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Freeze Backs Ole Miss Players Facing Civil Suit; Witnesses Could Not Identify The Assailants

hugh-freeze-um-presserOle Miss student Matthew Baird believes he was knocked unconscious and pummeled by seven Rebel football players at a frat party last February.  The police at the time didn’t believe there was enough evidence to arrest anyone for the crime.  And UM officials believe the players were named only because they were the most recognizable persons attending the party.

Whoever’s right — and Blair has filed a $2 million civil suit against the players in the hopes that he’ll be found to be correct — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is backing his players.  Yesterday, he released a statement specifically supporting the two players whose names have become public — Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche:

 

“Having spoken with our players after the event occurred and reviewed the incident report, we are disappointed these unwarranted allegations are being directed at Denzel and Robert, and they have the full support of our team as they fight this matter.”

 

So why didn’t police arrest anyone in the immediate aftermath of the beatdown?  No witnesses at the frat party could identify the person(s) doing the beating.

University of Mississippi police captain Michael Harmon told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “A person was hit but he didn’t know who hit him.”  The police report stated that a number of Ole Miss athletes were present at the party (quarterback Bo Wallace and hoops star Marshall Henderson, for example), but there’s no mention of them being involved in the assault either.

The lawyer for the Nkemdiches has cut to the chase on the matter: “We deny all allegations.  My personal opinion after interviewing witnesses is that this is a classic case of misidentification.”

Denzel Nkemdiche is currently suspended from the team following a weekend arrest on charges of disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and failure to comply with an officer.

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7 Ole Miss Football Players Facing A $2 Million Civil Suit After Alleged Beating

gavel2Nowhere is it more obvious that we’re in college football’s offseason than in Oxford, Mississippi.  Just as soon as the final whistle of bowl season is blown, arrests and court dates begin to take over the football landscape.  In the Magnolia State, the Rebels are dealing with both with already.

In January, cornerback Bobby Hill was arrested and charged with sexual battery.  He is indefinitely suspended from the Ole Miss team as a result.  Defensive end Channing Ward pled guilty last week to DUI charges which followed a January incident.

Apparently those issues were just the hors d’oeuvre.

Over the weekend, Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant found themselves in trouble with the law, too.  Nkemdiche — a linebacker — was picked up for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and failure to comply with a police officer.  Bryant — also a linebacker — was nicked for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.  Both were suspended on Monday with Huge Freeze saying: “We are aware of the incidents and gathering facts.  Denzel and Serderius are suspended until we know more.”

Fast-forward to yesterday when it was learned that a plaintiff has filed a $2 million civil suit against Nkemdiche, his brother Robert Nkemdiche (an Ole Miss defensive end) and five yet-to-be-named Rebel football players.  The plaintiff, Matthew Baird, alleges that Denzel Nkemdiche punched him from behind and knocked him unconscious.  According to the lawsuit, Robert Nkemdiche and the other five began to kick an stomp Baird while he was on the ground.  This allegedly took place a year ago according to The Jackson Clarion Ledger.

Readers of this site know what our stance on this would be if it’s found to be true — Any players involved in a violent crime should be immediately tossed from the University of Mississippi football team.  If someone is on scholarship and represents a university, violent criminal activity should result in immediate dismissal from the team and school.  End of story.  We write the same thing whenever one of these player(s)-on-student(s) issues arises.

But you also know that that’s not at all likely to happen.

First, of course, UM’s brass must determine what actually happened.  A statement released by AD Ross Bjork reveals that in the school’s view, the matter has already been investigated by police which therefore makes it a closed case:

 

“When this alleged incident occurred, the proper authorities investigated the matter and could find no evidence of wrong-doing related to Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche or any other members of our football program.  This is a personal matter for them and we will support Denzel and Robert while they defend themselves in this civil case.”

 

Translation: This is an issue for the players involved — not Ole Miss – and none of those athletes will be heaved from the Rebel football team as the coppers have already given them a pass.  If that pass was deserved, so bet it.

However.

As you know, the level of evidence needed to win a civil case differs from the level of evidence needed to convict persons in a criminal trial.  While the original officers could find “no evidence” of an attack in the immediate aftermath, a civil court might view the same incident differently.

Blair claims that he and his girlfriend and another friend visited a campus frat house last February 17th.  An unrelated fight broke out at some point during the party.  Frat officials then asked everyone to leave.  As Blair left, Denzel Nkemdiche allegedly “came from behind and punched him,” knocking the young man unconscious.  Blair’s suit says that both Nkemdiches and five others “began to kick and stomp the plaintiff’s head into the ground.”  When his friend tried to dive on top of Blair to cover him and protect him, he too was kicked and beaten, “bursting (his) eardrum and injuring his middle ear.”

By the time the police arrived, the players had left.  After convulsions, a seizure, and 12 to 15 minutes of unconsciousness, Blair was treated for multiple injuries, including “a closed head injury,” according to the Clarion-Ledger.  There’s no word on what — if anything — Blair and his co-horts might have done or said to instigate the alleged beating.

Blair is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

If Blair’s attorney can convince enough witnesses to verify his client’s account, seven Ole Miss football players might just find themselves on the hook for a couple million bucks.  If the players do lose their civil case, would that be enough to eject all seven from the Mississippi football team?  Bjork’s statement suggests that it wouldn’t be.

Whether that’s the right call or the wrong one likely depends upon which SEC football team is your particular favorite.  We will say only this: If the evidence presented in the civil suit is particularly damning — meaning multiple witnesses who apparently didn’t speak to police do speak up in court — it’s not going to look good for Freeze’s program.  Especially is he turns a blind eye to the evidence presented in the civil suit.

For now, Rebel fans simply have to wait out the various arrests, citations, lawsuits and accusations made against multiple players on their football team in a two-month period.  And if the start of the year is any indication, this spring and summer could be downright ugly in Oxford.

Update: The lawyer for Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche has denied allegations made in a civil suit.

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SEC Hoops Roundup 2/19/2014

gfx-hoops-round-up2Kentucky 84 – Ole Miss 70. Video Highlights

1. Julius Randle scores 25 points and grabs 13 rebounds.   UK makes 19 straight free throws to clinch the game.

2. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “We’re just not tough enough physically to put our nose in there and battle…It’s pretty disappointing.”

Tennessee 67 – Georgia 48. Video Highlights

3. 15th double-double of the season for Jarnell Stokes - 20 points and 11 rebounds.

4. Tennessee becomes the first SEC team to outrebound Georgia this season.  Coach Mark Fox:  ”I’m not comfortable with the effort we gave tonight.”

Wednesday SEC Hoops Schedule

Auburn at Florida

Mississippi State at LSU

Vanderbilt at Missouri

South Carolina at Arkansas

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SEC Headlines 2/18/2014

headlines-tueSEC Football

1. Former Alabama running back Dee Hart faces multiple charges after an arrest over the weekend.

2. Ole Miss suspended linebackers Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche following weekend arrests.

3. Nick Saban’s dream will come true when he enters into a partnership to open a Mercedez-Benz dealership.

4. Andy Staples re-ranked the 2011 recruiting classes. Florida State was No. 1. How about Alabama and Auburn?

5. LSU has the top student section in the SEC, according to Edward Aschoff. See his ranking of the top five.

6. Every Georgia player will get a “clean slate” under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

7. Someone at Southern California called Tennessee RB signee Jalen Hurd “soft and terrible.” USC apologized on Monday.

8. South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington decided to go pro after his mother told him he’s “getting old.”

SEC Basketball

9. Florida moved up to No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll on Monday. The Gators are 12-0 in SEC play.

10. Florida coach Billy Donovan believes off-court growth has helped point guard Scottie Wilbekin on the court.

11. Here’s a look at the SEC 1-14. It’s not very pretty on the bottom.

12. Kentucky coach John Calipari: “Every game we play is to prepare us for March, and that’s how we approach it.”

13. Kentucky’s Final Four hopes “look fairly bleak,” according to Mark Story. But he says not to lose all hope.

14. Ole Miss is preparing for a big week as the Rebels get set to host Kentucky tonight and Florida on Saturday.

15. Georgia’s basketball team has improved greatly as the Bulldogs prepare to play at Tennessee tonight.

16. Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin on job pressure: “I just think as a coach you have to do your job, that’s the bottom line.”

Extra

17. Florida, Kentucky and Missouri are the only top-50 RPI teams from the SEC.

18. Florida is holding onto a No. 1 seed right now, according to Ryan Fagan’s NCAA tournament projection.

19. Missouri and Tennessee are in the “bye” section of the bubble, according to Joe Lunardi’s Tuesday update.

20. Former Northwestern quarterback Kane Colter will make his case Tuesday why college athletes are employees.

21. There’s more talk about increasing the age limit for when players can enter the NBA.

22. Oklahoma State lost its seventh straight game on Monday. Marcus Smart will return from suspension on Saturday.

23. Iowa’s athletic director said he would rather quit than figure out how to pay college athletes.

24. Athlon Sports ranks Patrick Willis the No. 1 SEC linebacker of the BCS era. See their top 10 list here.

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SEC In The NCAA Tourney: 2 Locks, 5 Alive (Some Barely)

gfx-by-the-numbersAnother week down and the SEC’s hopes of landing three teams in the NCAA Tournament still look about the same from MrSEC.com’s World Headquarters.  Florida is a lock at this point.  The Gators’ only concern is whether or not they can nail down a #1 seed.  Kentucky remains in the field as well, though the Wildcats have been nowhere near as good as most folks (and UK fans) expected prior to the season’s tip-off.

After Florida and Kentucky, things still look sketchy.  Missouri took Round One of their two all-important head-to-head battles with Tennessee over the weekend, but they’ll still have to play in Knoxville on UT’s Senior Day.  For now, the Tigers look to be the SEC’s best hope of snatching a third NCAA bid.

Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas — by our calculations — are all outside the tourney bubble in need of either strong finishes or full-on miracles.  And Missouri, in for now, can certainly play their way out, as well.

Below are the tourney breakdowns for UF, UK and those five other league teams with RPI rankings inside the top 80.  Typically, teams outside the RPI top 40 are on the bubble (with those outside the top 60 dead).  We’ve included LSU and Arkansas (RPI rankings in the 70s because theoretically they could still improve their chances).

 

  School   Florida   Kentucky   Missouri   Tennessee   Ole Miss   LSU   Arkansas
  Record   23-2   19-6   18-7   14-10   16-9   15-9   16-9
  SEC Record   12-0   9-3   6-6   6-6   7-5   6-6   5-7
  RPI Rank   4   14   38   53   68   71   73
  SOS Rank   22   6   56   11   86   78   68
  Vs RPI Top 50   5-2   2-4   1-2   2-6   1-3   3-2   3-5
  True Road Record   7-2   4-3   3-4   2-6   4-6   2-6   1-5
  Ls Vs RPI 100+   0   0   0   1   1   2   1
  Best RPI Win Rank   1   36   12   18   38   14   14
  Best RPI Win Foe   Kansas   Louisville   UCLA   Virginia   Missouri   Kentucky   Kentucky

 

As you can see, Florida’s resume is fantastic.  After losing their first two games against top 50 RPI foes the Gators have beaten five such teams in a row.  That includes a win over current #1 RPI squad Kansas.  Billy Donovan’s team boasts a rare mix of talent and experience that you just don’t see in college basketball these days.  And the defense this team plays makes it a legitimate national title contender.

Kentucky is fine.  In fact, for a team once again rebuilt with freshman the Cats are more than fine.  But after winning a national crown two years ago, “fine” and “more than fine” has to be considered a disappointment.  The young Wildcats are just 2-4 against top 50 RPI competition and they’ve lost at both Arkansas and LSU, giving those squads their signature wins on the season.  Perhaps John Calipari’s young bunch can write a great final chapter come March.

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Auburn To Add Another Signee (Which Changes Our Signing Class Rankings)13

blue-chipAuburn is on the verge of adding a 24th member to its 2014 signing class.  Joseph Turner — a 3-star juco cornerback from California — has committed to Gus Malzahn’s squad is expected to sign with AU soon.

Unfortunately that requires yet another tweak to our official MrSEC.com 2014 Signing Class Rankings.

Here’s the latest full breakdown including the three components we use to arrive at our final rankings — Quantity, Quality and High-End Prospects:

 

Quantity

  School   Signees   5-stars   4-stars   3-stars   2-stars   1- & 0-stars   Total Points
  Tennessee   32   2   16   14   0   0   116
  Alabama   27   6   13   7   1   0   105
  Kentucky   28   0   10   17   1   0   93
  Auburn   24   3   11   8   2   0   87
  Florida   24   1   12   11   0   0   86
  LSU   23   2   14   6   1   0   86
  Ole Miss   25   0   7   17   1   0   81
  Texas A&M   22   3   10   8   1   0   81
  Missouri   28   0   2   18   8   0   78
  Georgia   21   1   12   7   1   0   76
  S. Carolina   21   0   10   11   0   0   73
  Arkansas   24   0   3   17   4   0   71
  Miss. State   23   0   2   14   7   0   64
  Vanderbilt   22   0   3   11   8   0   61

 

Quality

  School   Signees   Avg. Pts/Commit
  Alabama   27   3.88
  LSU   23   3.73
  Texas A&M   22   3.68
  Auburn   24   3.62
  Tennessee   32   3.62
  Georgia   21   3.61
  Florida   24   3.58
  S. Carolina   21   3.47
  Kentucky   28   3.32
  Ole Miss   25   3.24
  Arkansas   24   2.95
  Miss. State   23   2.78
  Missouri   28   2.78
  Vanderbilt   22   2.77

 

High-End Prospects

  School   Signees   4- & 5-stars
  Alabama   27   19
  Tennessee   32   18
  LSU   23   16
  Auburn   24   14
  Florida   24   13
  Georgia   21   13
  Texas A&M   22   13
  Kentucky   28   10
  S. Carolina   21   10
  Ole Miss   25   7
  Arkansas   24   3
  Vanderbilt   22   3
  Miss. State   23   2
  Missouri   28   2

 

And that means our current 2014 Signing Class Rankings look like this (for now)…

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SEC Hoops Roundup 2/12/2014

gfx-hoops-round-up2Florida 67 – Tennessee 58. Video Highlights

1. Scottie Wilbekin drains a key late three-point shot for Florida.  Finishes with  21 points, six assists and four steals as Gators move to 11-0 in the SEC.

2. Coach Billy Donovan calls Patric Young’s late save “the play of the year.”

3. The Vols commit 15 turnovers - including eight by forward by Jeronne Maymon.  Coach Cuonzo Martin: “Against a good team you can’t make those type of mistakes in taking care of the basketball…”

Alabama 67 – Ole Miss 64.

4. Alabama snaps a four-game losing streak as Trevor Releford scores 26 points and hits last-second three-point shot to break the tie.  “We needed this one. We needed it bad.”

5.Marshall Henderson scores 14 points for Ole Miss as the Rebels drop to 7-4 in conference play.

6. Trevor Releford’s game-winning shot.

Wednesday Night SEC Hoops Schedule

Kentucky at Auburn

Vanderbilt at South Carolina

Georgia at Mississippi State

LSU at Texas A&M

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SEC Leads Nation In Football Attendance; Here’s Each School’s 5-Year Average

empty-stadium-seatsLast week, the NCAA released a report on college football attendance in 2013.  Naturally, the story was buried beneath an avalanche of signing day coverage.  (A tip of the cap to CollegeFootballTalk.com for bringing it to our attention.)

Once again, the SEC led all conferences in overall attendance.  No surprise.  The SEC also happens to have many of the nation’s biggest stadiums and no one has ever questioned SEC fan passion.

After some small decreases in overall attendance in recent years, the league enjoyed a slight uptick in 2013.  The average SEC stadium drew 75,674 fans per game in 2013 (up from 74,996 in 2012).  Second-best was the Big Ten at 70,431 per contest.  The Big 12 (58,899), Pac-12 (53,619), and ACC (49,982) brought up the rear among the Big Five power conferences.

Below is a look at the five-year average attendance numbers for each school currently residing in the SEC.  Keep in mind that some stadiums have increased in size while others have decreased (in order to add luxury suites and boxes).  Also keep in mind that Missouri and Texas A&M spent the first three years in our sample playing in the Big 12.  And remember, too, that these are paid attendance numbers, not actual turnstile counts.

 

SEC 5-year Attendance Comparison

  School   2009 Avg.   2010 Avg.   2011 Avg.   2012 Avg.   2013 Avg.   5-Year Avg.
  Alabama   92012   101821   101821   101722   101505   99776
  Tennessee   99220   99781   94642   89865   95584   95818
  Georgia   92746   92746   92613   92703   92746   92711
  LSU   92489   92718   92868   92626   91418   92423
  Florida   90635   90511   89061   87597   87440   89048
  Auburn   84614   86087   85792   82646   85657   84959
  Texas A&M   76800   82477   87183   87014   87125   84120
  S. Carolina   75369   76668   79131   80001   82401   78714
  Arkansas   65112   68932   66990   68046   61596   66135
  Missouri   64120   61540   62095   67476   63505   63747
  Kentucky   69594   66070   60007   49691   59472   60967
  Ole Miss   55767   55898   65488   57066   59393   58722
  Miss. State   53792   54999   55949   55628   55695   55213
  Vanderbilt   35015   33269   32873   37860   35675   34938

 

Observations:

*  Alabama, winners of three of the last five national titles, actually saw attendance drop just a hair in each of the last two seasons.

*  Tennessee fans were glad to see Derek Dooley go.  UT averaged about 6,000 more fans per game in Year One of the Butch Jones era than they did in Dooley’s final season.

*  Georgia’s fanbase is just about the most steady ticket-buying force in the SEC.

*  LSU’s average attendance fell by about 1,000 last season average sitting in the 92,000s for the previous four years.  Still, no one’s going to cry over 91,000+ attendance.

*  Florida’s attendance has dropped for five consecutive years.  Coming off a 4-8 season with a coach on the hot seat it’s probably a safe bet that attendance will drop once more at The Swamp in 2014.

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SEC Headlines 2/11/2014

headlines-tueSEC Football

1. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is proud of the way his team supported Michael Sam last season.

2. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both prepared if they have a football player decide to announce he’s gay.

3.  MSU has added former Utah assistant Brian Johnson as the Dogs’ new quarterbacks coach.

4. Former Georgia tight end Aaron Lynch, who played against Sam, said Sam showed “courage and inner strength.”

5. Alabama signee Rashaan Evans said the backlash from Auburn fans is getting worse.

6. Alabama linebacker signee Keith Holcombe was encouraged by his father to play like former Tide linebacker Cory Reamer.

7. Auburn signee Jakell Mitchell has high expectations for himself in the Tigers’ offense.

8. Robb Smith said he’s ready for the challenge of running Arkansas’ defense.

9. Georgia’s defense – led by Jeremy Pruitt – will be “varied” and “multiple.”

10. Clemson has been beating South Carolina in recruiting. But the Gamecocks have still won on the field.

11. Tennessee assistant Tommy Thigpen was named recruiter of the year by Rivals.

12. Vanderbilt’s football program is taking a different approach toward strength and conditioning.

SEC Basketball

13. Alabama is preparing to host Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss tonight.

14. John Calipari on Auburn coach Tony Barbee: “He’s coaching as well as anybody in this conference and in the country.”

15. Mark Story looks at renovation plans involving Rupp Arena.

16. Florida is preparing for a tough road stretch. It starts tonight at Tennessee.

17. The Vols will have to play well to beat Florida, which defeated Tennessee by 26 points last month.

18. LSU coach Johnny Jones on rowdy fans: “You don’t look. You don’t say anything back. You don’t entertain it.”

19. Jones praised his team for its support of Malik Morgan, who’s lost for the season with a knee injury.

20. Mississippi State point guard I.J. Ready remains day-to-day as he fights a cold. Flu tests came back negative.

Extra

21. LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee are all “on the fence” in Jerry Palm’s latest bubble watch.

22. The joy and hope of Marcus Smart’s sophomore season is gone, writes Barry Tramel.

23. Kansas and Iowa State both fell on Monday, showing the depth of the Big 12.

24. Tom Fornelli looks at the offseason for the Notre Dame football program.

25. Mark Schlabach has his post-signing day top 25 for the 2014 season.

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The SEC Still Looks Shaky When It Comes To NCAA Tournament Bids

gfx-by-the-numbersOver the years we at MrSEC.com have become pretty darn good at predicting just which SEC basketball teams will land bids in the NCAA Tournament each March.  That’s because a good 95% of the selection process comes down to simple math.  A grasp of past history tells us that RPIs between 40 and 50 are bubble teams and that those outside the top 50 are more likely to be left out than let in.

In picking the very last three or four at-large teams, the committee seems to use a different criteria each season.  Last year, road wins were the deciding factor.  In past years it’s been strength of schedule and top 50 wins.  Once a team’s last 12 games were key, but that’s no longer as important as the committee tries to reward teams for scheduling bravely in the early part of the season.

Taking all the usual figures into account — and including the fact that the SEC currently ranks just seventh among conferences in overall RPI — we see the SEC as a three- or four-bid league at best.  To be honest, only Florida and Kentucky appear to be locks.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, however, has placed five SEC teams into the field in his latest Bracketology report:

 

Florida — #1 seed, South, vs #16 seed Davidson in Orlando

Kentucky — #4 seed, Midwest, vs #13 seed Delaware in Orlando

Tennessee — #11 seed, Midwest, vs #6 seed Texas in Milwaukee

LSU — #11 seed, South, vs #11 seed BYU in play-in game

Missouri — #12 seed, East, vs #12 seed Providence in play-in game

 

But while five are currently in according to ESPN’s bracket guru, Tennessee, LSU and Missouri are all listed as being among the final eight teams into the tourney.  Ole Miss is among the first four out.

So while Lunardi lists five in, his views really aren’t that much different from our own: The SEC has just two locks at the moment.

Below is a look at the tourney resumes for Tennessee, Missouri, Ole Miss and LSU.  With RPI scores of 80 and higher there’s no point even focusing on Arkansas or Vanderbilt at the moment.  While the Vols, Tigers, Rebels and other Tigers have work to do, the Razorbacks and Commodores need miracles.

 

  School   Tennessee   Missouri   Ole Miss   LSU
  RPI Rank   47   49   56   61
  SOS Rank   17   71   79   76
  Overall Record   14-8   16-7   16-7   15-7
  SEC Record   6-4   4-6   7-3   6-4
  Record vs Top 50   2-4   1-2   1-4   3-3
  Record in True Road Games   2-5   3-4   4-4   2-4
  Losses Outside Top 100   1   1   1   2
  Top 50 Games Remaining   3   2   2   2
  Best Win   20 Virginia   19 UCLA   49 Missouri   12 Kentucky
  Worst Loss   145 Texas A&M   115 Georgia   168 Miss. State   140 Rhode Island

 

Folks, those aren’t very impressive resumes.  And while Tennessee’s SOS stands out at the moment, the Vols will face four teams with RPI scores higher than 115 over the final stretch of the season.  That will take some of the luster off of its SOS.

Moving from left to right, Tennessee will face Florida at home this week before traveling to Missouri.  The Volunteers’ best win to date came over #20 Virginia back in December.  A win over the Gators would help matters considerably.

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