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Barlow not losing focus after giving Butler win

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Barlow not losing focus after giving Butler win

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Butler guard Alex Barlow expected Monday morning's practice to be routine.

On the court, it was. Off the court, it was nowhere close.

Three players, including Barlow, were doing phone interviews. A couple of others were being pulled aside to talk to the reporters. Coach Brad Stevens sat patiently in the stands answering questions, all of this indicating that America's NCAA tournament darlings were back on the map.

``To me, it's kind of weird watching yourself on TV,'' said Barlow, the 5-foot-11 walk-on who hit the winning shot in Saturday's 88-86 overtime win over No. 1 Indiana. ``It's kind of crazy to hear how people have misspoken some of our names or call me a former college baseball player.''

There's no mistaking how Barlow and the Bulldogs got back here. The little school from Indianapolis is again beating college basketball's big boys in ways nobody thought possible.

On Saturday, it was Barlow who emerged as the unlikeliest star.

The sophomore from football powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller came to Butler to get a firsthand lesson in Basketball Coaching 101 from Stevens. He turned down multiple scholarship offers to play baseball, what many including his father thought was his best sport, and had scored just 12 points in nine games this season and 18 in his college career.

But with 6 seconds left in overtime, the wispy-looking guard slowly walked toward the lane, backed down Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls toward the basket, then suddenly spun around and let loose a 6-foot jumper that hit the back of the rim and finally rattled in for the lead with less than 3 seconds to play. Barlow finished with six points, all in overtime. A career high.

What nearly got lost in the celebration, though, was that Barlow also came up with one of the key defensive plays of the game - a steal that led to Chase Stigall's 3-pointer, giving Butler an 86-84 lead that allowed the Bulldogs to dictate the rest of the game.

Those who know Barlow weren't nearly as surprised as the Hoosiers (9-1) or the national television audience.

``He's pretty measured in his words and he won't take any grief. He's a tough guy,'' Stevens said. ``His high school coach (Carl Kremer) said he was similar to another Moeller kid we had, Mike Monserez, in competitiveness and will, and I think he (Monserez) was one of the all-time greats we've had here. So I told Carl if he (Barlow) wants to be here, it's automatic that he can walk on.'''

Barlow did consider two other schools, Clemson and Arizona State, but knew Butler was the right place for him after just one visit.

Now he will go down as the latest little-known Butler star to emerge on the national stage.

The group includes Joel Cornette, who traded shoes with another player after chasing a loose ball and running into a water cooler during Butler's 2003 NCAA tournament run to the regional semifinals; Darnell Archey, the 3-point specialist who set the NCAA record for most consecutive free throws and is on Stevens' staff; A.J. Graves, the MVP of the 2006 NIT Season Tip-Off, who had never been to New York City before that tournament; Gordon Hayward, who led Butler to the 2010 title game and just missed making a buzzer-beating half-court heave that would have beaten Duke for the title; and Matt Howard, the strong inside presence who was the key to Butler's back-to-back runs to the title game.

Now there's Barlow.

``We went out to Applebee's after the game and he was on the phone the whole time. We started calling him big shot,'' shooting guard Rotnei Clarke said, laughing. ``It was fun messing with him because he gets a little sensitive about it.''

The Bulldogs (8-2) should be getting used to this after the two tourney runs in 2010 and 2011 and now they're back at it, winning the Butler Way.

At last month's Maui Invitational, Clarke hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off Marquette. The next night, Butler steamrolled North Carolina. On Dec. 8, they won at Northwestern, and then the Bulldogs pulled the biggest upset of the early season by taking down their fourth BCS-conference school of the season, Indiana, for the first win over a No. 1 team in school history.

``I was praying it would go in because looked like it was coming out to the right,'' said Clarke, who played in some big games at Arkansas but never beat a top-ranked team until transferring to Butler.

The voters have taken notice, too.

Just hours after the Bulldogs wrapped up their morning practice, Butler debuted at No. 19 in this week's Top 25. The only losses this season have to No. 10 Illinois in Maui and at Xavier.

Stevens is not as impressed as some of the outsiders, especially with what he saw against Indiana.

``My biggest thing is that we didn't play perfect,'' he said. ``So we put together a what-if video, a video of about 15 plays that if they had gone the other way, we wouldn't be as happy today.''

Or as busy dealing with all those outside influences that have become more commonplace when the Bulldogs beat the big boys.

Not that Barlow or his teammates mind, since they know it's time to get back to reality.

``It's been crazy, I've gotten a lot of texts and phone messages and social media stuff, but I don't get too caught up in that stuff,'' Barlow said. ``The coaches do tell us all the time that we can beat anyone on any given day, but they also tell us we can get beaten on any given night. I'm not going to say we expected to win (against Indiana), but it was not a surprise to us.''

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

After his team showed resilience in erasing a 24-point lead to beat the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday night, head coach Scott Brooks swept aside an opportunity to fire back at critics of himself and his team following a barrage of negative headlines in recent days.

Brooks did, however, take the time to address one particular angle of the whole mess. He issued a passionate defense of his star point guard, John Wall, who has been at the center of the controversies surrounding the organization.

Brooks and Wall had an altercation last week during practice that led to Wall receiving a fine from the team. Brooks spoke at length about the incident itself at shootaround. After Tuesday's win, he honed in on a specific criticism of Wall, that he is out of shape and not giving an honest effort on the floor.

"John, he's been taking hits. Let's face it," Brooks said. "You hear all the reports that he's heavy. The guy has seven percent body fat..."

"He's in great shape. I like the way he plays. He plays hard."

Brooks went on to point out how Wall hasn't been playing at 100 percent for much of this season. Wall has dealt with a deep thigh bruise and it's partly to explain for the Wizards' 6-11 start.

The overall numbers look about how they should for Wall.

He's averaging 21.5 points, 7.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. But his defense has been lacking and he's not getting the assists he usually collects because he hasn't had the same burst in transition.

Playing through injuries is always tricky for professional athletes. When people know they're hurt, that effort is often appreciated. But when the injuries aren't disclosed, fans and members of the media can only draw conclusions based on what they see.

Brooks explained in detail why he thinks Wall should be cut some slack for his start to the season.

"He's a warrior. There's a lot of guys that I've seen in my playing career that they love to sit out. They're just talented and they've got talented contracts. They sit out and you can't do anything about it. You admire and you appreciate and you celebrate the guys that play hard. You don't have to tell the world that he's banged up," Brooks said.

"He didn't say one word and I wasn't gonna say it. It's over. He's feeling great. He's fought. He's not gonna tell the world 'look at me, I'm sore.' He doesn't want your sympathy. He just fights and he plays the right way. He plays hard."

Brooks is clearly trying to stick up for his star player and change the current media narrative.

As long as the Wizards win, that shouldn't be hard to do.

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Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

The subject of trade rumors and reports of in-fighting at Wizards practice over the past few days, John Wall proved his worth to the Wizards on the court Tuesday night. 

Washington trailed the Clippers by as many as 24 points, but Wall helped orchestrate a furious comeback which concluded in a 125-118 Washington win. Wall led all scorers with 30 points and dished out eight assists. 

After the game, Wall opened up to NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller about the cloud of controversy which has surrounded the Wizards this week, as well as a far more serious matter in his personal life: he's gonna be a dad soon!

"It's amazing, man. All the heart and effort and drive I've had for this organization, this team, to hear certain things like being traded, I try to stay focused," he told Miller. "Focused on getting ready to have my new son, trying to turn this organization around, this franchise around and win some games."

"All it is is go out there and compete, dog. All of us go out here and compete, that's one thing I always did since day one is give everything I got. And to hear those type of things, it's kind of funny. It's frustrating at the same time, but I've been through worse things. I just stand over top of all that."

And as his coach, Scott Brooks, has been preaching over the last few weeks, Wall believes the only way the Wizards turn around their season is if they show one thing: effort. 

"It's just about effort, man. Effort and heart," he said. "I've been preaching that since I've been here from day one, and in the second half we gave a lot of effort and heart. That's why we came back and fought hard, and got a great win that we needed."

"In the first half, we didn't play with no energy, no sense of urgency, and they beat the brakes off of us. We got to find a way to dig deep, and we made some big shots and got some big stops."

"It's not where we want to be, it's not where we started. Dealing with injuries, dealing with those type of things, you make no excuses. Whoever step between these lines, you go out there and compete, and that's all I ask for the14 guys, including myself, is to go play hard.

It's far too early to declare it as such, but if the Wizards can build off of Tuesday's performance, it may very well be looked at as the night Wall and Washington turned their season around. 

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