Haith unveils largely remade roster in opener


Haith unveils largely remade roster in opener

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Alex Oriakhi celebrated a national championship with UConn in 2011. Now, the forward is ready to do his part for No. 15 Missouri.

The Tigers were a 30-win team and No. 2 NCAA regional seed in coach Frank Haith's first season. Hopes are high for the second season that begins Saturday against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, despite a radically remade roster.

Oriakhi is among a group of heralded additions to a team that has just one returning starter, preseason SEC player of the year Phil Pressey, but also has dynamic forward Laurence Bowers back after missing last season with a knee injury. Missouri opens the season without guard Michael Dixon, perhaps the nation's top sixth man last season, for violating team rules.

``There's definitely a lot of excitement,'' Oriakhi said. ``I remember in the summertime we were just talking about `We can't wait for the season.' That's all we talked about, `the season, the season.'

``And now it's finally here.''

In the early going, Pressey confesses that he's driven partly by fear of failure.

``When the games count, that really opens my eyes because you lose, you're 0-1 and you're on SportsCenter,'' Pressey said. ``If you win, nobody knows about it, so you've just got to take it one game at a time and win them all.''

For Haith, there's no second-guessing the debut season that fizzled in the NCAA tournament opener when the Tigers were upset by 15th seed Norfolk State. The coach points out the team overcame adversity, winning the Big 12 tournament title with just seven scholarship players.

``I thought we had an outstanding year last year,'' Haith said. ``Man, you couldn't have done no better than that.''

Haith said the Tigers, who became just the fifth No. 2 seed to get upset by a No. 15 challenger, just ran into a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

``We didn't play bad, go back and look at the stats,'' Haith said. ``We shot 56 percent from the floor, 50 percent from 3. So, that team didn't lay an egg.''

That team lost Marcus Denmon and Kim English to the NBA draft, plus center Ricardo Ratliffe. Haith's response is what one publication rated the best transfer class in history, with Oriakhi and guards Keion Bell and Earnest Ross starting in the exhibitions.

``We're a lot bigger team. We have a lot more dunkers, athleticism,'' Pressey said. ``Last year, we just had a lot of shooters. It's going to take time for us to really get a good feel for each other in game time.''

Bell, who transferred from Pepperdine, is healthy after missing the second exhibition game due to pneumonia, watching from home while saddled with a high fever. He's from Los Angeles and is adjusting to Midwestern weather.

``Can't really wear tank tops when it's snowing,'' Bell said. ``But I'm feeling good.''

The same goes for Bowers, who watched the 30-win season from the bench while rehabbing from surgery. He cannot deny the enthusiasm.

``It's exciting,'' Bowers said. ``I wouldn't say it means a little bit more. But deep down inside, we know that it does.''

Haith preaches defensive intensity that'll lead to the flashy moments on the other end of the court. Players seem to be listening.

``Coach thinks we have potential to be a great defensive team, and I honestly believe him,'' Oriakhi said. ``We have pretty good athletes on this team.

``We're quick, we're athletic, so we've got to use that to our advantage.''

Haith said Dixon ``still needs time to clear up some stuff off the court,'' but noted there was plenty of backcourt depth. He's happy with the overall play in the exhibitions, and the chance those games provided to dip deep into the roster.

``That's their showtime,'' Pressey said. ``The freshmen, their first game. It was just a good thing they could get out there and produce.''

Haith noted that going back to the team's European trip in August, somebody's always been missing.

``Obviously, we got a lot of playing time for our guys,'' Haith said. ``The biggest thing, because we have so many guys who haven't played, is those guys just being able to play with the lights on.''

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.


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Da'Ron Payne's first reaction after being drafted No. 13 by the Redskins

Da'Ron Payne's first reaction after being drafted No. 13 by the Redskins

Many top draft choices chose to head to the NFL Draft, hear their name called and get the pomp and circumstance that comes with all that is the NFL Draft. 

The Washington Reskins' No. 13 pick Da'Ron Payne was not one of those prospects. 

Instead, Payne watched the draft surronded by close friends and family.

The reaction was memorable: 

Some draft picks choose not to come for fear of slidding down draft boards, or worse: not being picked in the first round at all. 

So he doesn't get to meet Roger Goodell. He doesn't get a Redskins' jersey on draft night.

But this video wouldn't exist if the defensive tackle from Alabama chose to go to Dallas, Texas on draft night.