When Alejandro Sabella became manager of Argentina's national team in 2011, he decided to make a change of captains. Sabella wanted Lionel Messi to wear the armband. Javier Mascherano, who had been the captain since 2008, gracefully handed over the captaincy to Messi.

But Mascherano remains an important leader for Argentina, which faces the Netherlands in the World Cup semifinal. The 30-year-old defensive midfielder is anchoring a defense that has not allowed a goal in the last 253 minutes of World Cup play.

It was Mascherano in the defensive midfield spot that stifled a Belgian attack that had launched 26 shots on goal against U.S. goalie Tim Howard. Belgium could only muster four shots on goal against Argentina's defense.

While Mascherano’s ability to defend is propelling Argentina into the semifinals for the first time since 1990, controlling his temper might be the best news this World Cup. Mascherano has a history of losing his temper for club and country.

Mascherano had the worst disciplinary record in the 2009-2010 season while playing with Liverpool in the English Premier League. Mascherano accumulated 12 yellow cards and two red cards during his final season with Liverpool, along with two yellow cards in four matches at the 2010 World Cup.

In the 2011 Copa America tournament, Mascherano would captain Argentina for the final time against Uruguay. After being sent off late in the game, Mascherano handed over the captain’s armband to his Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi. Argentina went on to lose that game in a shootout. During a World Cup qualifier against Ecuador last year, Mascherano was sent off the field for kicking the driver of the medical cart as he was wheeled off the field.

Mascherano's cooler side has prevailed this World Cup, earning zero cards in five appearances. But Mascherano admits it is going to take more than good behavior to advance.

"I think the word to use is intelligence," Mascherano said. "At this stage you play with heart and soul but you don't get anywhere if you’re not intelligent in the tactical aspect, managing the game."

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The popularity of the No. 10 in soccer has been credited to Pele, who wore it while leading Brazil to three World Cup titles from 1958-1970. The pressure associated with wearing No. 10 could have a negative affect any player. But Lionel Messi is not just any player.

According to Forbes, Messi made $65 million in salary and endorsements in the lpast 12 months. Messi has won three of the last four Ballon D’Or trophies, awarded to the top player in the world on a yearly basis.

Now Messi has led Argentina into the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Messi has scored four goals and tallied one assist, putting him in contention for the Golden Ball Award, given to the top player of the tournament.

The last time an Argentinian player won the Golden Ball, was in 1986 when Diego Maradona led his team to the World Cup title.

During his entire career, Messi has been compared to Maradona -- who also wore No. 10. Both are shorter in stature but large in foot talent. Both play with the ball at their feet, able to create an opportunity with just an inch of space opening between the defenders.

When Messi and Maradona paired up in 2010 as player and coach, the prospects for Argentina seemed as divine as Maradona's hand. The results fell far short of the expectations. Argentina was eliminated in the quarterfinals at the hands of Germany 4-0. Messi did not score during the 2010 World Cup. Maradona did not return to the team after the 2010 World Cup.

Where Messi and Maradona are different is off the field. Lionel Messi is not quiet off the field, but he has generated different kinds of headlines than Maradona. Messi has been seen with his son, Thiago, and making an appearance as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Messi is also on video game covers and advertisements for Turkish Airlines and Gillette. Messi has been on Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list twice.

Maradona has had off-field incidents during and after his playing career. Maradona failed multiple drug tests as a player. Maradona suffered a heart attack caused by cocaine use in 2004. Maradona needed gastric bypass surgery in 2005 to get his weight under control. It was not until 2007 the Maradona announced he had quit drinking and stopped using drugs.

"I've always had my family really close by, and my friends," Messi told CNN. "The truth is that I've never been one to go out much, to go out partying. I've never had those problems because, yeah, my family has always helped me out with that."

Argentina plays Belgium on Saturday. Maradona scored both goals in 1986 when Argentina beat Belgium 2-0 in the semifinals. Barring injury, it would give Messi 91 caps for the national team, tied with Diego Maradona for sixth most in Argentina history.

"It's very special for me to wear the shirt of the national team," b>Messi told CNN. "I think it's a beautiful responsibility to be playing with this shirt, especially with such a football-crazy country watching everything we do. It's something very beautiful."

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Last week, we showed you a White House petition requesting the day of the U.S.-Germany World Cup game be a national holiday. It did not work.

Well, U.S. soccer fans are at it again. A petition to change the name of Washington National Airport (DCA) to Tim Howard National Airport was created Tuesday evening.

Before going any further, it should be made clear the airport, which opened in 1941, has not been known as Washington National Airport since 1998 when it was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The petition's creator, identified as "S.O." from an anonymous residence, obviously has limited regard for the 40th president of the United States. He does, however, exhibit a point in his reasoning for a Tim Howard-related Washington D.C. landmark. There is one paragraph of text in the petition:

"Whereas Tim Howard has shown himself to be a national treasure, Minister of Defense, Friend of Joe Biden, and the holder for the record of most saves in a World Cup match; Therefore, we politely request that we rename the airport to recognize his accomplishments, and meritorious service to the United States of America."

On Tuesday evening in Salvador, Brazil, Howard had 16 saves in the USMNT's 2-1 loss to Belgium. The 16 saves were the most in a World Cup game in the past half-century. In a game the United States allowed 18 shots on goal and still managed to be alive until the bitter end, Howard was the difference maker.

Howard has played every minute of the USMNT's eight games at the past two World Cups. The 35-year-old, who 342 combined career appearances for English clubs Manchester United and Everton, may very well have played his final World Cup match Tuesday.

After the game, Howard expressed considerable emotion, and when asked about being under constant siege, he responded, "That's my job. That's what I signed up to do."

He did that job very well. Since the U.S. Team could not muster up the offense to give Howard's performance its due, this country should repay him. Would naming an airport in the nation's capital after him be too much?

The petition had more than 330 signatures at 11 p.m. ET Tuesday. Its listed goal is 100,000 signatures by July 31.

Update, 10:55 a.m. ET : At 4:15 a.m. Wednesday, ThePostGame (@Post_Game) received a tweet revealing the identity of S.O.:

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American fan interest in soccer got a big boost in 1994 when the United States hosted the World Cup for the only time. It was also the event that led U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez to pursue soccer.

Gonzalez, who made his World Cup debut June 22 against Portugal, was 5 in 1994. His mother, who grew up in Mexico and immigrated to the Dallas area, volunteered to help at early-round World Cup games at the Cotton Bowl. After learning that the games needed kids to help carry flags, she brought Omar and his three siblings to the stadium with her.

From Barry Horn's terrific profile of Gonzalez in the Dallas Morning News:

For the Gonzalez family, that World Cup’s defining moment may have come when Bebeto, the famed forward for Brazil, scored a goal in a quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. An entranced Omar watched as he celebrated with his trademark “rock the baby” cradled arm movement.

Soon after he told his mother he would like to grow up play professional soccer.

And so mother began tutoring son in the game she had studied watching her brother play in Mexico. Brother Adrian thought nothing of shooting BBs at a dodging Omar to improve his speed and quickness. Sister Roxanna drilled him in footwork skills.

Gonzalez went to play college soccer for the Maryland Terrapins and won a national championship. The LA Galaxy drafted him, and Gonzalez was the MLS defender of the year in 2011.

Gonzalez hurt his knee in early May, and he did not play in the World Cup opener against Ghana. He entered the game against Portugal in the final minutes as a substitute, but then was a starter against Germany.

"I keep telling myself I am here playing at this World Cup in Brazil and it is an unbelievable experience," Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times. "But I don't think it is really going to set in until a few weeks after I am back home and have time to really sit down and think about this amazing experience."

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After a football career that included five diagnosed concussions, former Colts and Bengals tight end Ben Utecht began experiencing memory loss at age 30.

A father of three daughters, Utecht has testified on Capitol Hill that one of his girls told the family doctor that she sometimes becomes afraid of her father during his dark spells at home.

"That broke my heart," Utecht told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "It was a wakeup call."

To ensure that his daughters always know he cares for them, even if his concussions rob him of much of his memory, Utecht penned and recorded a heartwarming new song titled "You Will Always Be My Girls."

The 33-year-old Utecht has taken on a second career as a singer/songwriter, and he's performed at venues across the country.

In his new music video, in which Utecht is in a hospital presumably after suffering serious concussions symptoms, he promises he will always cherish his daughters (one is 5, and twins who are 3):

I can still feel you here
In this place beyond all tears
Where love does what it does
But stays, yes, it stays
And I will remember your smile and your laughter
Long ever after this moment is gone

In addition to his work as a singer/songwriter, Utecht has also become a prominent spokesman for organizations that study traumatic brain injury. He participated in the recent White House Concussion Summit and won a public leadership award from the American Academy of Neurology.

Utecht, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts in 2006, has experienced common post-concussion symptoms like amnesia, dizziness and sudden mood changes.

"It's really become a mission to help people who are suffering with brain disease,” he told the Star-Tribune. "I didn't begin to care about my mind until I began to lose my mind. You don’t really make it a priority until it begins to be affected.”

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When Jabari Parker was drafted second overall Thursday by the Milwaukee Bucks, he already had a national reputation. Parker was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, then went to Duke where he averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds this past season, earning USBWA National Freshman of the Year honors.

But his humility and loyalty might not be as well known. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Parker has a strong religious faith. He considered BYU or going on a Mormon mission rather than attending Duke immediately after high school. He pondered the idea of coming back to Duke to get another year of education, despite being bound for the top three in the draft.

Parker made another unique statement when asked how much of the Bucks he has watched and how much he feels he fits in.

"They're a young team," Parker said. "I feel like I can contribute right off the bat. I feel like I'm going to be able to grow with that organization, and I'm trying to be a throwback player, only stick with one team."

Holy Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, John Havlicek, David Robinson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.

"This might bite me in the butt years from now, but right now I just want to stick with whoever's rolling with me," Parker said.

Oh, it certainly can. Jabari, you just broke NBA code. LeBron James is chuckling. Are you really going to get drafted by a small market team and not seek out a big contract in a big city?

For Parker, the situation in Milwaukee makes sense. He will be less than 100 miles from his hometown of Chicago, and he can be the face of the franchise with little pressure. He has a supporting cast featuring Brandon Knight, Larry Sanders and Giannis Antetokoumpo.

"My parents can easily access me, and I also get to enjoy that Great Lake water again," he said of the team's location.

Parker may be ready, physically, for the NBA, but the NBA may not be ready for him. Parker's swagger is all related to his calm demeanor, not outwardly expression.

"What does the draft really give entitlement to, the best player?" he said. "You got Doug McDermott scoring 3,000 points. Shoot, Julius Randle went to the national championship. Shabazz Napier won two national championships. I mean, we're all good. We're all great players."

Welcome to the NBA, Jabari. And to us, welcome to Jabari Parker's NBA.

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Adreian Payne takes a seat at his table Wednesday for the NBA Draft media event at the Westin New York Times Square. Payne is 23 years and 126 days old. At the modern NBA draft, this is ancient. On this day, reporters flock to the rich freshmen talent of the draft. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle have microphones up to their eyebrows. Payne does not.

About six reporters spread around the former Michigan State forward/center. One asks if it hurts Payne's draft stock that he is a senior.

"No, I don’t think it hurt me, I think it benefited me," Payne says. "If I would have gone out my freshman year, well, I wasn't ready."

Payne is a talented big man with the size and stamina to give him the potential of being an NBA starter. He has the wingspan to be a lockdown defender, while his game includes the finesse to perform in the post. At 6-10, 245 pounds, Payne's body is a prime ingredient.

Yet, Payne is just one of three seniors of the 20 players invited to this media function. The other two are Doug McDermott, the Naismith Player of the Year, and Shabazz Napier, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

Although NBA scouts never gushed over Payne, he had first round potential before this season. Payne, an interdisciplinary studies major, says he seriously considered leaving after his junior season, but non-basketball factors persuaded him otherwise.

"I made a promise to my grandma that I was going to graduate," he says of Mary Lewis, who raised him.

Napier is 22 years and 346 days old. McDermott is a modest 22 years and 173 days old. When Payne, Napier and McDermott started college, this year's freshmen class was still a year away from their SATs.

McDermott wears a checked-Polo button-down. He stands out from the flashy vests and bow ties in the room. McDermott looks more like a New York businessman than an NBA draft prospect primed to make seven figures to play basketball. The nation's 2013-14 leading scorer does not show any nerves dealing with media. He is treated more like a peer than a youthful subject.

"I feel like a vet with all these younger guys," he says. "I feel like it helps me a little too. I feel like I can step on the floor after four years of college. I've seen a little of everything. I've seen a lot of adversity, a lot of different defenses. It definitely plays into my favor."

When informed of McDermott's answer, Payne nods his head. The two are like father figures in the media room. Call them gurus if you will.

"I definitely feel like a vet. I feel like I have more experience. I'm more mature. I carry myself different than a lot of these guys," Payne says.

Coming from Michigan State, Payne has a deep pool of NBA talent in his contacts. He can pick the brain of a variety of Tom Izzo alumni. Payne mentions Draymond Green and Jason Richardson as two of his most notable allies. The former spent four years in East Lansing and is having a darn good NBA career. Most recently, Green averaged 11.9 points in seven NBA playoff games this season, starting four of them.

"[Draymond] said I made the right decision," Payne says. "He stayed four years, but it took him four years to get there. It wasn't just basketball for me. It was also academics. I wanted to graduate and make sure everything was on the right path. I knew I had to grow as a person off the court. It was just a matter of me trying to leave at the right time and have the right situation. It took four years and everything fell into place."

In Omaha, McDermott had his father as a coach, but he says he tried not to let that factor into his NBA plans. McDermott considered leaving after his junior season, but he got some good advice from a friend an NBA pro. Unlike Payne, McDermott's advice came from a high school teammate: Harrison Barnes, who happens to be Green's NBA teammate.

"He was big for me on the decision to come back to school," McDermott says of Barnes, whom he won back-to-back Iowa state titles with. "He was telling me you got to be 100 percent sure you want to do this. I really took that to heart. It's more of a job he said. They demand a lot more defensively than you think."

Marcus Smart cannot relate to Payne, McDermott and Napier academically. He does not have a college degree and he just turned 20 years old in March.

However, Smart also had to make decisions about his jump to the pros. After averaging 15.4 points in his freshmen season at Oklahoma State in 2012-13, Smart could have jumped to the NBA. He was a projected lottery pick, and at 6-4, 220 pounds, scouts salivated over Smart's bulky stature.

"Everybody looks at me and says I should be playing football instead of basketball," he laughs.

Smart made the controversial decision to stay in school for another season and develop his game. The decision received mixed reviews.

"I am aware of how much money I am giving up. I am aware of that," Smart said in April 2013.

There is no doubt Smart's draft place will be lower in 2014 than it would have been in 2013. Based on the poor performance of this past season's class of NBA rookies, the reasoning for Smart's 2013 potential draft placement is obvious. He would have been one of the most talented players in the draft. Now, he blends in with what is considered one of the best draft classes of all-time, due in part to the hefty dose of freshmen talent.

Smart ignores comparisons of last year's draft and this year's draft involving draft placement and salary. He is confident with his decision because he thinks he is better at basketball than he was a year ago. He thinks he is better because he stayed in school. He learned the essentials of a position and he learned about himself.

"It was an amazing year for me. I was able to go through some things that helped prepare me for the NBA, but not only the NBA, for life situations," Smart says. "I was able to embrace the point guard role. My coach, Travis Ford, he was a point guard. Being able to stay that extra year and learn and listen to the things he had to teach me was phenomenal for my game."

Almost any criticism about Smart involves his character. In February, the guard had an altercation with a fan in a game at Texas Tech, resulting in a three-game suspension for Smart. The incident was the lowest point in Smart's career and it left questions about his draft stock.

For Smart, although he is embarrassed by the suspension, the moment was a justification of his second season at the NCAA level. Both on and off the court, Smart had reason to learn. His brief time out of action allowed him to take a breath and find his place.

"I came back with a lot more focus," he says. "I was able to sit down and watch some film. I was able to sit back and relax and see what the coaches have been seeing, which sometimes as a player, you don't really comprehend because you're so focused on the game. It gave me enough time to get my thoughts together and just go back and play ball."

Smart finished his career with a 23-point, 13-rebound, five-assist, five-steal performance in an 85-77 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Smart became the first player in NCAA tournament history to put up totals of 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in one game. Despite the loss, the stat line gave his move validity.

Meanwhile, north of Stillwater, Gary Harris faced an almost identical situation to Smart in East Lansing. After averaging 12.9 points as a freshman in 2012-13, Harris could have bounced from Michigan State to the pros. After earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and a Big Ten Tournament title, Harris was a potential lottery pick.

Harris opted to play under coach Tom Izzo one more season. In 2013-14 he averaged 16.7 points en route to a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team. Like Payne, his return to college for another season was related to conversations with Michigan State alums.

"I talk to Draymond a lot. Not only Draymond. I talk to guys like Mateen Cleaves, Mo[rris] Pete[rson], Charlie Bell, Alan Anderson. Those guys have been great. They're defeinitely resources for me looking out for my family."

After this season, Harris again evaluated his draft stock and personal readiness. He admits he leaned toward leaving for the NBA as the season progressed, but he made sure to talk things over with Izzo. The coach made things easy for him.

"He was like man, I'd be wrong to tell you to stay," Harris, who turns 20 in September, recalls. "I already got you to stay one more year. I can't have you stay three. He was definitely really encouraging me to leave. He said he'd support me either way. He'd love to have me back, but he said he believed I should take the next step."

Payne is not bitter toward those who leave school early. He is sure to made it clear he waited four years because it was what was necessary for him. If players have the skillset and mindset to jump early, so be it. He is confident Harris is ready to go after his sophomore season.

"He came from a good family, good support and he's young," Payne says, making his fatherly presence heard. "He still has that family support that is going to help guide him in the right way. He's a good kid that knows right from wrong. As long as he keeps his family first and is surrounded by good guys, he'll be fine."

Michigan State may be the anti-one-and-done school, which means Payne's direct knowledge of it is limited. But he can speculate and he advises potential one-and-done prospects to proceed with caution.

"Kids that have done the one-and-done, I don’t think it's the mindset they come in [with]," Payne says. "They happened to be talented enough they could go one year and be done. I think there's some good to that and some bad. It works in both ways."

Former Arizona forward Aaron Gordon is on his way out of college after one year. The 6-9, 225-pounder averaged 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in 2013-14. That all came after Gordon won the MVP Award in the 2013 McDonald's All-American Boys Game.

Gordon admits he thought about being one-and-done before even arriving in Tuscon. However, while it was a possible edition to his agenda, he does not think it affected his game in a Wildcats jersey.

"It was [on my mind] a little bit," he says. "To stay in the moment, you can't think about being a one-and-done. What I did was push that out. I said I'll play as hard as I can and however long it takes me to get to the NBA, that's how long it's going to take."

The wild card to the leaving early versus staying all four years argument is the influx of foreign players. Many NBA Draft prospects from Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and South America do not make NCAA basketball part of their path. For these players, the comparisons are up for their disgression.

Croatian 20-year-old Dario Saric was set to be a high lottery pick in the draft. To the surprise of many, earlier this week, Saric signed a three-year contract with the Turkish club Anadolu Efes. The deal means Saric will not be in the NBA at least the next two seasons, and it means he probably will not be a lottery pick.

In a way, Saric decided, despite his raw talent, he was not ready for the American pro game. Instead, he will groom it for another couple of years in Europe.

"I think it's better for me to bring my basketball level up in Europe. So many European guys lose it in the NBA. I must be ready," he says.

Like his American NCAA counterparts, Saric, who compares his game to Toni Kukoc and Lamar Odom, reached out to NBA talent for help. He discussed the manner with Roko Ukic, the Croatian guard who played with Raptops and Bucks from 2008-2010. Ukic waited three years to come overseas after being drafted 41st overall in 2005.

Although Ukic initially advised Saric to come over right away, he supported Saric's reason.

"He said if it's one year or two years more, it won't be a problem for you," Saric says.

It feels like this year's freshmen class has been the story since the 2013 NBA draft ended. The high school class of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, Gordon, Tyler Ennis, James Young, Noah Vonleh and more may be the most star-studded single year of all-time.

Despite popular belief, being one-and-done does not always provide players with the best future. It also does not mean only players with the most potential come out after one year.

For players like Payne and McDermott, and to a lesser degree Smart, Harris and Saric, there is a bit of a rivalry between them and the freshmen. If it is the chip the older prospects need on their shoulders, so be it.

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Just as Mexico's World Cup hopes teetered and tottered the past few years, so did those of Rafael Márquez.

After a stirring seven-year stint with Barcelona, the super-talented and somewhat temperamental star finished a disastrous turn in the MLS in 2012. His time with the New York Red Bulls was marred by injuries and in-fighting -- he only played in half of his team's games during his three seasons -- and he left the Big Apple with a bad taste in his mouth.

Márquez was left off the national team roster for several friendlies in the lead-up to the World Cup, and it was only Victor Manuel Vucetich, Mexico's third coach in 2013, who invited Márquez back to the squad.

After struggling mightily during qualifying, 'El Tri' barely earned a trip to Brazil. Normally a shoo-in, Mexico had to defeat New Zealand in a playoff for one of the final spots in the tournament.

But now the team is shining, and Márquez has played no small part in his country's success. Márquez opened the scoring in his team's crucial group-stage victory against Croatia with a header in the 72nd minute. He assisted Javier Hernández on the team's final score in the 3-1 victory.

Márquez's goal makes him the first Mexican player to score in three consecutive World Cups.

Perhaps even more impressive is that Márquez is once again wearing the captain's armband for his country. According to the New York Times he is the first player in the tournament's 84-year history to captain his squad at four World Cups.

“He’s a man with experience and a man who knows how to talk with us,” defender Miguel Layún told the Times. “It’s really important, the job he has at this World Cup.”

Márquez is a fluid player who has helped out in the midfield and in attacking set pieces. His versatility makes him invaluable for a team that has gone through significant flux over the past year. But perhaps his most significant contribution to this team may be his leadership. Having seen Mexico through three World Cups, Márquez knows what to expect from the biggest stage.

And now the 35-year-old is tasked with his biggest challenge of all. In this, likely his final tournament, his team drew defending runner-up Netherlands in the round of 16. If Mexico want to advance past the round of 16 for the first time since 1986, it'll have to do so by taking down the hottest team in the tournament.

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Nate Robinson's story is about a lifetime of proving himself. It's about ignoring obstacles and using sheer will and unstoppable determination to achieve goals in sports and in life. His story begins in Seattle, where, you guessed it, he was the smallest kid on the block. But he played college football and basketball at Washington, became a first-round NBA pick and a three-time dunk champion while standing 5-9. Here's an excerpt from Heart Over Height:

High school was really the first time that I started to get made fun of for being short. I guess up until then I was short, but since most of the other kids were still only in middle school, nobody was really that much taller than me. When I stepped on the basketball court for the first time as a freshman, I was only about 5'4". The second shortest guy on the team was about 5'8" and everyone else was way over six feet.

Guys would mock me and call me every name in the book for being short, but I really didn't let it bother me. I think what allowed me to get through it was how I carried myself. I knew I was better than every single guy on the freshman team and I knew that my real competition was with the older guys. I even felt that way in eighth grade when we'd play in summer leagues. I just knew how good I could be and I carried myself like I belonged with the best. But even though I felt that way, I wasn't just handed a spot on the team. Coach Mike wanted to see how I would do against everybody, so at first he put me with the freshmen. This didn’t last long because I was too good to play with them.

Then he tried me with the junior varsity team, and even though most of those guys played varsity too I was still dominating, so he put me on both the JV and varsity.

When the season started, I would play two quarters of JV and then I’d play varsity either later that night or the next day. JV was fun, but it was just a way to get in a warm-up. Most of the times in the two quarters I played to stay eligible for varsity I would have 25-30 points.

I definitely had to pay my dues on varsity as a freshman, but very early on Coach Mike told me he saw something special in me. He'd say, "Nate, you can be anything you want to be. You have something that nobody else has. It's a gift. I see it in your eyes. I've never seen anyone with the eye of the tiger that you have."

I'll never forget that. But if I'm totally honest, at the time I thought basketball was my second best sport. I even told Coach Mike. I used to say, “I play basketball for fun, but I'm a football player."

The freshman football coach also said I could play varsity, but there were some huge guys playing varsity ball and I was just too small.

Meanwhile, I learned a lot about high school basketball and how to play on a real team that year from Coach Mike and from Jamal. Jamal was getting recruited and scouted by almost every major college program and I watched how he handled it all, which I’ll get to later.

We had some games where coaches from Duke, North Carolina, Michigan and Ohio State would be sitting in the stands watching us play. I was only fourteen years old and I had seen most of those coaches on TV during the NCAA tournament. It was crazy.

Jamal had an incredible year and we went to the playoffs, but ended up getting only seventh in the state. When the season was over, I told Coach Mike that I was going to work on my game and that next year, as a sophomore, I didn’t want to play JV and varsity. No more bouncing around. I wanted to play just varsity. He told me he had no problem with that if I was good enough.

After basketball I ran track, and that summer my dad worked with me on finding my true jump shot.

“You need to learn how to shoot," he said. “You have all the speed and quickness a basketball player could ask for. You just need to be able to knock down your shot all the time.”

He signed me up for some shooting camps and we worked all June and July on my form and on my rotation. After a few months of shooting what felt like a million balls with perfect form, one day I was out there stroking it and I knew I had it. I could just feel that everything was in tune and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. All the hard work paid off. My dad saw me shooting and he was so proud.

“You’re going to be unstoppable,” he said. “Now you can add a complete offensive game to your driving and dunking. With everything you can do, you just need to go out there and do it. Be the best you can be. You just need to believe in yourself. You’re Nate the Great."

My dad helped me get that mentality to always believe in myself.


When school came back around in the fall, I went in for my physical and saw that I had grown about five inches! I remember talking to the nurse after she measured my height, which was 5'9" going into my sophomore year, and I said to her, “I have one more growth spurt in me. My dad is 6'1" and I’m going to shoot up another three or four inches by the time I'm a senior."

The nurse just looked at me and said, "Nate, you're done growing. I'm sorry."

"No way,” I said. "I'm only fifteen."

"I’m telling you,” she said. “You come back to me your senior year and I promise, you'll be 5'9"."

I still don’t know how she knew this, but she was right. I'm the same height right now that I was my sophomore year in high school. Every summer I would go for my physical and watch them measure my height and it was always the same: 5'9", 5'9", 5'9"... Even in college I kept hoping for a few more inches. I knew plenty of guys who grew three or four inches at nineteen or twenty years old. But not me. My mom is short so I guess I got the short gene. I was 5'9" then and I’m 5'9" now.

Thanks to all of my hard work that summer, I met my goal of playing only varsity as a sophomore. Our team was awesome. Me and the twins, Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart, who were already 6'4" as sophomores, came off the bench and lit it up. I could already dunk easily in practice, but that year I got my first dunk in a game, which is something people ask me about all the time because I’m known for my three NBA dunk contest wins.

For the record, I dunked a volleyball for the first time when I was in eighth grade and I dunked a basketball for the first time in a game my sophomore year. The dunk happened on an out-of-bounds alley-oop play and the gym exploded. Nobody expected it. Even the other team's fans went crazy. It was just awesome.

I probably could have dunked earlier but I have small hands, so at the time I needed to either cuff the ball or dunk it off a pass. That first dunk put me on the map as a basketball player in Seattle.

At the time I was best known for football, but once people heard I could dunk and started hearing about all the other things I could do on the court, the basketball talk really picked up.

We finished third in the state that year and almost the entire team played on the Gary Payton All-Stars AAU team that summer. I'll never forget it because we won every tournament we were in and I was just coming into my own as a legitimate basketball player. To that point, I had always thought about playing football in college because I was really making a name for myself as a cornerback and multi-position guy on offense, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was scoring almost forty points a night in these AAU games against the best players in the state. After that summer, I realized I wanted to play college basketball too.

-- Excerpted by permission from Heart Over Height by Nate Robinson and Jon Finkel. Copyright (c) 2014 by Nate Robinson and Jon Finkel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the authors. Available for purchase from Amazon. Follow the authors on Twitter @nate_robinson and @Jon_Finkel.

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Since Beats By Dre released "The Game Before The Game" on its YouTube page June 5, the World Cup-themed advertisement -- set to the music of "Jungle" by X Ambassadors and Jamie N Commons -- has posted more than 11.5 million views.

It did not take too long for one of Dr. Dre's old friends, Jay-Z to take an interest in the tune. On Sunday night during the NBA Finals, the "Jungle" remix by X Ambassadors and Jamie N Commons featuring Jay-Z debuted. Jay Z's verse features such lines as: "There's record to break, medals to take, flags to wave." Many of the same clips with top soccer players in the world and fans play throughout the video.

Dr. Dre, who had not tweeted since Apple acquired his company, Beats Electronics, for $3 billion, started tweeting and retweeting a series of Jay Z/Jungle-related comments on Saturday (Note: @S_C_ is Jay Z, who's real name is Shawn Carter).

[H/T: Mashable]

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