BYU DE 'Ziggy' Ansah making big impact in a hurry

BYU DE 'Ziggy' Ansah making big impact in a hurry

PROVO, Utah (AP) He grew up in Ghana, goes by ``Ziggy'' and actually tried out for the Brigham Young basketball team.

Yet the guy with a 39-inch vertical jump and arms that reach well above the rim instead has been wreaking havoc on the football field for a Cougars defense ranked fifth nationally and No. 1 against the run entering Saturday's game against No. 10 Oregon State (4-0).

To think Ezekiel Ansah didn't even know how to put on his pads three years ago.

``He had no idea,'' said BYU center Braden Hansen. ``Now the word I use to describe him is `beast.'''

The senior actuarial major has been racking up the stats in just his third season playing football - ever. The American sports icons he followed before arriving in Provo at age 19 were NBA stars named Jordan, Kobe and LeBron, and his first team at BYU was the track team, where he clocked 21.9 seconds in the 200 meters.

``It's been a long journey and sometimes I sit back and don't know how this came about,'' said the 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end/linebacker. ``I appreciate my teammates, and the motivation I get from everybody keeps me on track.''

The player who once had BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall scratching his head seemingly only has scratched the surface of his ability, though NFL scouts are taking a look at him along with linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a Lombardi and Nagurski Trophy watch list candidate and Ansah's roommate on the road.

In a 6-3 win last week over Utah State, Ansah had five tackles, three for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hurries. He announced his presence just two plays into the game against a running back fresh off a 260-yard rushing/receiving performance.

Ansah recognized a screen pass to Kerwynn Williams and slammed him to the ground for a 4-yard loss. Williams would finish with 14 carries for 18 yards and five catches for 39.

``I had to earn my respect,'' Ansah said of the play.

He certainly has earned it from teammates and coaches, especially Mendenhall, who was more than a bit surprised when Ansah showed up at his office unannounced in 2010 at the urging of friends.

``I was telling Bronco I want to try out for football and he looked at me like, `What are you thinking?' He told me it was going to be really hard and if I'm ready, to go out there and do it.

``I think he tried (to discourage me), but it didn't work.''

With that Ansah flashed a wide smile, one that has made him a favorite among his teammates. Actually, there are plenty of other reasons, too.

``Because he's from Africa and talks with an accent and all he wants to talk about is soccer,'' said quarterback Riley Nelson, expected to start Saturday for BYU (4-2) after sitting out two games with a back injury.

What's funny, Nelson said, is that Ansah is so unassuming.

``He had no clue what he had as far as physical tools or ability,'' Nelson said. ``Not only is he big and strong, but he's fast, too.''

Nelson has calculated that for every two steps Ansah takes, he needs four to escape his rush.

``Now I've got quick steps, but he's breathing down your neck in a hurry and if he catches you, look out,'' Nelson said.

Undefeated Oregon State certainly will be aware of Ansah, especially with junior backup Cody Vaz making his first collegiate start Saturday in place of Sean Mannion, out indefinitely because of a left knee injury suffered in last week's 19-6 victory over Washington State (a team BYU beat 30-6 in the opener).

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Vaz played in five games in the 2010 season, completing 6 of 17 passes for 48 yards, and hasn't taken any snaps since for the Beavers.

Now Vaz faces a BYU team ranked first in the nation in rushing defense (59.5 yards) and red zone conversions (40 percent), third in scoring defense (8.8 points), tied for third in tackles for loss (50), tied for sixth in sacks (20) and fifth overall (229.3 yards a game). BYU's defense also has kept opposing offenses from scoring for 13 consecutive quarters and has held its last dozen opponents under 300 yards offense.

While Van Noy, and fellow linebackers Spencer Hadley and Brandon Ogletree may be the better-known playmakers, Ansah is putting up stats just as fast, chasing down quarterbacks, running backs and even playing on special teams.

In the opener against Washington State, he sniffed out a screen, fought through a double team and delivered a spectacular throw-down for an 8-yard loss.

``He doesn't realize how special that is and we love that about him,'' Nelson said. ``He's almost looking at you like, `What, is that good?' And you're freaking out because you've never seen it before. That makes it fun.''

Last week Ansah split another double team and sacked elusive Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton from the back side, then got him a second time.

He'd also have a monster game against No. 24 Boise State, leading a goal-line stand and blowing up Boise State's fake punt - though the Cougars fell by one after a two-point conversion pass was tipped away,

``The sky's the limit because he has that natural physical ability,'' Nelson said. ``The stuff that is in your DNA, he's got every ounce of it.''

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Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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