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A 7-foot-5 kid enrolling at their 250-person, Huntington Beach, Calif., religious school?

Yeah, right.

Billy Bryson initially brushed aside the rumor he heard from his teammate, Dakota Warren.

Then Bryson saw Mamadou Ndiaye up close, touring Brethren Christian Senior High last winter.

"I was just in awe -- just amazed," Bryson, 18, said. "I couldn't believe it."

Ndiaye has elicited the same reaction while taking the court for Brethren this season.

His wingspan is more than 8 feet long. Ndiaye's uniform and shoes (size 19 1/2) had to be special ordered. Without shoes, he is 7-5, 310, and that is not an inflated high school statistic.

"I measured him myself," Brethren coach Jon Bahnsen said. "He's a legitimate 7-5 -- actually just barely over 7-5."

To put his size in perspective, the 18-year-old junior is taller than any current NBA player. (Hasheem Thabeet at 7-3, 267 comes closest.)

Mobile for his frame, the Senegal native has taken the Academy League by storm. For the 17-5 Warriors he averages 23.2 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.9 blocks. Because of his length, those blocks include swatting 15-foot jump shots while he is stationed near the basket.

"We've played big kids before, but this is ... different," Laguna Beach (Calif.) High coach Bret Fleming said. "It looks like a dad playing with a bunch of little kids."

When Ndiaye comes to midcourt for the opening tip, it often evokes laughter from the crowd as he dwarfs the opposing big man. Now even mid-week games at the school's Liberty Christian gymnasium are packed.

Colleges have started flock to Brethren.

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The Miami Heat have taken a page out of an NFL quarterback's handbook as they attempt to win an NBA championship.

Guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole were handed wristbands with offensive plays written on them, similar to what you'd see Patriots star Tom Brady or Giants QB Eli Manning wear in the upcoming Super Bowl.

"It looks just like a quarterback's," Chalmers told the Miami Herald. "Something Peyton Manning or one of them will wear."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra added the cheat sheets for his guards when his slumping team returned from a recent western road swing with three straight losses. He claimed they are helping Chalmers and Cole "access information quickly."

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By Norbert Ockenga
GarageMonkey.com

Racing fans are used to seeing Robby Gordon tear around American tracks on weekends, behind the wheel of a highly complicated racing machine, and more recently, as a team owner. But that spectacle pales in comparison to racing across the desert in a Hummer powered by a Corvette engine in the Dakar Rally, with which Gordon has become obsessed.

Since 2009, the Dakar Rally has been held in South America rather than in Africa. But it still carries the name of the Senegalese capital. When terrorist threats in Mauretania forced the promoters to call off the event at the eleventh hour in 2008, the promoters made up their mind to relocate it to South America, which has similar landscape but is more appealing to the car industry. It's a bit like staging the Indy 500 in Tokyo, but the challenge is not lost in the transition.

The rally is a motorsports event like no other. It's no race -- it's an adventure. For 14 days in a row, almost 500 bikes, cars, trucks and quads crisscross the continent. No day passes without drama and accidents aplenty.

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Manny Pacquiao's wife, Jinkee, has encouraged an extraordinary lifestyle change that has seen the boxing champion ditch his legendary late-night partying and gambling habits.

Shortly after his narrow victory over Juan Manuel Marquez in November, Pacquiao implemented major steps aimed at adding order and structure to his life, and improving his public image in the Philippines. Sources say Jinkee was behind the adjustments. Famous for keeping odd hours and often sleeping into the afternoon, Pacquiao has now taken to rising early in the morning, along with his wife, and throwing himself into an array of political, social and religious projects.

In the Philippines, it is hoped the new approach will improve Pacquiao’s sporadic attendance at congressional sessions, a spotty record that has given his political rivals ammunition. In 2011, he was the fourth most absent congressman in his homeland, attending just 27 of 59 session days. Of his 32 absences, official notice was given for only 21.

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Here was Denard Robinson, a freshman at football-delirious Michigan, with his free-flowing dreadlocks popping out from the back of his helmet and his shoelaces untied.

And here was a problem.

Not a problem with a position change or a coaching change. That would come later. Not a problem with an injury -- like the one this season that was kept secret for months and landed him in the hospital.

No, this problem was quite simple compared to all that:

No one could understand a word the guy was saying.

Robinson was young, unsure of himself, and, according to center David Molk, "a scared little kid who didn't know what to do."

And this kid wanted to play quarterback? At Michigan? A school known for producing guys that win Super Bowls?

Sure he had the guts. He grew up in a tough section of the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Deerfield Beach, where the realties of life require faith and tenacity. It's not too far from Riviera Beach, where quiet-but-beloved receiver Anthony Carter was raised.

But Anthony Carter could go an entire collegiate career without speaking. Not Robinson. Not if we wanted to win the starter's job.

Yet Robinson, shy by nature and careful with every word spoke nearly as quickly as he ran. His southern drawl -- described by teammates as "Talking Florida" was barely discernable to Molk, who struggled to understand snap counts or checks Robinson made at the line of scrimmage.

Molk knew if this quarterback-center relationship was ever to work -- if Robinson was ever to work -- someone was going to have to slow down.

"I told him to take out his mouthpiece when he talked," Molk says now, three years later, in a hotel ballroom in New Orleans, where Michigan will play in its first BCS bowl game in five years in Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech.

"I couldn’t understand anything."

Three years later, after many tough losses, coaching dramas and injury scares, the tentative kid from Deerfield Beach has become the face of Michigan football. And if he stays healthy, Denard Robinson has a chance to leave campus next year as one of the best ever to wear the winged helmet.

***

It's somewhat appropriate that Michigan is playing Virginia Tech Tuesday, as Robinson's childhood hero was Blacksburg hero Michael Vick. Robinson patterned his game after Vick but realized he wasn't as big and didn't have the arm. College offers -- especially to play quarterback -- were almost non-existent. Recruiters considered Robinson more of an athlete, a gifted runner with a knack for making enough people miss to get him into the open. But how many of those come out of Florida every year? Plenty.

"When I got to high school, I was like, 'Hopefully, I can get to a Division II school,'" Robinson says. "I was undersized and I didn't know anyone would look at me. I was like, 'Hopefully, I can just get out of the city of Deerfield.'"

Rich Rodriguez, the mastermind behind the spread offense, saw Robinson as a perfect fit for the new, free-wheeling system he was installing at Michigan. Robinson had run more of a pro-style set at Deerfield Beach High School, but he figured if Rodriguez wanted to bring him to Michigan, he wasn't going to argue.

The coach was sold, but Molk, who would go on to be named the nation's top collegiate center in his final year at Michigan, had his doubts.

"He'd sit back there as the quarterback and he'd be so scared, he wouldn't catch the snap half the time," Molk says.

If nothing else, Robinson had his legs to bail him out. He was far from polished and struggled with throwing the football, but he could run. His feet, unlaced cleats and all, could take Robinson places. Even if his hands and throwing weren’t sure, "Shoelace" (as one of his football coaches back in Florida crowned him) had a second line of defense.

"He'd just go -- that's what he does," Molk says. "He can make a play out of nothing."

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