Saban quickly turns to challenges of 2013 season


Saban quickly turns to challenges of 2013 season

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) It's becoming a familiar January scene for Nick Saban.

The Alabama coach plastered a smile on his face for a series of posed photos next to the various trophies awarded to college football's national champions and then proceeded to talk about the challenges facing his team.

Maybe Saban let the Gatorade dry from the celebratory drenching before thinking about the 2013 season. Maybe.

``The team next year is 0-0,'' Saban, who is on a 61-7 run over the past five seasons, said Tuesday morning. ``Even though I really appreciate what this team accomplished and am very, very proud of what they accomplished, we need to prepare for the challenges of the new season very quickly with the team we have coming back. ``

It didn't take Saban long to refocus after Monday night's 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame that secured a second straight BCS title, the Crimson Tide's third in four seasons and the seventh straight for Southeastern Conference teams.

Shortly after the game, he was already talking about getting back to the office by Wednesday morning.

Alabama players, meanwhile, finally were able to voice the ``D-word.'' Center Barrett Jones said he had a Sports Illustrated cover from a couple of years ago after his last college game.

``It says, `Dynasty. Can anybody stop Alabama?' I'll never forget looking at that thing and wondering if we really could be a dynasty,'' said Jones, who mainly put it on the wall because he's featured. ``I think three out of four, I'm no dynasty expert, but that seems like a dynasty to me. I guess I can say that now that I'm gone. Don't tell coach I said that.''

The 2013 team will almost certainly be regarded among the preseason favorites to get back to the summit, even though three Tide stars - tailback Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner and right tackle D.J. Fluker - could decide to skip their senior seasons and turn pro.

Saban also emphatically tried to end speculation that he might return to the NFL, where he spent two years with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the SEC.

It was a question that really made him bristle during the 30-plus minute news conference.

``How many times do you think I've been asked to put it to rest?'' Saban said. ``And I've put it to rest, and you continue to ask it. So I'm going to say it today, that - you know, I think somewhere along the line you've got to choose. You learn a lot from the experiences of what you've done in the past. I came to the Miami Dolphins, what, eight years ago for the best owner, the best person that I've ever had the opportunity to work for. And in the two years that I was here, I had a very, very difficult time thinking that I could impact the organization in the way that I wanted to or the way that I was able to in college, and it was very difficult for me.''

He said that experience taught him that the college ranks ``is where I belong, and I'm really happy and at peace with all that.''

As for the players, All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley has already said he'll return. So has quarterback AJ McCarron, who had his second straight star turn in a BCS title game.

``We certainly have to build the team around him,'' Saban said, adding that a late-game spat with Jones showed the quarterback's competitive fire. ``I've talked a lot about it's difficult to play quarterback when you don't have good players around you. I think we should have, God willing and everybody staying healthy, a pretty good receiver corps. We'll have to do some rebuilding in the offensive line. Regardless of what Eddie decides to do, we'll probably still have some pretty decent runners. But I think AJ can be a really good player, maybe the best quarterback in the country next year.''

The biggest question mark is replacing three, maybe four, starters on an offensive line that paved the way.

Amari Cooper, who broke several of Julio Jones' Alabama freshman receiving marks, and fellow freshman running back T.J. Yeldon give McCarron and the Tide a couple of potent weapons, even if Lacy doesn't return.

``I am going to try to win three or four,'' said Cooper, who had 105 yards and two touchdowns in the title game. ``This season was good, but I expected it to be even more. There is so much more that I can do.''

Saban emphasized the difficulty of repeating and said he showed the players a video of NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan saying that the first title isn't the hardest - it's the ones after that.

That's because, Saban said, ``you have to have the will to fight against yourself.''

Now, the `Bama coach has four titles, including one during his stop at LSU. Saban doesn't wear the championship rings but uses them for a different purpose.

``I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at,'' he said, cracking up the room.

Saban has already lined up another highly rated recruiting class and has the next wave of young talents waiting in the wings.

After all, he talked about the sign mentor Bill Belichick hung in the football building during their NFL days together: ``Do your job.''

Saban jokingly acknowledged that while he prepares for everything, the one thing he has never been able to anticipate is the Gatorade bath. He drew heat for a scowl after the first one, following the title game win over Texas when he got dinged in the head. Monday night's dousing went better.

``It's cold, it's sticky, but I appreciated not getting hit in the head with the bucket,'' Saban said. ``That was an improvement.''

No program has had this kind of championship run since Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams won it all in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

Saban remembers that second team well. The Cornuskers stomped Michigan State 50-10 in Saban's first game as head coach.

``I'm thinking, we're never going to win a game,'' Saban said. ``We'll never win a game here at Michigan State. I must have taken a bad job, wrong job, no players, something. I remember Coach Osborne when we shook hands after the game, he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, `You're not really as bad as you think.'''

So take heart, college football.

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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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