As teams pursue a playoff position and a World Series title in the second half of the baseball season, the most important name in the sport might not be Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainright. The name with the most impact might be Tommy John.

Tommy John has become shorthand for Tommy John surgery. The operation, named after the pitcher who had the first such operation in 1974, is a procedure in which the damaged ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow is reconstructed using a tendon from another part of the body, usually the forearm. The tendon is used to re-create the damaged ligament and improve the stability of the elbow joint. After the surgery, it usually takes about a year for a player to be ready to pitch again.

This season, a small army of young arms have been lost for the year because of the injury.

The list includes the Tigers' hard-throwing reliever Bruce Rondon, Patrick Corbin and David Hernandez of the Diamondbacks, Jose Fernandez of Miami, the Rangers’ lefty Pedro Figueroa, Braves reliever Corey Gearrin, Athletics righty A.J. Griffin, the Royals' Luke Hochevar, Rays lefty Matt Moore, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova, and the Mets’ Bobby Parnell.

Some pitchers have needed the procedure for a second time. That group includes Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy of the Atlanta Braves, Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Corey Luebke and Josh Johnson of the San Diego Padres, Jarrod Parker of the Oakland A's.

The Yankees rookie phenom, Masahiro Tanaka, is the latest candidate for the procedure.

While trying to stay in the playoff hunt, New York will have Tanaka rehabilitate the relatively small ligament tear, with the long odds that he can avoid a Tommy John.

Baseball experts are still trying to sort out the possible reasons for the surge in the surgery, which has about an 85 percent success rate.

Rick Peterson, the Baltimore Orioles' director of pitching development, cites three main reasons for the rising amount of ligament damage: Increased velocity, too many innings before becoming pros and defective pitching motions.

"Velocities are way up to what they’ve been over the years," he said.

According to Peterson, the force needed to generate that much speed pushes tendons and ligaments to the limit.

“You have many more guys who are throwing 100 miles an hour or close to 100,” said Peterson, a coach for 35 years and the founder of 3P Sports, a program to study and prevent injuries among amateur and professional pitchers. "Guys are throwing so hard now that ligaments can only handle so much force and torque and speed."

Peterson feels that pitchers have been overused at the amateur level, including playing on travel teams, and throwing too many innings and playing all year long with not enough breaks.

"Years ago, I had a pitcher that needed Tommy John surgery," he said. "We had a biochemical analysis of that pitcher. His delivery was flawless. He was in great physical condition. And yet a year later he had Tommy John. He was abused in college. When he had the surgery, when I talked to Dr. (James) Andrews, who was the surgeon, he said, ‘I just operated on a 40-year-old elbow.'"

In addition, defects in deliveries contribute to pitchers' hurting their arms.

"If there’s a major flaw, you’ll be injured,” he said. “That’s just a given."

Dr. Ralph Gambardella, a surgeon and chairman and president of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, has been performing Tommy John surgery on players from the Pony Leagues to the majors since 1985. He said there are numerous factors involved in the arm injuries.

"It's multifactorial,” Dr. Gambardella said about ligament tears. "You are going to see more and more in the world about genetics, and genetic screening. Maybe to the point of supposedly picking the sport your 2-year-old is going to decide to go into. However, it's not as easy as that. There are so many variables that are involved here that it gets very difficult to really come up with the best way to prevent injury to the ligament.

"It's like a spike, just like the weirdness of the winter weather around the country. Is there some overall thing going on? If so, we haven’t been able to quite figure it out. I think that people spend more time conditioning in the off-season then they ever had. So it’s hard to put your finger on it. I don’t think we can blame one thing."

Dr. Gambardella believes teams are diligent in monitoring pitchers year round.

"Each team has their own program, and they try to keep a watch on their own players,” he said. “There’s been a lot of controversy over whether or not, for example, players should play winter ball or not play winter ball. Is it better to give them a long rest or a short rest?”

As far as the growing number of pitchers who need the second Tommy John surgery, Dr. Gambardella again feels genetics plays a role.

"The basic problem is the original ligament is the best," Dr. Gambardella said. "The reconstructed ligament is going to be no better than the original. The forces that go through it are the same forces that tear the original. We have not solved the problem of how to heal a ligament biologically and get it back to its original state.

"At this point, even if we do that, we still haven't solved the problem of what can we do preventively to decrease the number of these injuries. Because the ligament is clearly getting overloaded from the act of throwing."

Peterson believes that players might feel invincible after the first Tommy John procedure. That leads to a false sense of security and the chance for re-injury.

"This notion that you get a Tommy John surgery and you're good for life,” Peterson said. "Let’s say the first one was the result of a combination of a flawed delivery and overuse. The question is have they made an adjustment in their delivery when they come back?"

One theory among the medical community is that some people have genetically stronger ligaments and tendons. In that case the original ligament would be less prone to tear. Pitchers who require Tommy John surgery who have a genetically stronger donor tendon used to replace the torn ligament may need only the one procedure.

Another aspect physicians and teams are reconsidering is the rehab time. Most pitchers return to action nine to 12 months after surgery, down from the original 12 to 18 months. Do the players need more time to recover?

"Historically, the longer rehabs were chosen because we did not really know where we were going," Dr. Gambardella said. "I think that what happens here is that biologically, because the tissue has to transform and then become a ligament, the only way it does that is being subjected to small incremental increases in stress, which is why you go through an extensive throwing program. Clearly, if you just want to make it easy, then have major league baseball come up with a rule that says nobody can throw a ball faster than 85 miles an hour. Then you don’t have a problem anymore. When people rehab from these surgeries, the only time they start to get into issues is when they're rehabbing in the final stages. And that's when we're putting those excessive stresses on the reconstructed ligament or on the original ligament."

Dr. Gambardella feels that biology, along with nutrition, holds the key to optimal recovery from Tommy John surgery. He also believes that as medicine advances the procedure will not be needed.

"We're getting back down to the biology," he said. "Even when the ligaments are just starting to fatigue, and there may be microscopic injuries that occur to the tissue, can we do anything to enhance the healing response? That's part of what you’ve seen with everything that’s gone on with P.R.P. injections, and regenerative medicine, and adding stem cells."

Platelet rich plasma injections, or P.R.P., use part of the patient’s blood to promote healing of injured tendons, ligaments, muscles and joints. The Yankees' Tanaka is using this procedure to try to avoid surgery.

For medial collateral ligament injuries, Dr. Gambardella said, “there may be a role for treatment with P.R.P. and stem cells that can allow people to actually get back without having to go through the Tommy John procedure."

"So I think the biology of healing includes diet, exercise, nutrition, all of those factors,” he said. "Our problem is we haven’t been able to figure out the right combination yet."

Dr. Mike Marshall, was a successful relief pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in 1974 with the Dodgers. He holds two major-league records: 106 pitching appearances in a single season in 1974 and 13 straight appearances that same year. He believes the way pitchers deliver the ball is the main culprit in injury and ulnar collateral ligament damage.

Dr. Marshall has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, coaches athletes and offers advice on his web site,

"The ulnar collateral ligament is a ligament, not a muscle," he said. "Only muscles are able to hold the elbow joint tightly together."

He endorses a pendulum swing in pitchers' motions that uses muscles to eliminate stress on the ulnar collateral ligament.

"Pitchers need to pendulum swing their arm downward, backward and upward to driveline height in one, smooth, continuous movement,” he said. “Such that their upper arm is at shoulder height, their forearm points backward with their hand slightly above their head. This position forces pitchers to contract the muscles that protects the ulnar collateral ligament.”

Driveline height is the horizontal height at which baseball pitchers drive their pitching elbow toward home plate. Dr. Marshall predicted that the Marlins' Fernandez and Tanaka of the Yankees would be candidates for Tommy John surgery after analyzing their deliveries earlier this season. Fernandez had the procedure May 16, and Tanaka is disabled with a ligament tear and might eventually need surgery.

He gave a scouting report on the pendulum swings of a few selected pitchers.

He believes the Tigers' Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer "have very good pendulum swings."

However, he cautions that the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw does not pendulum swing his arm to driveline height in one smooth movement.

Instead, Dr. Marshall said of Kershaw and pitchers with similar deliveries, "They stop their arm just behind their body, then, with their forearm pointing downward, they raise their forearm to pointing upward. From this position, they pull their elbow forward, which reverse bounces their elbow and does not contract the muscles that protect the ulnar collateral ligament. These pitchers are candidates for tearing their ulnar collateral ligament."

Dr. Marshall's theories, like several others, will be considered by a baseball community searching for answers to save their young arms.

Mike Pope became somewhat of an institution with the New York Giants as he was the only member of the coaching staff for all four of the franchise's Super Bowl championship teams. The Giants overhauled their assistant coaching positions after last season, and Pope decided at 71, he still wasn't ready to retire. The Cowboys signed him to be their tight ends coach, the same job he had with the Giants, and Pope hasn't wasted much time making an impact.

Consider this drill at training camp in which he throws buckets of ice water on Cowboys tight ends as they're trying to catch a pass.

"Concentrate on the ball," Pope told reporters. "Don't flinch. Don't bat your eyes. So everything we do has to do with that. If they can't play with distractions, they can't play."

According to the Dallas Morning News, Pope has 478 drills for tight ends.

"Can't remember all of them because I'm getting a little older," Pope said. "It's foolish to practice on air because we all know that has nothing to do with the game.

“To be more realistic, you have to create distractions in order for them to build that in the game, heat of the battle technique to move their head and see the ball hit their hands."

Other drills have included players trying to catch balls while having laundry bags over their heads and while laying on the ground.

"We don't catch the ball in space very much at our position," Pope said. "It's always in traffic. So all these things are just to make them concentrate in that much more detail."

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, a perennial All-Pro, gave a rave review for Pope's tactics.

"That's coach Pope," Witten said. "He's legendary. It's making us better, for sure. A lot of tough catches playing this position. He works on it every day. Knowing him for five months -- he's made me a better football player already. Love playing for him." has more from Pope in this video.

Kyle Korver has become perhaps the NBA's most lethal three-point shooter, an accomplishment that is all the more impressive considering he is 33 and has played on three teams the past five years.

Last season Korver led the league with a 47 percent mark from beyond the arc. He also recorded career highs in games started (71) and minutes-per-game (34).

How has Korver managed to defy age and time? In an excellent profile on Grantland, Zach Lowe describes Korver's ambitious offseason training regimen.

Marcus Elliott, founder of the renowned P3 Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif., introduced Korver to the concept of misogi, a Japanese annual purification ritual. Korver explained it in an article from December 2013.

“There's a jiu-jitsu concept that was introduced to me this summer called the misogi," Korver said. "It comes from the idea that as we get older we take fewer risks, think more inside the box, get more careful, make more decisions based on fear. To combat this, once a year you do something that you’re not sure you can do. That's the misogi. I'm not talking a marathon -- lots of people do that. It’s more like, climb to the top of the farthest mountain you can see. That’s where I’m gonna go."

Last offseason, Korver and Elliott stand-up paddled 25 miles for their misogi. Then Korver had one of the most productive years of his career, even breaking the NBA's all-time record for most games with a consecutive three-pointer. He ended his streak at 127.

This offseason, Korver has already completed his challenge. He and four friends split into two teams and did a collective 5K while holding an 85-pound rock. And did we mention they did this underwater?

Lowe writes:

"Each participant would dive down, find the rock, run with it as long as he could, and drop it for the next guy to find. Those waiting their turn wore weight belts and tread in water between five and 10 feet deep."

The entire challenge took five hours, and Korver said he and his buddies were worried about blacking out and/or encountering sharks. Thankfully, they survived and Korver is currently in Las Vegas trying to earn a spot on Team USA's roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

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After five seasons with the Raiders, defensive end Lamarr Houston signed with the Bears to fill the spot vacated by Julius Peppers, who hooked up with the Packers. Houston's offseason regimen is not only intense but it's also diversified. He includes activities such as boxing and swimming along with traditional weight training. Here's a closer look at how Houston prepares for the season:

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As if running a 100.5-mile ultramarathon in a thunderstorm through the mountains of Colorado wasn't challenging enough, one competitor in the recent Hardrock 100 had an added challenge to overcome.

Adam Campbell, 35, and his pacer were at the highest point of the course (14,058-foot Handies Peak) when rain started pouring down on them. They had recently passed an aid station and couldn't go back, so they decided to forge through the elements.

"There's nothing up there, no place to hide, no rocks, no trees, nothing," Campbell, who works as an attorney in Canada, told Competitor. "We really didn't have much of a choice. We wanted to get over the peak as soon as we could and get out of there."

Once lightning struck the two immediately ducked for cover, and Campbell says the jolt fried his headlamp. His pacer says he felt a burst of electricity hit the back of his head. When the duo realized they were essentially unscathed, they continued running.

Campbell finished third in the race with a time of 25 hours, 56 minutes and 36 seconds. That's not bad considering the first-place finisher set a course record and the fact that Campbell was struck by lightning during the race.

Here's a video of Campbell finishing the race.

"My headlamp blew up," Campbell says at the 1:30 mark of the video.

As Jon Gugala of Deadspin notes, getting hit by lightning is actually covered in the race's waiver:

"I have also been advised that I may be exposed to physical injury from a number of natural factors, including snow on the course, lack of water, high water, lightning, mountain lions and bears, and to the hazards of vehicular traffic, and to those other hazards attendant upon running across or along roadways during the day or night including, among other things, the fact that I may become injured or incapacitated in a location where it is difficult or impossible for the event's management to get required medical aid to me in time to avoid physical injury or even death."

During Argentina's 1-0 victory over Belgium in the quarterfinals, midfielder Angel Di Maria suffered a thigh injury in the 33rd minute. The Real Madrid star, who scored Argentina's lone goal in a 1-0 Round of 16 victory over Switzerland, has been ruled out for the semifinal match versus the Netherlands.

Di Maria's injury shifts a load on former Real Madrid teammate Gonzalo Higuain to help Lionel Messi create offense. As a bright spot for Argentina, Higuain may be getting hot at the right time.

The Napoli striker scored the only goal against Belgium -- his first tally in five World Cup matches. In the Group Stage, Argentina relied heavily on Lionel Messi to produce goal-scoring opportunities. The three-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner and one-time FIFA World Player of the Year Winner scored four of Argentina's six goals in Argentina's first three games (one of the other two was an own goal).

The Belgium match was the Argentina's first this World Cup that Messi did not have a goal or an assist credited to him. It was Higuain who became the playmaker.

Higuain notched four goals in the 2010 World Cup, so it may have only been a matter of time before he hit his stride. In South Africa, Higuain had a group stage hat trick in a 4-1 win over South Korea. He has 21 goals and 11 assists in 41 career international appearances.

The 2014 Argentina team has drawn numerous comparisons to the 1986 World Cup championship team. Messi is compared to Diego Maradona, who led the 1986 team with five goals and five assists. Higuain is compared to Maradona's right-hand man Jorge Valdano. Valdano scored four goals for Argentina in 1986. However, he failed to become a regular international contributor after the World Cup.

Higuain has battled an ankle injury over the last month, which contributed to struggles at the end of Napoli’s season in Italy's Serie A. Despite the health issues, he remains optimistic.

“I had faith in my qualities, I’m already thinking about the semifinal. We have two matches left to make history," Higuain says.

"I wasn't getting desperate about scoring because I knew I was going to get a goal sooner or later," Higuain told Sky Sports about his first goal.

Argentina’s next match is against the vaunted attack of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is looking to reach back-to-back World Cup Finals. Argentina has reached its first semifinal since 1990.

Of course, Argentina has not won the World Cup since 1986 when Maradona and Valdano led "The White and Blue Sky." Along with Messi, Higuain will need to turn up his game in the final two matches.

If Higuain plays at his peak, Argentina may have a third World Cup title.

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By all accounts, Saturday could have been much more profitable for Eugenie Bouchard.

The 20-year-old Canadian lost in straight sets in her first Grand Slam final to Petra Kvitova, missing out on the $3 million Wimbledon winner's check as well as the seven-figure endorsement deals that would have come with it.

Still, Bouchard's star rose to new heights thanks to her stellar performance at the tournament, and the player who was once tagged as the "golden girl of tennis" may be ready to assume her position as the heir to super-marketer Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova is the highest-earning female athlete in the world, thanks in part to her on-court success and marketing savvy. Although Bouchard has a long way to go before she reaches Sharapova in either of those respects, she has been compared to the 27-year-old Russian because of her extraordinary potential.

Bouchard, who currently has sponsorship deals with Nike, Babolat and Coca-Cola, among other companies, has several things working in her favor, according to sports marketing expert Jean Gosselin.

"She's very talented, she's pretty, she has charisma, and she is fully bilingual," Gosselin told the Toronto Sun of the Montreal native. "She's also very good at handling social media."

During her run to the semifinals of the Australian Open, Bouchard nearly doubled her Facebook following (adding 100,000 likes for a total of 243,000) while finishing with a total of 107,000 Twitter followers. Now, just half a year later, she's got more than 700,000 Facebook likes and is nearing 300,000 Twitter followers. She's constantly posting videos and messages, often with a touch of humor.

After being on the cusp of several megadeals, the loss to Kvitova is expected to set Bouchard back in terms of marketing.

But with the way she's been playing recently, it might not be long before Bouchard becomes the next face of the women's game.

“Champions (project) hard work, humility, perseverance, and those are all qualities and attributes other brands like to associate with,” Vijay Setlur, who teaches sports marketing at York University, told The Star. "Once that potential is realized, then more brands will present offers or partnerships because you’re dealing now with an athlete that’s proven."

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Eric Reid is a force on the field. As a rookie last season, tthe 22-year-old free safety earned Pro Bowl honors after recording four interceptions and 77 tackles.

Now Reid is tackling something different with Gatorade's "Beat The Heat" program, which teaches young athletes, parents and coaches the importance of hydrating while exercising. Now in its 10th year, the program has partnerships with the NFL, NBA, MLS and MLB.

"The main mission is to educate athletes on the importance of rehydration, especially during the summer," Reid said. "Now, that may not be the biggest issue in the mildly tempered (areas), but in Louisiana, where I'm from, it's a huge priority."

Reid had a run-in with dehydration in middle school, and now, as a professional athlete, knows exactly how to avoid it.

"Just from a rule of thumb that I've learned over the years, if you're thirsty, it's probably too late," Reid said. "If your body has to tell you that you need to hydrate, it's too late. You need to be proactive, not reactive."

Hydration is extremely important in all forms of athletics, especially during the summer. Illnesses due to heat include heat cramps, muscle spasms and heat exhaustion, which can cause lightheadedness and low blood pressure. Heat strokes can result in convulsion and death. All of these can be avoided by simply hydrating.

But research conducted by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute found that as many as 70 percent of high school football players practice without proper hydration. The "Beat The Heat" program, with the help of professional sports leagues, is trying to decrease that number.

"Athletes often don't understand the amount of fluid they lose from sweating and how important it is to replace those lost fluids during workouts, practices and games," said Asker Jeukendrup, Gatorade Sports Science Institute's global senior director. "The Beat the Heat program gives us and these great partner organizations an opportunity to educate athletes, parents and coaches about the importance of proper hydration and safety measures while practicing and competing in the heat."

Just drinking water is a start, but it is important to replenish the electrolytes that leave an athletes body. Drinks, like Gatorade, that contain electrolytes help replenish the body of sodium. Drinks that contain sodium help maintain the desire to rehydrate.

"Athletes and coaches on all levels need to pay close attention to the warning signs of heat-related illnesses because safety should not be risked in the name of competition," Roberta Anding, sports dietitian for the Houston Texans, said. "Drinks that contain electrolytes to help retain and regulate fluids are very important."

A health safety kit, which contains tips on how to properly get hydrated, lists the dangers of an athlete that is not properly hydrated, and ways to tell if you are properly hydrated, is available at

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Canada has not qualified for the Olympics since 2000. Vancouver lost the Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001. The Toronto Raptors, the nation's only NBA franchise, have reached the playoffs just three times since 2003.

Yet, on Thursday night, three Canadians were selected within the first 18 picks of the NBA draft. For the second straight draft, the first overall pick was a Canadian with UNLV's Anthony Bennett last year and Kansas guard/forward Andrew Wiggins this year, both going to the Cavaliers.

"It opens doors for all the youth and everyone in Canada," Wiggins says of the Canadian influx of NBA prospects. "It gives them hope, you know, because coming up when I was in Canada, I wasn't ranked or nothing. I wasn't known. I didn't have no offers or anything like that."

Wiggins was born in Toronto on Feb. 23, 1995. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins won silver medals in the 4x100 and 4x400 track relays for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His father, Mitchell Wiggins, is a former American NBA player. But Wiggins has only represented Canada in international competitions.

He spent most of his childhood in Vaughan, Ontario, including two high school seasons at Vaughan Secondary School before transferring to Huntington Prep School in West Virginia. Wiggins played one year at Kansas before bouncing for the NBA.

"I just kept my head straight and kept working on my game and look where I am today," Wiggins says. "I just think it gives everyone in Canada hope that they can accomplish what I do because it's possible if they work hard.

Within an hour of Wiggins' selection, Nik Stauskas went No. 8 to the Sacramento Kings. Stauskas played two years at Michigan, coming into his own as a versatile guard. Stauskas started his freshman season as the fourth or fifth option for the Wolverines.

His coming-out party came during Michigan's run to the NCAA championship game in 2013. Stauskas dropped 22 points on six three-pointers in a 79-59 thrashing of Florida in the Elite Eight.

Stauskas made even larger strides in 2013-14. He added the ability to drive and dish into his repertoire, along with his deadly shooting touch. His 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game propelled him to a Big Ten Conference Player of the Year Award.

Of course, Stauskas is the first Canadian to earn such an honor.

"We're very excited for the future of Canada basketball," Stauskas said Thursday. "I feel like, if we really all commit to coming in and working hard and coming together, I think we could have a really good team."

Before the draft, on Thursday, Stauskas said he was in contact with Steve Nash, hands-down Canada's best NBA player of all time. Stauskas said Nash's two NBA MVP awards gave hope for children like him. His presence made skinny Canadian guards believe they could compete.

Like Wiggins, Stauskas started high school in Ontario, at Loyola Catholic in his hometown of Mississauga, but he shifted to the United States. Stauskas attended both the South Kent School in Connecticut and the St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass., before going to Michigan.

"I believed in myself, and I don't think many other people did," Stauskas says. "This is something I always felt was a possibility for me, and I just kept working my hardest to make it happen."

Within an hour of the Stauskas pick, a third Canadian came off the board. The Phoenix Suns selected Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick. Ennis averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 assists in his one season for the Orange. He earned All-ACC Freshmen Team and All-ACC Defensive Team honors.

Ennis did it all in upstate New York, not far from his home in Etobicoke, Ontario.

"This is a big year," Ennis says. "We had the No. 1 pick. We had Nik go in the lottery, myself, and a bunch of other Canadians are still waiting to hear their name called. At the end of the night, Canada has something to be proud of."

Stanford's Dwight Powell was the fourth and final Canadian to be selected at No. 45 by the Charlotte Hornets.

Like the earlier two Canadian picks, Ennis started high school in Canada at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke. Then he transferred to powerhouse Saint Benedict'sin Newark, N.J.

For some NBA prospects, moving north and experiencing the cold is a culture shock. Ennis' Canadian roots mean he will be going the other way in the Arizona desert.

"This is probably going to be the first year not seeing snow, but I think change is good," he says.

Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis have all known each other for a number of years, playing with and against each other since their AAU days. They represent a growing pool of Canadians in the NBA. Wiggins joins a Cavaliers team with two strong Canadians already in Bennett and Tristan Thompson.

"I played with Tristan for a summer in AAU and I played with Anthony for a while on the AAU circuit and the national level too," Wiggins says. "I'm just excited. The chemistry is already there with those guys. I played with them already. I think big things are to come."

The question is how big. Along with Wiggins, Stauskas, Ennis, Bennett, Thompson and Nash, other Canadians in the NBA are Joel Anthony, Samuel Dalembert, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre. This week has featured so much news regarding the rapid popularity growth of soccer in the U.S. In Canada, the same can be said for basketball. In 2013-14 playoffs, the Toronto Raptors won their first division title in seven years, and the growing fan support was evident.

To reach the next level, Canada needs to make noise in International competition. Qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio is about to heat up.

"I'm not saying we're going to win a gold medal right now, but I'm saying that we could have a chance to compete at that level if we all commit to it," Stauskas says.

When asked about the Olympics and competing with the United States, Ennis blushes. Moments before, he was selected to an NBA team. One goal is through and another is being built.

"I think we could put together a really good team, but 2016 might be too early," he says. "The U.S. is going to have a tough team regardless of what year it is."

From an American perspective, "Our friends to the North" could soon become our biggest rival. Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis will be right in the middle of it. Oh, Canada.

"I think once we get in the gym together, getting chemistry and just getting all the talent in one gym for the first time, I think that will be a big moment for Canada," Ennis says. "I think not only 2016, but the following Olympics. I think we'll be able to make a run at it."

For a nation that is not just producing players but top-notch NBA talent, Thursday was another milestone night as three of its brightest stars had their own journeys take a new turn.

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An estimated 18.22 million viewers watched in awe Sunday as Silvestre Valera's header forged a tie for Portugal in its World Cup match against the United States. But former U.S. women's star Brandi Chastain says that headers are more dangerous than just breaking the hearts of American soccer fans.

Kids are particularly susceptible to injuries that result from heading the ball because their brains are still forming.

“I believe that the benefits of developing heading skills as children are not worth the thousands of additional concussions that youth soccer players will suffer," Chastain said. "As a parent, I won't allow my children to head the ball before high school, and as a coach I would prefer my players focused solely on foot skills as they develop their love of the game. I believe this change will create better and safer soccer."

Chastain is part of the Parents and Pros for Safer Soccer (PASS) campaign, which is fighting to prohibit heading for players under 14.

Heading is taught as one of the fundaments of the game, but young soccer players and their parents are often unaware of the consequences that come with heading a soccer ball. Heading is the leading cause of serious injuries, like concussions, according to the New York Times.

World Cup hype has captivated millions of U.S. soccer fans, including wide-eyed children who dream of emulating a header like Valera's. Chastain said this newfound popularity adds urgency to the campaign.

"I would love for U.S. Soccer to take this on, because it will only help kids stay healthy," Chastain said. "Why not protect our kids for as long as we can?"

The U.S. Senate held a hearing Wednesday on the long-term effects of sports-related brain injuries. Chastain and PASS can only hope their heading prohibition rule will take off as quickly as America's interest in the World Cup.

Dr. Robert Cantu, an expert in the study of athletes' brain, told the New York Times, "If we were to take a pillow and slam it as hard as we could against a child's head, again and again, we would be charged with child abuse. But that's exactly what it’s like when a player is hit in the head with a ball from pretty close."

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