MBAT June 2013 : Page 72

Athletic Achievement GAME CHANGERS From high-octane stadium sports, to cult-status athletics, Atlanta is a powerhouse player. | By Bonneau Ansley III, Dennis Malcolm Byron, Bret Love and Eric Snider | 72 | | Summer 2013

Game Changers

Bonneau Ansley, Dennis Malcolm Byron, Bret Love And Eric Snider

From high-octane stadium sports, to cult-status athletics, Atlanta is a powerhouse player.<br /> <br /> Pitch Perfect<br /> <br /> Craig Kimbrel is living the dream, both on and off the field.<br /> <br /> Besides riding off the high from one of the most successful beginnings his Atlanta Braves team has ever achieved, star closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel is learning how to be an all-star off the mound as well. Taking a break from playing his favorite card game, Pluck, on a sunny weekday afternoon, Kimbrel happily talked about the biggest play he recently made in his life—marrying Ashley Holt last December. “My granddad always said, ‘If you always agree with her, you will always be happy,’” he laughed. “So I have just been agreeing a lot.” <br /> <br /> And the sound advice seems to be working.<br /> <br /> In fact, after recently purchasing a new home in North Atlanta, Kimbrel, 25, avoided decorating differences and gave his wife the reins; he was content with just having one space to hang up baseball paraphernalia on the walls—his own man cave. “I am building a bar in it with a wine cooler and adding a projector television and couch. Nothing big. [Ashley] gets the rest of the house, and I get that one room.” <br /> <br /> Besides hunting during the off season, dining at neighborhood restaurants like Canoe and Ray’s on the River, and watching football (Kimbrel digs the Falcons, but is fond of the Tennessee Titans since they are closest to his hometown of Huntsville, Ala.), he keeps off-field pursuits pretty simple.<br /> <br /> But when it comes to his day job, Kimbrel can’t say enough about how much he loves being a Brave. “I grew up a Braves fan,” he explains. “It’s an organization that I have always cared about and loved watching play. And now that I have the chance to perform, build with the Braves, live my dream and be close to home, it’s definitely awesome.” <br /> <br /> As usual, Kimbrel is the perfect closer.—DMB<br /> <br /> LeArning to fLy <br /> <br /> Shooting guard John Jenkins talks about being the newbie in town.<br /> <br /> In his first season with the Atlanta Hawks, John Jenkins has laid the foundation to becoming one of the National Basketball League’s most experienced rookies. A native of Nashville, Tenn., Jenkins, 22, was celebrated as a scoring machine, averaging a nation-leading 42 points a game as a high school senior, later becoming the Hawks’ first draft pick, after three stellar years as a Vanderbilt Commodores sharpshooter. Following a short stint with Atlanta’s affiliate National Basketball Development League team in California, the Bakersfield Jam, he was summoned to rejoin the Hawks and become an integral part of their playoff push.<br /> <br /> Jenkins is busy acclimating as a professional baller, but it’s interesting to imagine how such a bustling metropolis like Atlanta could potentially be a distraction to someone in his shoes. Wisely, he keeps things simple.<br /> <br /> “I like Atlanta,” the 6-foot-4 shooting guard said, after swishing free throws at the Hawks’ practice facility. “It’s only like a 30-minute flight from Nashville, so when I get a break, I have friends and family visit. Plus, I chose to live in Buckhead right in the Gallery [Condominiums], which is close to everything; there are a lot of good restaurants in the area, and the movie theater is right next door. I just saw 42 (Jackie Robinson’s story), which was a great film—the best of the year.” <br /> <br /> When it comes to fueling his body, Jenkins might see an endorsement deal from one particular eatery down the line.“Chipotle,” he said without hesitation when asked about his favorite spot for grub. “I eat it like once a day, literally.” <br /> <br /> With the NBA postseason under way, Jenkins knows that he will need all the protein and carbs he can get. “The energy level is already higher, even during practice, and I am planning on things being a lot more physical during the playoffs. I am doing my best to prepare for that.” <br /> <br /> So what advice would he give to a future NBA rookie? Thinking for a second, he answered, “Come in with an open mind, knowing there are going to be a lot of ups and downs, but the key is to always stay straight and be positive about everything.” <br /> <br /> Spoken like a true NBA veteran. —DMB<br /> <br /> Loving Life <br /> <br /> Davis Love iii hits big at home and away.<br /> <br /> Davis Love III’s life is a hole-in-one. He grew up in St. Simons with a legendary teacher for a father, Davis M. Love Jr., who played in the Masters Golf Tournament and was a nationally recognized golf instructor. “He was my teacher, role model, best friend and a great dad,” Love says. “So he totally influenced my life, and he was smart to move us to such a great place to live and raise a family.” <br /> <br /> Of his favorite courses to play, Seaside at Sea Island Golf Club tops the list. He even brought a PGA TOUR event to the course a few years back. “I started talking with Bill Jones III, the former owner of Sea Island, about bringing a PGA TOUR event to Sea Island,” he recalls. “A few years later, the PGA TOUR told us they had a sponsor that was interested— McGladrey. The Davis Love Foundation agreed to run the event, and this year will mark the fourth annual McGladrey Classic. Proceeds from the event benefit charities that my foundation supports. In three years, we have generated almost $1 million [to help] children and families in need.” <br /> <br /> When he isn’t practicing on the course or running his foundation, he spends his free time hunting on his farm in Camden County. “As my wife says, ‘There is always something in season!’” Besides hunting, Love also has a fondness for fly-fishing. His sporting interests don’t stop there though. He now has a paddle board store on St. Simons Island, Davis Love III’s Classic Paddle and Putt Shop. “I really only paddle-surf and fish off the board, but it is great exercise, and [it’s] beautiful in the creeks here,” he says. But when it comes to his most fulfilling golf experience, he says, “It was winning the PGA Championship and being Ryder Cup captain. Definitely.” —BAIII<br /> <br /> Shot cALLer Tennis star John isner aces it.<br /> <br /> Of course John Isner’s signature shot is his serve, but he also has much more up his sleeve. At 6 feet, 9 inches, the tallest player on the international tennis circuit generates ridiculous torque and, as a result, blinding speed. His 149.9 mph blasting serve at the 2011 Western & Southern Open is the eighth fastest ever recorded. In winning the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in April, he notched a tournament record 64 aces. Imagine standing—or quaking—on the other side of the net. It’d be like fielding high-powered Bbs shot from trees.<br /> <br /> Isner, a four-year tennis All-American at The University of Georgia, had to use his serve and much, much more at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, where he participated in one of the most astonishing athletic showdowns of all time.You probably heard about it. Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut played the longest professional tennis match ever—11 hours and five minutes, over the course of three days and 183 games. (The runner-up is four hours and three minutes shorter.)<br /> <br /> As the match edged into marathon status, Isner began to sense the buzz around 500-seat Court 18. “It kept getting crazier and crazier,” he says. “And on the second day, when we weren’t able to finish because of darkness, that’s when I knew this was not just a big story in tennis, but a big story in the world.” <br /> <br /> Isner won that match, but says he wouldn’t have been that devastated had he lost. “People don’t remember that match for me winning it, but for the sheer commitment, the level of competition and incredible sportsmanship,” he explains. “In 11 hours, no one took an injury timeout.Whether I won or lost was secondary to the fact that we competed so well.” <br /> <br /> The two gladiators, who didn’t know each other before that fateful day, have become good friends. But, Isner says, “We’ve never actually spoken about the match.” <br /> <br /> Isner recounted this memory prior to his semifinal contest at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship. He took the title the next day, his first on clay, and the $500,000 prize money. After getting off to a subpar start in 2013, the victory built momentum and went a long way toward matching his $1.4 million in winnings last year. Catch him at the BB&T Atlanta Open July 20-28 at Atlantic Station. —ES<br /> <br /> the fALcon SoArS<br /> <br /> Asante Samuel brings distinctive swagger to the Dirty Birds’ defense.<br /> <br /> After reaching the playoffs nine seasons out of 10 since he joined the NFL and, in the process, securing two Super Bowl rings while playing for the New England Patriots, cornerback Asante Samuel knows what it takes to make a winning team. Last season—his first with the Atlanta Falcons—the 32-year-old veteran helped buffer what had been a tepid defense, making 36 tackles and getting his 50th interception. While the Falcons fell just short of beating the San Francisco 49ers and making it to the Super Bowl last season, Samuel insists his team is just getting started.<br /> <br /> “I think when you get so close, you get that taste in your mouth—that hunger and desire,” he says. “You think: Next year, we’re going to come back bigger, faster, stronger than ever, and do whatever it takes to get to [the Super Bowl]. I think it leaves a chip on your shoulder and makes you want to overcome that.” <br /> <br /> Given his career record, Samuel wouldn’t have signed with the Falcons if he didn’t feel they had the potential to go all the way. “There’s a lot of promise in this team and this city,” he says.“We’re going to continue to work hard and try to do whatever it takes.” <br /> <br /> In addition to football, Samuel also started The Asante Samuel Foundation to help empower single moms. “I was raised by a single parent—my mom, who passed away earlier this year,” he says. “My mom had the drive and mentality to never give up and [to] do whatever it took to put food on the table and to provide my sister [and me] with whatever we needed. I wanted to show her my appreciation.” —BL

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