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Dellavedova lifts Saint Mary's to new heights

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Dellavedova lifts Saint Mary's to new heights

MORAGA, Calif. (AP) From the moment he arrived at Saint Mary's as a shaggy-haired freshman from Australia with a multicolored mouth guard and an old-school game, it was clear Matthew Dellavedova would be something special.

In three-plus seasons with the Gaels, Dellavedova has backed that up with numerous school records and individual accolades, two conference tournament titles and NCAA tournament appearances, and an impressive stint as an Olympic starter matching up against NBA stars like Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Tony Parker.

Whether it's his court vision that allows him to see openings before they even develop, the passes that sometimes surprise even his teammates or the teardrop floaters and 3-pointers that have him on pace to be Saint Mary's all-time leading scorer, Dellavedova is the engine that drives the Gaels.

``He's as good as we've had. Just look at what he's done,'' coach Randy Bennett said. ``He continues to get better. That's a straight byproduct of his work ethic. He always has understood that he hasn't arrived. He's still trying to get better. He knows what it will take, it will take great attitude, hard work, be humble, those things.''

It's a fitting attitude for the Gaels' best player because it is the exact same approach Bennett wants for his program. After taking over a two-win team in 2001, Bennett has built Saint Mary's into a consistent winner with five straight 25-win seasons.

After years of chasing Gonzaga, the Gaels have caught up in the West Coast Conference in Dellavedova's first three seasons. Both programs won 36 conference games the past three seasons with each school taking one outright regular-season championship and sharing the third.

The Gaels won two of the past three WCC tournament titles, beating the Bulldogs in the final both times. In fact, after winning just three of the first 22 games against Gonzaga in Bennett's tenure, Saint Mary's has won four times in the past seven meetings, including a win in Spokane two years ago.

But there is no sense of satisfaction for Saint Mary's (12-3, 1-0) heading into the first meeting of the season against No. 9 Gonzaga (15-1, 2-0) on Thursday night in Spokane.

``They've done it for a long time,'' Dellavedova said. ``We're just trying to do our thing and keep getting better as a program ourselves because they've done it for so long. We're just trying to keep pushing hard to see how much better we can get.''

Having lost three times in the nonconference season, the Gaels have little margin for error if they want to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. A road win against a top 10 team like Gonzaga would go a long way toward cementing that goal.

While that may seem like a daunting task on the surface, Dellavedova has faced much tougher competition than that in the past year. Dellavedova is one of two college basketball players who participated in last summer's Olympics, joining the College of Charleston's Andrew Lawrence, a reserve for Great Britain.

But Dellavedova started all six games in London, running the point for an Australian team that won three games. He averaged 7.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 29 minutes per game against some of the top players in the world.

After posting three points, four assists and seven rebounds in a quarterfinal loss to the United States, Dellavedova even got some words of encouragement from Bryant.

``It gave me a taste of how good those guys are and how much you have to work to improve to get to that kind of level,'' Dellavedova said. ``Going against smart players who are physical, tall, it cuts down on your decision-making time. You have less space and time so you have to be sharper in your decision-making.''

Dellavedova has grown from that experience and is having his best season yet in college, posting career highs in points (17.4 per game), assists (6.7 per game), shooting (47 percent), 3-point shooting (42 percent) and foul shooting (91 percent). He is already the school-record holder in assists and 3-pointers and is on pace to break Daniel Kickert's career scoring record at Saint Mary's.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few called Dellavedova ``brilliant'' with the way he executes the ball screens that are so prevalent in Saint Mary's offense.

``It starts with him and it ends with him,'' Gonzaga star Elias Harris said. ``He's their main guy, and I agree with Coach Few that he's for sure one of the better guys in the nation when it comes to ball screen situations, the feel for a game and the way he reads the court and finds his teammates is incredible. It's really a load. It's hard, even as a team, to guard him. It's going to be a great challenge.''

But Bennett said Dellavedova's biggest skill might be his leadership and his ability to make his teammates better.

Bennett knew he was getting a good player when he got the commitment from Dellavedova. But after Dellavedova arrived, the Gaels realized they were getting so much more.

``I thought we should check his birth certificate because he played like a 25- or 30-year-old man, even as a freshman,'' said former Saint Mary's star center Omar Samhan, who played one season with Dellavedova. ``He just came in and had such a good feel for the game beyond his years. He always played beyond his years. That always stuck out to me.''

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

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When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

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“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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