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Arizona St. to take on Navy in Fight Hunger Bowl

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Arizona St. to take on Navy in Fight Hunger Bowl

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Arizona State contends with a variety of offenses in the Pac-12 conference.

From the Air Raid at Washington State to the power running game at Stanford to the pro styles at Southern California to the fast-paced option at Oregon.

None of that will prepare the Sun Devils (7-5) for what they will face on Saturday in the Fight Hunger Bowl when they take on Navy (8-4) and its vaunted triple-option running attack.

``Honestly it's totally different from everything we've seen all season and my five years here,'' linebacker Brandon Magee said. ``Their offense is really disciplined. They can get the ball to the quarterback, they can pitch it, they can hand it off to the fullback and they can also beat you deep on some passes if you fall asleep on the passing game. Very explosive offense.''

Navy is sixth in the nation in rushing with 275.6 yards per game and has won seven of eight games heading into the bowl matchup against the Sun Devils.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham said he would have been ``miserable'' if this game was in the regular season and he only had a few days to prepare. He hopes his past experiences going against triple-option teams and the extra practice before the bowl game will help his team's preparation.

The Sun Devils have gone to unusual measures in their preparation, using cornerback Robert Nelson as the scout team quarterback simulating running plays.

``The knowledge of the triple option and being able to put it on the board and being able to talk about it is one thing,'' Navy slotback Bo Snelson said. ``But to go out and practice and have guys who have never run it before, guys who aren't as in tune to the nuances of the offense and have them run it at the speed we do, that's extremely difficult to do.''

Stopping the option is simple in the abstract - players must be disciplined enough to stay with their responsibility and not try to freelance, which can open up big running lanes.

It's appropriate that discipline is the keyword in the final game of Graham's first season as coach because that has been the key to the team's success all year.

Graham took over from Dennis Erickson and immediately set out to change the culture that led to the Sun Devils leading the nation last year in penalties per game and penalty yardage. This season Arizona State is tied for the 11th fewest penalties in the nation and is hoping for its first bowl win since 2005.

``People will meet whatever expectations you set,'' Graham said. ``I was very fortunate because these guys embraced it. I don't yell and scream or tell them to do this and that. I put in a values system and here's the values we'll be about and here's the accountability.''

Navy has become more difficult to defend since making a quarterback switch early in the season when the Midshipmen turned to freshman Keenan Reynolds.

Reynolds led a comeback win against Air Force that helped Navy get out of the hole of a 1-3 start has not looked back ever since. He has thrown for eight touchdowns, run for 10 more and thrown just one interception, giving the Midshipmen a legitimate passing attack to pair with the option running game,

``If knew he was that poised we'd have put him in earlier,'' coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``He's exceeded my expectations. We knew he was a good quarterback, that's why he moved up the ladder pretty quickly. I didn't know he'd be this good. Right now he has a chance to be the best quarterback we've had in my time at the academy. He's on that track.''

Arizona State will be playing the game with heavy hearts after running back Marion Grice's brother was killed in Houston last week. He rejoined the team for practice in San Francisco and will leave from the game to go to his brother's funeral, along with members of the coaching staff.

``He felt like his brother would want him to play and be here,'' Graham said. ``I personally think it will be a lot better for him.''

The game is sponsored by Kraft and is dedicated to fighting hunger in the United States. Three meals will be donated to local food backs for each ticket sold, with more than 100,000 meals expected to be donated this year.

Both teams also spent Christmas day serving meals to needy families in the San Francisco area.

``I haven't had an experience in a bowl game that came close to that experience of serving,'' Graham said

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained connected to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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