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Inside the friendship Lamar Jackson and Donovan Mitchell formed as Louisville Cardinals

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It was the summer of 2015.

Newcomers Lamar Jackson and Donovan Mitchell were just a couple of weeks into their courses on the University of Louisville’s campus when the true freshmen bumped into each other for the first time late one night.

Jackson, a quarterback, was kicking it with a few teammates while Mitchell — a guard for the basketball team — was hanging with the hoopers.

The introductions and casual conversation turned into friendly competition when they decided to enter the basketball program’s KFC Yum! Center practice facility for an impromptu dunk session.

There were no cameras. No media. No pressure. Just teenagers having fun.

“I was doing little basic dunks. … If we were talking about [NBA] 2K dunk comparisons, mine would be like generic, and his would be some crazy s— like Vince Carter or something,” Jackson told ESPN.

“It was impressive just to see him, and it was a few others and they were jumping and doing some stuff,” Mitchell recalled. “I’m like ‘Y’all might beat me if y’all actually focused on dunking and basketball,’ but I had to go out there and do some tricks myself and put that to bed.”

Now mentioned among the best at their positions in the NBA and NFL, the former Louisville classmates often reflect on those memories with great fondness.

Mitchell, 25, is a two-time NBA All-Star in his fifth season with the Utah Jazz, and he’s widely regarded as one of the most exciting young players in the league.

Jackson’s electrifying style has made him one of the faces of the NFL as he continues to break records as a 24-year-old quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens.

On Saturday, Jackson — who won the 2016 Heisman trophy and 2019 NFL MVP — will have his No. 8 jersey retired by Louisville during the Cardinals’ game against Syracuse (noon, ESPN3). He will join Pro Football Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas as the only football players in school history to receive the honor.

“I can’t even explain it. Everyone keeps asking me like, ‘How do I feel about that?’ It’s really so many feelings in me right now about that situation,” said Jackson, who will be in attendance for the ceremony. “I’m still alive and I’m getting my jersey number retired from a DI school. That’s crazy.”

‘It’s constant support and love for each other’

On New Year’s Day 2019, Mitchell showed up at the Jazz’s game at the Toronto Raptors wearing Jackson’s purple No. 8 jersey.

Jackson, then a rookie, was days away from becoming the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game. Mitchell sent a message telling Jackson how happy he was for him, well aware how far Jackson had come — from being drafted with the last pick of the first round and told by some NFL scouts he should consider switching positions.

Surely, Mitchell could relate.

During his rookie season in the NBA, Mitchell was doubted by critics early who said he was shooting too much. But his play eventually led the Jazz to a first-round upset over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I kind of just find ways to give him encouragement,” Mitchell said.

The messages of support have since continued. Last season, Mitchell sent a text of encouragement after the Ravens fell to the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. And Jackson did the same when the Jazz were defeated by the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semis in June.

“I had hit him up. I told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going.’ Because I’d seen it in him. He was trying to get that NBA championship,” Jackson said. “He’s gonna get it one day. I feel like he is, with his passion for the game. He loves the game, and he’s got doubters and stuff. I see people talking about him.”

“It’s constant support and love for each other,” Mitchell said.

A new era

At first glance, Jackson was disappointed when he saw a No. 8 jersey sitting at his Louisville locker.

He’d worn No. 1 for much of his childhood before switching to No. 7 at Boynton Beach (Florida) High School.

“I’m hot. I’m mad,” Jackson said of seeing the number. “I’d seen [wide receiver] Alphonso Carter had No. 1, and he’s older, he’s like a junior at the time. So, now I’ve got to wait years or something to get this number back, but then I [called] my mom.”

Jackson’s mother, Felicia Jones, listened to her son vent before offering her feedback. After researching the number, she discovered that, in the Bible, the No. 8 represents a new beginning. After hearing that, Jackson’s mood changed.

“So, I’m like ‘new beginning?’ I kind of like that. So, I’m feeling like I’m different from everyone going into college so I’m like ‘new era,'” Jackson said. “So that’s how I got my Instagram name (@new_era8) with it. I put that new era with that. I’m like new era everything, I’m going to take over everything. That’s how I’m thinking.”

Now, Jackson’s No. 8 is one of the top 10 selling jerseys in the NFL.

Mitchell not only owns a Jackson jersey, he loves what it represents — a Black athlete challenging norms.

Living and playing in Utah, Mitchell has spoken out on racially charged incidents, most notably when vulgar and racist comments were directed at NBA guards Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies and Russell Westbrook, then of the Washington Wizards, inside Utah’s Vivint Arena. The organization banned those fans.

Mitchell also spoke out against a Utah charter school that was allowing parents to opt students out of Black History Month curriculum. The decision was later reversed after public outcry.

Jackson runs a free football camp for kids in his native South Florida called “Funday with LJ,” which provides free snacks and a designated food truck for the attendees.

While Mitchell won’t be in attendance for Jackson’s jersey ceremony in Louisville, with the Jazz hosting Miami, the honor signifies much more than an athletic achievement through his lens.

“The biggest thing in our individual ways, and in our own respective ways, we’re just showing our community that you can be great. You can also be a great person, a great advocate for the community and do big things,” Mitchell said.

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New York Giants QB Daniel Jones (neck) unlikely to play vs. Los Angeles Chargers, sources say

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After further visits with team doctors and specialists to have his neck injury evaluated, New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is unlikely to play Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Jones missed Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. He was injured the previous week in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants (4-8) remain hopeful he won’t miss much more time and will return this season.

Mike Glennon started in Jones’ place on Sunday, but was diagnosed with a concussion after the contest. That puts newly acquired quarterback Jake Fromm potentially in line to start against the Chargers. It only adds to questions about whether Jones has done enough in his first three professional seasons to convince the Giants — and potentially a new general manager — that he is a true franchise quarterback they should build around.

Fromm, a University of Georgia standout, was signed off the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad last week. He has never played in an NFL game and could be making his first start 11 days after joining the team.

“It’s the beauty of the NFL. It’s next man up. Jake is getting his opportunity,” said Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas, who was also his teammate at Georgia. “I’m excited for him to get his chance. But like I said, next man up, and we’re doing everything to help him.”

The Giants also have former Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke on their practice squad. He seems to have been immediately jumped by Fromm on the depth chart.

Judge said that Fromm would be next in line this week at practice with Jones and Glennon sidelined. The Giants might still add additional contingencies.

“We’re talking internally about a lot of options personnel-wise to see what we can do and build in depth for a multitude of reasons,” coach Joe Judge said.

Judge said after the game in Miami that Glennon would remain the starter if healthy while Jones remained sidelined. But Glennon’s status is in doubt and might not be decided until late this week.

He’s currently in the concussion protocol.

“The optimistic view would be to have [Glennon] ready for the game on Sunday,” Judge said during a Monday afternoon conference call from Arizona, where the Giants are practicing this week.

New York is also dealing with COVID-19 issues. Offensive lineman Wes Martin and quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski tested positive on Monday, per Judge.

Martin was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday afternoon. Schuplinski was involved in meetings virtually throughout the day as the Giants try to get Fromm coached up quickly for a potential start.

Having Fromm start would provide some limitations.

“For a guy who has only been in your system for a couple days, you have to go ahead and select more of a menu what he can operate with in a game,” Judge said. “That is not always based on what he’s capable of with his ability, it’s just based on being new in a scheme and system and what he’s comfortable going out there and playing aggressively and making the right decisions within.”

Fromm has crammed hard since joining the Giants. He stayed after practice on Friday last week and did extra work with Jones there to provide input.

The fifth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills last year has made a positive first impression.

“He’s an intelligent guy. He’s demonstrated that already,” Judge said. “He has very good poise out there and he has a very good presence. Once thing that is very impressive about this guy is you talk to former teammates of his, like we did before he got in here, most of those Georgia guys, and every single one lit up and said we’d absolutely love to have that guy on the team.”

The bar won’t be especially high. The Giants failed to score a touchdown on Sunday in Miami. They have one touchdown in the two games since offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was fired.

Glennon went 23-of-44 for 187 yards with an interception against the Dolphins.

Jones has completed 64.3% of his passes for 2,428 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.

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New Orleans Saints WR Deonte Harris suspended three games; DE Cameron Jordan put on COVID-19 list

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METAIRIE, La. — The hits keep coming for one of the NFL’s most depleted rosters.

New Orleans Saints receiver/kick returner Deonte Harris was officially suspended three games Monday for a summer DUI arrest after his appeal was unsuccessful. And defensive end Cameron Jordan was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list — putting one of the NFL’s longest iron man streaks in serious jeopardy.

Jordan has played in 172 consecutive regular-season games — the longest active streak of any nonspecialist in the NFL. He will need two negative tests 24 hours apart to be able to return in time for Sunday’s game at the New York Jets. Ironically, Saints linebacker Demario Davis would replace Jordan atop that list if he can’t play. Davis has played in 156 consecutive games.

Jordan, 32, has never missed a game since being drafted in the first round in 2011. He has four sacks this season and 98.5 in his career.

The Saints (5-7) are already thin at defensive end, with fellow starter Marcus Davenport having missed the past two games with a shoulder injury and veteran backup Tanoh Kpassagnon having been placed on injured reserve last week.

Their offense has also been seriously banged up during their current five-game losing streak — though they are hoping to get at least some from the group of running back Alvin Kamara and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk back from knee injuries this week.

Quarterback Taysom Hill will also be playing through the pain of a mallet finger injury in his right throwing hand and a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot.

The 24-year-old Harris, a third-year pro who has taken on a bigger role on offense this year, leads the Saints with 523 receiving yards and has three long touchdowns on 31 catches.

Harris’ DUI case was resolved earlier in November when he was sentenced to one year of supervised probation. Maryland court records show that Harris pleaded not guilty but agreed to the statement of facts in the police report. According to that police report, which was obtained by NOLA.com, Harris registered a blood alcohol content of 0.246% after driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit and swerving across three lanes of traffic on the interstate at 1:30 a.m.

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love placed on COVID-19 list

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Jordan Love, who has been taking most of the midweek practice reps while Aaron Rodgers treats and rests his fractured pinkie toe, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.

The team made the announcement on the day players returned to the facility from their bye week. Love, who has said he is vaccinated, would have been part of the group of players tested upon their return for their week off. Unvaccinated players who have not had COVID in the last 90 days would have been tested daily during the bye.

Love has taken only one game snap since his Nov. 7 start against the Kansas City Chiefs, the game Aaron Rodgers missed while he was on the COVID list. It was a kneel-down play on Nov. 21 against the Vikings, when Rodgers went into the locker room shortly before halftime to get treatment on his toe.

However, Love handled all the starting quarterback practice duties leading up to the Nov. 28 game against the Rams.

Rodgers elected not to have surgery on his toe during the bye week, but coach Matt LaFleur wasn’t ready to say whether Rodgers would practice much, if at all, this week in advance of Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.

“I know he was getting treatment and doing everything he can to be 100 percent,” LaFleur said Monday. “I still think it’s a process like anything, and we’ll see where he’s at this week. Hopefully we can get him out there at practice, but if not, we’ve got a lot of confidence in just his ability to go out there and play at a high level.”

The only other quarterback the Packers have is Kurt Benkert, who is on the practice squad. He, too, was on the COVID list this season, but returned to the team on Nov. 15.

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