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Court date postponed in Hines Ward extortion case

Court date postponed in Hines Ward extortion case

PITTSBURGH (AP) A preliminary hearing for a man charged with trying to extort $15,000 from former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was postponed Tuesday until Dec. 3 at the request of his attorney.

Defense attorney David Shrager said he needed more time to investigate the charges against Joshua Van Auker, 26, of Pittsburgh, along with the evidence. He struck a conciliatory tone when he addressed reporters after a brief court appearance, describing his client as naive and inexperienced.

``This is surreal for him, this is a nice young man,'' Shrager said of his client, who is accused of contacting Ward's personal assistant last week and threatening to go public with information that Ward had paid prostitutes for sex.

``Hines Ward's an essential part of Pittsburgh history ... he's a great guy,'' Shrager said.

Ward's assistant, Raymond Burgess, contacted authorities after Van Auker text messaged him, claiming to have the damaging information. Detectives with the Allegheny County district attorney's office investigated and determined that Van Auker decided to make the demands after learning his girlfriend ``had been involved in a prior physical relationship with Ward,'' according to a criminal complaint.

The woman is not identified in the complaint. After contacting investigators, Burgess again spoke with Van Auker, who repeated the extortion demand by saying, ``It's called buying silence, brother,'' the complaint said.

A person familiar with the investigation said Van Auker was apparently jealous of the woman's past contact with Ward, but the paperwork Van Auker turned over didn't prove his claims. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the evidence has not yet been made public.

The detectives, who were watching that transaction, then arrested Van Auker.

Burgess has said the envelope contained only papers, not pictures, but has declined to otherwise describe its contents. Ward's manager, Andrew Ree, on Tuesday referred to his comments last week that the alleged extortion was ``the act of a desperate individual trying to get money from a celebrity.''

Asked for comment after his arrest last week, Van Auker told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he'd grant an interview ``for a price.''

On Tuesday, Van Auker stood silently while his defense attorney, hired over the weekend, attempted to explain how Van Auker got himself into this situation.

``Certainly, he's inexperienced. And I think he would answer for himself - which he's not going to today - he certainly wouldn't want to be in the situation he's in right now,'' Shrager said.

Shrager said he requested the delay of the preliminary hearing so he can review evidence, including records of the purported text message exchange between Van Auker and Burgess.

A district judge must determine at the hearing whether enough probable cause exists for Van Auker to stand trial on two counts of attempted extortion.

A county prosecutor declined to comment.

Ward, 36, retired in March after 14 seasons with the Steelers. He had 1,000 catches for 12,021 yards, both franchise records, and was MVP of the Super Bowl XL, which the Steelers won in 2006. He's now a commentator for NBC Sports.

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

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Wizards sit in a good spot at the All-Star break after rollercoaster first half

The Washington Wizards did not make any significant changes to their roster over the summer and valued continuity, knowing they had a solid group of young players on the rise. That sort of stand-pat approach could have resulted in a boring first half of the season, but the Wizards managed to ride quite the rollercoaster from October to the All-Star break. 

A lot of things happened. Some were good and some were bad, but the eventual result as we sit here today is the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and a 33-24 record, good for a 47-win pace. That's solid, especially considering the dramatic lows this team had to navigate through.

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Here is a look at the biggest storylines of the 2017-18 Wizards season before the All-Star break...

Injuries played a role

During the 2016-17 season, the Wizards' starting lineup missed a combined 17 games. That group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat logged more minutes than any other starting five in the NBA. In terms of health, that season was one big best-case scenario and it wasn't to happen again this season.

The Wizards ran into injury troubles before training camp even began when Morris needed sports hernia surgery. By November, Wall was dealing with a left knee injury and Porter has had hip issues all season. Beal and Gortat played in all 57 games, but Wall missed 20, Morris missed nine and Porter was out for four of them. This year their depth was tested much more than it was just one season ago.

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Inconsistency was a problem

For much of the first half, the Wizards just couldn't get out of their own way. They would rise up to play and often beat the good teams, then turn around and suffer terrible losses to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many teams go through those types of issues, but the Wizards took it to an extreme. In the first half they beat the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves and Thunder, yet lost to the Nets (twice), Mavs (twice), Lakers, Hawks and Hornets (twice).

It was a maddening trend and one the players and coaches were well aware of. As it kept plaguing them through the month of January, the Wizards appeared to have no answers, but they rebounded nicely in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break and some of their losses to teams that were sub-.500 at the time now don't look so bad. The Wizards, in fact, sit 19-9 against sub-.500 teams at the break. Only four teams in the East have more such wins. And the Clippers and Jazz, who were struggling at the time they beat the Wizards, rallied to now hold winning records and be factors in the playoff race.

Oubre and Satoransky emerged

The development of two young players in the first half of the season has vastly changed the Wizards' outlook in the short- and long-term. Kelly Oubre, Jr. took another step and gives them starter-caliber production off their bench. And Tomas Satoransky is now not just a replacement level backup point guard, but a real strength on their roster. 

Oubre continues to cut out his youthful mistakes on defense and has become one of their most consistent offensive players. He is third on the team in double-digit scoring games (38) with an average of 11.7 points, nearly double his output from last season. Satoransky is using his size and athleticism to affect games while making few costly errors. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team and leads the Wizards with a 46.8 three-point percentage. Both Oubre and Satoransky are providing value on both ends of the floor, have high ceilings and are on bargain contracts.

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They rallied without Wall

The Wizards were dealt some news in late January that could have crippled their season. They learned that Wall, their best player, would be out up to two months following arthroscopic left knee surgery. He would likely miss well over 20 games and the Wizards had been significantly better with him than without him in the previous months.

The Wizards, though, responded exceptionally well. They won seven of their final nine games before the break after Wall went down. The others in their starting lineup stepped up and Satoransky proved he was more than just a placeholder. They likely won't be able to keep up the 7-2 pace, but the Wizards showed they can still compete and win while Wall is out. That will be important with a tough schedule coming up out of the break.

Locker room disagreements

The Wizards entered this season with heightened expectations and as a result couldn't tolerate some of their early season woes. There was a team meeting that didn't go as planned. There were things said in the media. Then, when Wall went out and the Wizards started playing better, people got carried away and said that Wall was holding the Wizards back. Wall even thought that sentiment was suggested by his teammates and aired his grievances publicly. 

That's what happens when teams have big goals and hit adversity, they point fingers and problems ensue. The Wizards, though, don't seem to have any major, untenable issues. However, their concerns need to be communicated better, not through social media or in front of cameras. That's what makes what could be considered normal locker room strife into national news.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS STACKED CLASS

 

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The Americans played their way back into the only women's hockey game that matters: a showdown with Canada for the Olympic gold medal.

The Americans are back in the title game for a third straight Olympics after shutting out Finland 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. They will face their arch-rival, which beat the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" 5-0 a few hours later, on Thursday. They Americans will be trying to win their first gold since 1998 when women's hockey made its debut in the Olympics.

And yes, the Americans understand the United States-Canada playing for gold is what everyone expects to see.

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"Definitely the rivalry has been there since I think I was born, so everyone's looking forward to that," said 22-year-old Dani Cameranesi.

This will be the third opportunity at gold for six Americans: captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Knight said. "This is the world's biggest stage. This is the game that you want. This is the game we've been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it's huge."

Olympic newcomer Cameranesi scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Americans over Finland. Marvin started the scoring, and Lamoureux-Davidson and Knight both scored during a 5-on-3 34 seconds apart in the second period. Maddie Rooney made 14 saves for the shutout.

Finland remains winless in eight games against the Americans at the Olympics. The Finns, ranked third in the world last year, will try to take home the bronze medal for the first time since 2010.

"We're got one thing on our mind, and that's to get a medal," said goaltender Noora Raty, who made 33 saves. "They're the best in the world (U.S. and Canada). We just need to get more girls involved so we have more to choose from."

The Americans opened these games a 2-1 loss to Canada wrapping up pool play.

"This was really a gold-medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team, and we had to be ready to play," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of Finland.

The Americans wasted no time getting on the board. Captain Meghan Duggan found Marvin alone in the slot, and she beat Raty stick-side for the easy goal just 2:25 into the game.

Finland lost defenseman when she had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room after a knee-on-knee collision with Duggan. She was knocked off balance before crashing face-first into the boards, snapping her head back. When play resumed without a penalty, some fans booed. Savolainen returned in the second period.

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Stauber said the referee immediately came over and said it was a collision. Duggan said she was really happy Savolainen got up and that any decision about a potential suspension was out of her control.

"There's been some other plays that haven't been put into question, and so I can't imagine that there would be any disciplinary action just based on other things that have been let go," Duggan said.

Cameranesi put the United States up 2-0 with 1:22 left in the period, taking the puck away from Susanna Tapani and skating into the left circle before beating Raty's blocker with a wrist shot top shelf.

Lamoureux-Davidson's slap shot from the left circle came with 2 seconds left on the 5-on-3 at 13:21 of the second period, and Knight got her first goal of this tournament by redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin with 5 seconds left on the man advantage for the 4-0 lead. Cameranesi padded the lead as she scored from the slot over Raty's glove off a pass from Hannah Brandt.

"We're super excited to be in this position again," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal and we'll enjoy this for a little bit, but we know that this isn't what we came here for. We're ready to go to battle in a couple days."