Pitt coach Paul Chryst downplays Wisconsin buzz

Pitt coach Paul Chryst downplays Wisconsin buzz

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh football coach Paul Chryst understands why his name popped up as a candidate for the open job at Wisconsin.

He's also through discussing the prospects of him returning to his hometown and alma mater to replace Bret Bielema, who bolted suddenly last week for Arkansas.

``I'm not going to talk too much about stuff that really,'' Chryst said Friday as the Panthers began preparations for next month's BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss.

Chryst is from Madison, Wis., and both played and coached for the Badgers before taking over at Pitt last December. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who put in a few calls to help Chryst land his first head coaching job, said it wouldn't be right for Chryst to leave after just one year.

That's just fine with Chryst, who endured an up-and-down season this fall as Pitt went 6-6 and earned its third straight trip to Birmingham, Ala., for the Compass Bowl. Chryst called the job speculation ``a natural part of the profession'' but downplayed the notion there was ever any real chance he would force the Panthers to search for their fifth head coach in two years.

``I think there's a lot more buzz surrounding (the Wisconsin job) than there was (with) myself and with the guys that we know,'' he said.

Still, Alvarez appears to be in no rush to make a hire. He's already announced he'll coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, buying him time to find the right candidate. On paper, Chryst would appear to be a natural fit.

Then again, so was Bielema, who was Alvarez's hand-picked successor. While the move to leave a program he led to three straight Rose Bowls stunned many - particularly Wisconsin alums - it didn't shock Chryst.

``I think that Bret's a smart guy and made an informed decision and I don't think stunned would be the right word,'' Chryst said. ``I think it's good for him. He's probably very happy and that's good. There are opportunities. There's a new challenge.''

And Chryst is content about the challenge that lies ahead at Pitt, which will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next fall. The Panthers were an enigma this fall, beating Virginia Tech and Rutgers while nearly upsetting undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame. Yet they also lost to Youngstown State and Connecticut and failed to build any real sense of momentum.

Still, the fact he is apparently out of the mix at Wisconsin drew a sigh of relief from a fan base and a roster that's going through a bit of coaching fatigue. Chryst received a standing ovation from the student section at a Pitt men's basketball game last week. He appreciated the gesture. He was just a little stunned by it.

``That was a little cheesy,'' Chryst said with a laugh before adding, ``I haven't earned it.''

Chryst isn't one to get comfortable in the spotlight anyway. He'd prefer to let that shine on his players, who remain the main reason he's sticking around.

``I feel fortunate to be here and I like what we're doing and I love doing it with the guys that we're doing it with,'' Chryst said. ``That's a pretty good feeling.''

That sense of loyalty is one of the reasons he's become so popular with his players. It's also why redshirt sophomore defensive end T.J. Clemmings - who is experimenting at offensive tackle heading into the bowl game - felt a little bit of angst when Wisconsin suddenly opened up.

``I was a little bit worried,'' Clemmings said. ``This is my third year. I can't do the whole coaching thing again. I think Coach Chryst will hang around.''

Clemmings just isn't certain. When asked if he's convinced Chryst will be on campus when spring drills begin, Clemmings just smiled.

``I hope so,'' Clemmings said. ``I don't know what the man is going to do. I can't say, but I hope he's around.''

Chryst would rather stop talking about a job he doesn't have and start talking about the one he does. Though this will be Pitt's third year spending New Year's Day in Alabama, he doesn't expect there to be a motivation issue considering the Panthers are playing a quickly improving team in Ole Miss (6-6).

Besides, if the Panthers are frustrated, they have no one to blame but themselves. A few more wins and their postseason prospects would have offered a different destination.

``This is where you should be,'' Chryst said. ``This is what we earned. I think we've earned the right to go to a bowl. This is where it's slotted and we've got a chance to play a really good opponent I believe.''


Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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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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