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Top Athletes Take Year-End Spotlight

By RENALDO DORSETT

Tribune Sports Reporter

rdorsett@tribunemedia.net

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SILVER MEDAL: Steven Gardiner. Photo: Kermit Taylor/Bahamas Athletics

Steven Gardiner

It was a year of career-defining moments for the country’s premier quarter miler, highlighted by a new 400m national record and his first individual medal at a major international event.

The pinnacle of Gardiner’s 2017 season came in August at the IAAF World Championships in London, England when he finished second in the 400m final in 44.41 secs at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium.

World record holder Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa successfully defended his title in a winning time of 43.98 secs while Qatar’s Abdalelah Harqoun got the bronze in 44.48 secs.

Gardiner, 22, joined Avard Moncur as the only other Bahamian to medal in the men’s 400m. Moncur won gold in 2001 in Edmonton, Canada.

The silver medal came two days after he broke the national record with 43.89 secs in the semifinals. Gardiner became the second Bahamian male to medal at the biannual championships and the first member of the 24-member team here to get on the podium

“I felt pretty good about my performance,” Gardiner told the Tribune, “I came into the final with some dead legs from the semifinal, but overall, I held it together, brought it home and got second, a silver medal. I thank God for finishing healthy and strong.”

In his final race of the season, Gardiner slipped out of the blocks in the 400m in the Diamond League Final at the Zurich Weltklasse. Despite the mishap, Gardiner said he was still pleased with the way 2017 turned out for him.

“My year has been the best that I’ve ever had in my entire track and field career, not only in terms of running fast this year, but to complete my dream of running 43 this year,” he told The Tribune after the race at the Diamond League Final.

Gardiner began his season by taking the spotlight at the Grenada Invitational in April, on a night designed to showcase hometown star, Kirani James. Gardiner thrilled the crowd with a time of 44.26 secs to dip below the previous national record of 44.27 secs held by Chris Brown.

His current national record time of 43.89 secs finished the season as the fifth fastest time on the IAAF top list in the event.

Gardiner racked up wins on the IAAF Diamond League circuit in Doha and Stockholm while he also retained his national title at home.

In April at the Doha 2017 in Qatar, Gardiner took first place in 44.60 secs and nearly two months later in June in Stockholm on Father’s Day, Gardiner clocked 44.58 secs to take first place once again. He retained his national title at the BAAAs National Championships with a winning time of 44.66 secs.

Buddy Hield

It was a year of transition for Hield as he was traded away from the franchise that drafted him and won his first NBA accolades while he settled into his new environment.

Hield played 57 games with the New Orleans Pelicans before he was traded to the Sacramento Kings in February.

In 25 games for the Kings to conclude the 2016-17 season, Hield made 18 starts and averaged 15.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and 42 percent shooting from three-point range.

On the season he averaged 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds on 42 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. He finished fourth in 3-point and free throw percentage, 8th in field goal percentage and 11th in rebounding among all rookies.

Hield was named to the 2016-17 NBA All-Rookie First Team in June. He was joined on the All-Rookie First Team by Joel Embiid and Dario Saric (Philadelphia 76ers), Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee Bucks) and Willy Hernangomez (New York Knicks).

The 24-year-old became the 16th player in Kings franchise history to earn All-Rookie Team distinction.

In his first full season with the team, Hield is still looking to carve out a leadership role with the Kings and represent the “culture change” the franchise is eager to make.

The second-year guard struggled early in the season as a starter and, in his first seven games, he shot just 35 percent from the field and 23 percent from the three-point line while averaging 10.3 points per game.

Since making the shift to the bench, he averaged 13.4 points a night while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 59 percent from three.

Since going scoreless in just seven minutes against the Chicago Bulls on December 1, Hield has increased his level of play across the board in his last 11 games.

He reached double figures scoring in nine of the last 11 games including two 24-point games within a single week.

For the season, Hield is averaging 12.6 points while shooting 45 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line, in contention to join the elite 50-40-90 club.

The 50–40–90 club is considered a group of players who have had a shooting percentage at or above 50% for field goals, 40% for three-pointers, and 90% for free throws during an entire NBA regular season while also achieving the NBA minimum number of makes in each category. Only seven players have had 50–40–90 seasons.

Deandre Ayton

The potential of the “The Promise” is something that pundits expect to continue to develop well beyond 2017, but there was no shortage of production on the court for the future NBA lottery pick.

Ayton spent the early portions of 2017 as one of the most sought after high school basketball recruits in America and was named to a pair of elite all-star showcases, the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.

During the course of the regular season, Ayton averaged 30 points, 19 rebounds and 5.7 blocks for Hillcrest.

On the competitive Nike EYBL Summer Circuit with California Supreme, he averaged 19.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game this season. He concluded play at the EYBL Peach Jam where he averaged 21 points, 13.2 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.

At Adidas Nations, he averaged 17.4 points and 11 rebounds per game as his team went undefeated en route to a tournament title.

Ayton announced his decision to attend Arizona and join the Wildcats, in a press conference broadcasted live on ESPN’s Sportscenter

Since he arrived in Tucson, he has been one of the most dominant players in NCAA Division I basketball and has averaged a double-double. The 19-year-old frontcourt player is averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game in leading Arizona to a 10-3 record thus far.

As a freshman, he is becoming the go-to scoring option for the Wildcats and has already racked up one Pac-12 Player of the Week honour thus far.

NBAdraft.net currently lists Ayton as the No.1 projected overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Lucious Fox Jr

Fox’s 2017 featured progression within the Tampa Bay Rays organisation and a selection to the annual showcase of Major League Baseball’s top minor league prospects during the midseason All-Star classic.

Fox drove in one RBI, at the 2017 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, during the July All-Star festivities in Miami, Florida.

Since 1999, the Futures Game has served as a showcase for the top minor league prospects during All-Star week, framed in a “USA” vs “The World” format.

Fox is presently listed as the Rays’ No.11 prospect with a 50 grade including Hit: 50, Power: 40, Run: 70, Arm: 55 and Field: 55.

He was assigned to the Stone Crabs at the Single A-Advanced level in July.

In 30 games with the club, he hit .235 with a .608 OPS, .350 OBP, one home run, three stolen bases, 12 RBI and 19 runs scored.

The 20-year-old shortstop spent the previous 77 games with the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League at the Single A-Full level.

For the Hot Rods, Fox hit a career-best .278 and ranked third in the Midwest League with 27 stolen bases. He also ranked second on the team with 45 runs scored, collected 27 RBI and totalled a .362 OBP and a .722 OPS with two runs.

In October, Fox was recognised as the organisation’s “Baserunner of the Year” at its minor league awards ceremony for each of its nine affiliates. His 30 stolen bases ranked second among Rays minor leaguers. He was successful on 30 of his 43 attempts (69.7 percent).

“Fox is a top-flight athlete with plus-plus speed and three more tools that should be at least solid. A switch-hitter with a line-drive stroke, he has the approach and the wheels to become a leadoff hitter and prolific base stealer. He won’t be a homer threat but he does have some strength and can drive some balls to the gaps,” his MLB scouting report reads, “Fox’s range, quick hands and arm fit easily at shortstop. Some scouts don’t love his middle-infield actions and think he’ll fit better in center field, though the Rays, much like the Giants, believe he can stay at short, lauding his ability to learn quickly.”

Fox discussed his future with Brett Phillips of D Rays Bay and gave a timeline for when he expects to make his break into the Major Leagues.

“Two years,” he said.

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