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Wednesday's Sports In Brief

NFL

PHOENIX (AP) Criticized for its own handling of head injuries, the NFL launched an extensive lobbying campaign to pass laws protecting kids who get concussions while playing sports. The result: Within just five years, every state had a law on the books. But are the laws strong enough?

An Associated Press analysis of the 51 youth concussion laws - one in each state and the District of Columbia - found that fewer than half contain all of the key principles in the initial bill passed in Washington state in 2009. That measure mandated education for coaches about concussion symptoms, removal from a game if a head injury is suspected, written clearance to return, and a concussion information form signed by parents and players.

About a third of the laws make no specific reference to which ages or grades are covered. Even fewer explicitly apply to both interscholastic sports and rec leagues such as Pop Warner or Little League. Certain laws make clear they cover public and private schools, others only refer to public schools, while some don't say at all. Almost all lack consequences for schools or leagues that don't comply.

BOSTON (AP) - NFL veterans who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have cognitive difficulties after their careers, according to a study published in the journal Neurology.

Researchers tested 42 former players on their short-term memory, mental flexibility and problem solving and found those who picked up the sport before they were 12 years old functioned about 20 percent worse. Both groups scored below average on many of the tests, according to Robert Stern of the Boston University School of Medicine.

For the study, NFL players were divided into two groups: those who played as young children, and those who did not. Those in the former group performed worse on the cognitive tests, such as being asked to recall words from a list they had learned 15 minutes earlier. The difficulty faced by the former players, who reported an average of nearly 400 concussions each during their lifetimes, is separate from the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can only be diagnosed after death.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Wade Phillips is returning to Denver as Gary Kubiak's defensive coordinator.

Phillips, 67, interviewed for the position this week after the Broncos were rebuffed in their attempts to speak with Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph about the position. Joseph, who has a year left on his contract in Cincinnati, had interviewed for the Broncos' head coaching vacancy following John Fox's ouster earlier this month.

Phillips was Kubiak's defensive coordinator in Houston from 2011-13 and replaced him as interim coach when Kubiak was fired by the Texans in December 2013. Phillips has also served as head coach of the Saints, Cowboys, Falcons, Bills and Broncos, where he went 16-16 from 1993-94. He was out of football last season for the first time since 1975.

NBA

CLEVELAND (AP) - Kyrie Irving put on a spectacular show and LeBron James watched it from a front-row seat.

Irving scored a career-high 55 points, breaking the arena record as James sat out with an injury to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to their eighth straight win, 99-94 over the Portland Trail Blazers.

With James sidelined because of a sprained right wrist, Irving delivered a dazzling, tour-de-force performance. Irving, who scored 38 on Tuesday in a win at Detroit, made a team record 11 3-pointers and finished 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. He scored 24 of Cleveland's final 28 points and 16 of the Cavs' 20 in the fourth quarter.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) - Kobe Bryant is officially done for the season after having surgery to repair his torn right rotator cuff.

The Los Angeles Lakers also made it official that their superstar doesn't believe his career is finished.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury. If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season - and the Lakers expect to see him in purple and gold again.

The Lakers formally declared Bryant out for the year by acknowledging the expected recovery time from his injury, but also effectively confirmed he won't retire and will attempt to play his 20th season in the fall. Bryant, who will be 37 years old this summer, is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season, and he is under contract for $25 million next year.

COLLEGE SPORTS

The head of NCAA enforcement says academic misconduct is on the rise in college athletics and his department is currently handling 20 open investigations.

Vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press the cases involve both prospective and incoming athletes trying to become eligible for college competition, and enrolled athletes receiving impermissible assistance from university and athletic department personnel.

Eighteen of the cases involve Division I schools, though NCAA policy precludes Duncan from revealing which programs are under investigation.

Duncan said reasons for the uptick are difficult to pinpoint, but he speculated potential contributors are raised academic standards for athletes and recent reforms that tie academic performance to a team's postseason eligibility.

GOLF

OCALA, Fla. (AP) - Jessica Korda, Stacy Lewis and Azahara Munoz each shot 6-under 66 in the opening round of the LPGA Tour season opener.

All three teed off in windy conditions and finished in chilly temperatures just before dark in the Coates Golf Championship.

Korda straightened out an errant driver on the front nine and birdied six of her final 13 holes. Lewis birdied five of her final six holes, including one on an uphill, 6-footer just after the horn blew. Munoz was solid throughout her round and closed with consecutive birdies to make it a three-way tie atop the leaderboard.

Twenty-three players failed to complete the opening round at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club. They were to finish early Thursday morning, when temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s.

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