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Nuggets’ Michael Malone: Team more concerned with refs than running offense

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Nuggets’ Michael Malone: Team more concerned with refs than running offense

For the better part of five minutes, Nuggets coach Michael Malone paced the baseline of the team’s practice court contemplating the practice he’d just watched.

Trapped with his thoughts, Malone’s walk came after Saturday’s session had already extended 45 minutes longer than initially scheduled.

Once he sat down with reporters, his frustration bubbled to the surface.

Asked what needed to be cleaned up between practice and Wednesday’s opening night in Phoenix, Malone rattled off a laundry list of issues that their five-game preseason didn’t sort out.

“It’s everything,” he said. “We’re just not a very good team right now. No organization, too many blown sets, too many blown coverages, lack of communication, too many turnovers, sloppy, throwing the ball all over the place, starters got beat today because they had 15 turnovers and the other team only had five.”

Perhaps that’s as good a place as any to start. The Nuggets’ starting five – Monte Morris, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic – got beat by Denver’s second unit, which had been inconsistent at best over the past two weeks. Outside of moments from P.J. Dozier, JaMychal Green, Jeff Green and rookie Bones Hyland, that unit had hardly gelled.

If some combination of Denver’s reserves took it to the Nuggets’ typical starters, what will the reigning Western Conference champion Suns do?

Unsolicited, Malone offered his opinion.

“If we walk into Phoenix playing the way we played today, it’s gonna be really ugly, really early,” he said.

Malone couldn’t boil it down to one problem. The second unit has been in flux all camp, owing to ankle injuries to both Will Barton and JaMychal Green, Hyland’s emergence and the lackluster play of both Facu Campazzo and Austin Rivers. The reserve backcourt appears to be the most fluid.

Malone, who mentioned complacency regarding his reserves earlier in training camp, used the word again, although this time in reference to his entire team. Did they think their previous triumphs over the last three years guaranteed them anything about this season, he wondered aloud.

But the core of his frustration stemmed from his team’s inability – or unwillingness – to talk.

He said he’s challenged all of the team’s guards to be more vocal and more assertive.

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Registration for annual Stillwater art and science festival for students accepted until Dec. 23

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Registration for annual Stillwater art and science festival for students accepted until Dec. 23

The Partnership Plan is scheduled to hold its annual DaVinci Fest on Jan. 22, celebrating science and art in the St. Croix Valley.

Students in fourth through 12th grades who live within the boundaries of the Stillwater Area Public Schools, regardless of where they attend school, can submit projects in science, art, upcycling and film. Top students who participate in the science fair will be eligible to go on to further competitions.

Registration is open until Dec. 23 and information can be found at partnershipplan.org/davincifest.

The DaVinci Fest is hosted by the Partnership Plan, the non-profit educational fund for Stillwater Area Public Schools. The Jan. 22 festival will be held at Stillwater Area High School. Admission is free and face masks will be required.

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Desperation drives thousands of Afghans a day across borders

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Desperation drives thousands of Afghans a day across borders

HERAT, Afghanistan — Over the course of an hour on a recent night, the bus waiting in the Herat station filled with passengers. Mostly young men, they had no luggage, just the clothes on their backs, maybe a bag with some bread and water for the long road ahead of them.

That road is leading them to Iran.

Every day, multiple buses rumble out of Afghanistan’s western city of Herat, carrying hundreds of people to the border. There they disembark, connect with their smugglers and trek for days, sometimes crammed into pickup trucks bumping through wastelands, sometimes on foot through treacherous mountains in the darkness, eluding guards and thieves.

Once in Iran, most will stay there to look for work. But a few hope to go farther.

“We’re going to get to Europe,” said Haroun, a 20-year-old sitting in the bus next to his friend Fuad. Back in their village there is no work. “We have no choice, the economy here is a wreck. Even if it means our death on the way, we accept that.”

Afghans are streaming across the border into Iran in accelerating numbers, driven by desperation. Since the Taliban takeover in mid-August, Afghanistan’s economic collapse has accelerated, robbing millions of work and leaving them unable to feed their families. In the past three months, more than 300,000 people have crossed illegally into Iran, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and more are coming at the rate of 4,000 to 5,000 a day.

The European Union is now bracing for a potential swell in Afghans trying to reach its shores at a time when EU nations are determined to lock down against migrants in general.

So far, a post-Taliban surge of Afghan migrants to Europe hasn’t materialized. Afghan entries into the EU have “remained mostly stable,” according to an EU weekly migration report from Nov. 21. The report noted that some Afghans who arrived in Italy from Turkey in November told authorities they had fled their country after the Taliban takeover.

But a significant portion of migrants likely intend to stay in Iran, which is struggling to shut its doors. It already hosts more than 3 million Afghans who fled their homeland during the past decades of turmoil.

Iran is stepping up deportations, sending 20,000 or 30,000 Afghans back every week. This year, Iran deported more than 1.1 million Afghans as of Nov. 21 — 30% higher than the total in all of 2020, according to the International Organization for Migration. Those deported often try again, over and over.

In Afghanistan, the exodus has emptied some villages of their men. In Jar-e Sawz, a village north of Herat visited by The Associated Press, an elderly man was the only male left after all the younger men left.

One smuggler in Herat — a woman involved in the business for two decades — said that before the Taliban takeover, she was transporting 50 or 60 people a week into Iran, almost all single men. Since the August takeover, she moves around 300 people a week, including women and children.

“The country is destroyed so people have to leave,” she said, speaking on condition she not be named because of her work. “I feel like I’m doing the right thing. If some poor person asks me, I can’t refuse them. I ask God to help me help them.”

She charges the equivalent of almost $400 per person, but only about $16 up front, with the rest paid after the migrant finds work. The pay-later system is common in Herat, a sign that there are so many migrants, smugglers can accept some risk that some will be unable to pay. Along the way, smugglers pass out bribes to Taliban, Pakistani and Iranian border guards to turn a blind eye, she said.

Everyone going gives the same reason.

“There is nothing here. There is no work and our families are hungry,” said Naib, a 20-year-old who was pausing with a group of migrants one night in a desolate area within sight of the Iranian border outside Herat. “We go crawling if we have to. There is no other choice.”

Afghanistan was already one of the poorest countries in the world before the Taliban takeover, and the economy has deteriorated the past year, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a punishing drought since late 2020.

When the Taliban came to power on Aug. 15, the main artery keeping Afghanistan’s economy alive — international donor funds — was severed. With the Taliban government unable to pay salaries, hundreds of thousands of state employees found themselves with no livelihoods. With funding for projects gone, many jobs vanished across the labor market.

Farid Ahmed, a 22-year-old in Herat, used to go to a main square each day to be hired by building contractors for a day’s work. Previously, he found work most days. “Now we wait all day and no one comes to hire us,” he said.

So last month, he took his wife and their two young daughters — ages 8 months and 2 years — across the border. From a relative already there, he heard that a Tehran weaving factory had jobs for him and his wife.

The crossing was a nightmare, he said. They had to walk for three hours in the darkness with several hundred other people across the border. In the cold and darkness, his daughters were crying. Once in Iran, they were almost immediately caught by police and deported.

Back home, nothing has changed. He goes to the square every day but finds no work, he said. So he will try taking his family again. “After winter,” he said. “It’s too cold now for the children to cross.”

Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, is a main hub for Afghans from other parts of the country making their way to Iran.

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Gophers to transfer out hits 10 with lineman Saia Mapakaitolo

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Gophers to transfer out hits 10 with lineman Saia Mapakaitolo

Gophers true freshman offensive lineman Saia Mapakaitolo has entered the NCAA transfer portal, a source confirmed to the Pioneer Press on Monday.

Mapakaitolo appeared to be well under his listed 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds and he did not appear in a game in the 2021 season. The former Southern Cal commit from a Mesa, Ariz., joined the U’s class late in the cycle last year.

Minnesota has had a total of 10 players exit the program since October; one, defensive end MJ Anderson, announced Sunday he will go to Iowa State.

The full list also includes: running back Cam Wiley, guard Curtis Dunlap, defensive tackle Rashad Cheney, linebacker James “DJ” Gordon, tight end Austin Henderson and receiver Dylan Hillard-McGill and quarterbacks Zack Annexstad and Jacob Clark.

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said when current players first hit the portal in October that he anticipated more players would enter the portal in its second year.

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