's home and feeling a presence he couldn't describe.
"It still gives me chills to this day, thinking about it," Woods said in July at Muirfield. "A gentleman asked us to go into this side room over here and, `President Mandela will join you in a little bit. And we walked in the room, and my dad and I were just kind of looking around. And I said, `Dad, do you feel that? And he says, `Yeah, it feels different in this room.
"And it was just like a different energy in the room," Woods said. "We just looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders and whatever. And maybe, I'm guessing probably 30 seconds later, I heard some movement behind me and it was President Mandela folding up the paper. And it was pretty amazing. The energy that he has, that he exudes, is unlike any person I've ever met. And it was an honor to meet him at his home. And that's an experience that I will never, ever forget."
Woods later paid his respects on Twitter.
"Pop & I felt your aura went we met, I feel it today & I will feel it forever. You have done so much for humanity..." said one tweet from Woods. It was followed by, "You will always be in my heart Mr. Mandela."
Woods, the first player of black heritage to win the Masters in 1997 with a record-breaking performance, was in the middle of overhauling his swing in the fall of 1998. The week after Thanksgiving, he played the Casio World Open in Japan and then made his first trip to South Africa.
"I had read all the information about him," Woods told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview. "If you're a minority, you've read up on what he did. To go through what he did for 27 years and come out and be as humble as he was, and then run the country ... how tough a person do you have to be to do that?"
Woods returned to South Africa five years later for the Presidents Cup, a time when there was uncertainly whether Americans would travel such a long distance in November for the event. Woods never gave it a second thought, telling the AP he surely would have gotten a phone call from Mandela.
"How can you not want to do anything for that man?" he said.
Mandela met with Woods, Ernie Els and the rest of the players that week at the Presidents Cup, and he attended the opening ceremony.
Woods was informed of Mandela's death after finishing his round at Sherwood Country Club, and before he spoke to reporters.
"He certainly had an impact on my life and certainly my father's," Woods said. "When he came out (of prison), the country could have fallen apart. It could have gone a lot of different ways, and he led it to where it's at now. And the world is going to miss him."
For Mandela to spend 27 years in prison and emerge without hatred is what Woods found difficult to fathom.
"I don't think any of us probably here could have survived that and come out as humble and as dignified as he did," Woods said. "And to lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out, I think that's a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was."
CHICAGO (AP) Derrick Rose isn't wavering.
He still sees himself as a star, a cornerstone player, despite another major knee injury that brought his long-awaited return to a screeching halt. So he wasn't quite sure what to make of the idea.
Is it time for the Chicago Bulls to move on, to abandon the idea of building around him, given his injuries?
"What can I say to that?" Rose said. Then, after a long pause, he added, "You could be a fool if you want to. Dead serious. I know I'm going to be all right."
In fact, he's not quite ruling out a return this season.
The superstar point guard left the door slightly open for a comeback in the playoffs if his surgically repaired right knee is healed - even though the team has said he will miss the rest of the year.
Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in a game at Portland on Nov. 22. He had surgery in Chicago three days later, cutting short his comeback after he sat out last season recuperating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"If I'm healthy and the situation is right, I will be back playing," Rose said Thursday when asked if he might return for the playoffs. "If I'm healthy and my meniscus is fully healed, of course I'll be out there playing. But if it's something totally different and the outcome is not how I would want it to be, there's no need."
That comment aside, the odds of a comeback this season appear to be just about nil given that the team has ruled him out.
"Right now, it's been determined that he's out for the season," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So that's the way we're going to approach. If something changes later on, we'll adjust then."
The bigger issue remains how effective Rose will be whenever he makes his next return.
The MVP in 2011, he tore the ACL in his left knee in the playoff opener against Philadelphia the following year, sending top-seeded Chicago to a first-round exit. The Bulls relived their nightmare last month in Portland when Rose lost his footing while turning to get back on defense. Rose limped across the court, unable to put any weight on his knee, a huge blow for a team that thought it would challenge Miami in the Eastern Conference.
Rose is in an all-too-familiar spot, trying to recuperate. He has played in just 50 NBA games - 49 in the regular season and that lone playoff game - since the Bulls' run to the conference finals during his MVP season, but he felt as if he was returning to form just as he went down again.
Rose was averaging 15.9 points and was shooting just over 35 percent. But he looked a little better in his final two games with 19 points in a loss at Denver and 20 against Portland.
"I was catching a rhythm of how I used to play," he said. "I think I was getting in condition more than anything for this season. For this one to happen, just from me turning and running back down the court, there's nothing I can say about it, nothing I can do about it, but just take it, be strong."
Rose wondered how it could happen to him again after everything he went through. But he was also relieved he didn't suffer an ACL tear.
Even so, he knew the injury was serious when he was being examined in Portland. He said his leg was "catching on the meniscus side, on the inside."
"I started thinking about, `Why me?' and all that stuff the day after the surgery," Rose said.
He said meniscus tear was a "freak accident."
"(The doctors) look at the tape, look at the film," Rose said. "The first one (the ACL tear) could have been I put too much pressure or I put too much weight on that leg at that time. This one ... I didn't buckle me knee or anything. I paused for a second. I was able to still run a few steps before I couldn't walk. It just happened."
Now, he's going for therapy every day. He's incorporating yoga and swimming into his rehab routine and is able to put pressure on his leg.
He said he might try to land a spot on the U.S. world championship team next summer if he's ready, but he still won't be playing in any pickup games. He also said he's not about to start recruiting players to Chicago - something he hasn't done in the past - even though the Bulls' core could have a different look.
Luol Deng has an expiring contract and Carlos Boozer is a candidate to be amnestied. But Rose said he hasn't thought about possible changes.
"There's a chance I could come back so I'm just cheering them on," he said.
For now, the Bulls are in a difficult spot. They were third in the Central division at 7-9 entering Thursday's game against Miami, one that looked like a marquee matchup when the schedule came out. Since then, it has lost that shine.
Rose insisted he's not finished.
"I believe that I'm a special player. I think people love the way that I just play. I don't try to impress anyone while I'm playing or anything. I've just got a feel for the game. I know my story is far from done."
CHICAGO (AP) LeBron James is taking his game to the silver screen.
The Miami Heat superstar confirmed reports before Thursday's game against the Chicago Bulls that he will co-star with Kevin Hart in the comedy "Ballers." Hart plays the brother of an NBA star who gets a chance to prove himself at a fantasy basketball camp in Miami.
James says the opportunity to work with Hart was a product of their "friendship" and "mutual respect." He says the role is "something I could relate to, as far as fantasy basketball and guys wanting to be basketball players" who "never had really had the great opportunity to be a professional athlete."
Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin met Thursday in Los Angeles with NFL special investigator Ted Wells for a second round of questioning about the team's bullying scandal, a person familiar with the situation said.
The person confirmed the meeting to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Martin was first interviewed by Wells for nearly seven hours Nov. 15 in New York. Wells then spent the week of Nov. 18 interviewing Dolphins players, coaches and staff in South Florida, and also met with suspended guard Richie Incognito.
Wells is expected to meet again with some Dolphins players before issuing a report. Martin alleges he was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito, who has been suspended since Nov. 3.
Martin, a second-year pro from Stanford, has been with family in California undergoing counseling for emotional issues. Last week the Dolphins put him on the reserve/non-football illness list, ending his season.
When Martin abruptly left the team Oct. 28, the Dolphins had lost four consecutive games to fall to 3-4, and the scandal threatened to sink their season. But they're now 6-6 and in contention for an AFC wild-card berth going into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh.
Wells will determine the role of coach Joe Philbin, his staff and Dolphins management in the case, which inspired a national debate about workplace bullying.