Redskins

Brutal basketball beckons in beautiful Bahamas

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Brutal basketball beckons in beautiful Bahamas

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) It's not often eight college basketball coaches from around the country can agree on something.

Usually conference loyalty or recruiting prospects or old ties manage to find their way into an answer. But on Wednesday all eight coaches polled about what their teams were about to face spoke in the same key.

When asked about the quality of the field for the Battle 4 Atlantis, there were five greats, one unbelievable, one strongest ever and an amazing. When asked about the site of the tournament the answers ranged from spectacular to best place on Earth.

See, these coaches can all get along.

That would be until Thursday when No. 13 Missouri meets Stanford; No. 5 Duke faces Minnesota; No.19 Memphis goes against Virginia Commonwealth and No. 2 Louisville meets Northern Iowa.

That's four ranked teams - half the field - and the others have all had some success in recent years.

They are not lying about the site, either. While the coaches and players have practices, film sessions and the like to take up their free hours, the friends, fans and family who have made the trip are more concerned with kissing dolphins, snorkeling and jet skiing.

These teams are facing different scenarios for the trip. The teams ranked in the top 10 are looking for three wins and verification of their lofty status as conference play gets closer.

The next group is made up of the other ranked teams and those close to it. They want to come out with no more than a loss so they can place themselves as teams trying to stay where they are and suddenly become sleeper favorites as the NCAA tournament nears. Then there are those who want to get better and return home with a different attitude as the season deepens.

VCU coach Shaka Smart has seen his school's basketball image change greatly since the Rams reached the Final Four in 2011.

``People know us a little bit more,'' he said of his school's national image since the great run. ``Still, we are one of the underdogs. We like that. That's our identity. That's what we're about.''

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said he has talked to his players about this opportunity since the end of last season.

``There are only a few championships you can play for - this, your conference tournament and the end of the year,'' he said. ``I told the team this is a good opportunity to see where we are in this type of environment. You just keep preparing for the rest of the season.''

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who was Dawkins' coach in college, was clear about why his team is in the Bahamas.

``You'll be better after playing three games here,'' he said.

Krzyzewski has history on his side. The Blue Devils have won 20 consecutive regular-season tournament games dating to the championship game of the 2006 CBE Classic.

With all the positive vibes about the tournament, are there any negatives to playing in these three-games-in-three-days tournaments?

``Losing all three and seeing how you recover from that,'' Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said with a laugh. Louisville's Rick Pitino had the same smile when he said: ``Three losses.''

Krzyzewski was serious when he said: ``Somebody gets hurt.''

Almost every coach takes a trip like this to build brownie points at home. Wives, kids, a lot of relatives are all along for the ride with a destination like the Bahamas.

Still, there's always one coach different from the others.

``With me there is no gray area'' Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. ``My wife was like 1-6 on the road with us last season. Until she can start to turn that around she's barred from road trips.''

Not all coaches are the same.

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Why did Redskins choose Byron Marshall over Kapri Bibbs? Jay Gruden reveals his answer

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Why did Redskins choose Byron Marshall over Kapri Bibbs? Jay Gruden reveals his answer

The Washington Redskins released running back Kapri Bibbs on Saturday, and in turn, made a decision to stick with Byron Marshall at the position instead.

The move leaves Washington with four backs on the roster: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall. Green Bay moved quick to claim Bibbs off waivers, so the Redskins will not be able to sneak him back to their practice squad. 

Asked about the decision to release Bibbs, Washington head coach Jay Gruden explained the situation as he sees it (quotes via Redskins Talk podcast):

You know Bibbs is a good player. I didn’t release him because he’s a poor player. Perine right now is Adrian Peterson’s backup. That’s the way it is. We dress one 1st/2nd-down back throughout the game and that’s Adrian. Chris is our 3rd-down back and obviously 2nd-and-long get back on track back. The next guy I like to have is a backup to both of them kind of, and that’s Bibbs and Marshall. And Marshall, to me in preseason, showed a lot of flash, a lot of speed, he’s a little bit better on special teams although he missed the tackle the other day. 

There's a lot to take in, and some fans take exception to Perine maintaining his roster spot. Listening to Gruden and others at Redskins Park, that decision does not sound at all negotiable.

So the real competition was Bibbs against Marshall. 

"I decided Marshall’s skill set [is] something very intriguing," Gruden said. 

The numbers don't really back up that assertion, but a lot of that is because Marshall hasn't been able to stay on the field. 

Head-to-head

In parts of the last two seasons, Bibbs has been much more productive than Marshall, in large part because of durability. 

The Redskins signed Marshall off the Eagles practice squad in November 2017. He dressed in four games, rushing nine times for 32 yards and adding six catches for 36 yards, before a hamstring injury landed Marshall on the injured reserve, ending his season. 

With Marshall done, the team then signed Bibbs in December from the Denver practice squad. In three games, he piled up more than 200 total yards and a touchdown. 

Fast forward to training camp 2018, and it was clear Marshall was ahead of Bibbs on the depth chart. Marshall looked good too in the early going, before a knee injury landed him on the injured reserve list to start the season.

That created more opportunity for Bibbs, and he played well, especially for a long stretch while Thompson missed time with a rib injury. 

In 10 games this season, Bibbs rushed 20 times for 101 yards and three TDs. He also added another 13 catches for 102 yards and another TD. That's good for a 6.1 yards-per-touch average. 

The Redskins used one of their two injured reserve return designations on Marshall, and his first game back came against Houston in Week 10. In that game he had two carries for five yards, and more infamously, Marshall was the running back on the play when Alex Smith suffered a season-ending broken leg.

In four games since he's returned, Marshall has four catches for 30 yards and three carries for nine yards. He also returned two kickoffs in Jacksonville, averaging 15 yards-per-return. 

The stats don't really matter much now, as Marshall is on the team and Bibbs is in Green Bay.

Gruden picked the guy he believes has the higher upside, and if he can stay healthy, maybe Marshall will prove his coach right. 

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Trevor Ariza's changed his reputation, role since last stint with Wizards

Trevor Ariza's changed his reputation, role since last stint with Wizards

There were times when Trevor Ariza felt compelled to let everyone know how he viewed his role in the NBA.

One such occasion came the day after the Wizards concluded the 2013 season, one in which Ariza mainly served as a reserve. 

“Well, I’m a starter. I’m going to let you know that right now,” said a forceful Ariza at the time. “I’m a team player, but I’m a starter. That’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me focused; knowing that I’m a starting three in this league, and nobody’s going to change that. Or nobody’s going to change that mentality, I should say.”

Others bought in. Ariza hasn’t come off the bench since. He started 474 consecutive games including 61 during the playoffs. That streak began the following season in Washington.

"It was nothing personal, nothing against my teammates," Ariza told a reporter one year later as the 2013-14 campaign concluded with a second-round playoff appearance.  "I thought [the Wizards] were going in a different direction.”

The belief proved prescient. After helping Washington reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, Ariza entered free agency in the summer of 2014. With the Wizards’ plotting a Kevin Durant future and near-term fixes, he signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Houston Rockets. 

Four years later, Washington’s direction had them seeking a reunion. The Wizards officially acquired the 6-foot-8 forward Monday from the Phoenix Suns for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers.

There’s no confusion over Ariza’s role this time.

The Wizards, 12-18 through 30 games, have struggled in numerous ways. They misfire on 3-pointers to the point coach Scott Brooks recently half-joked he no longer assumed the matter fixable. Opponents comfortably drain deep shots against Washington. Starts are slow. Cohesion lacks. 

Adding Ariza serves to address these matters even if just a short-term fix.

“He’s a great player. He’s a champion,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played with Ariza during Los Angeles’ 2009 championship season, on Sunday. “He knows what it takes to win. … [Trevor] can guard multiple positions. He knocks down big shots. He makes winning plays.”

Those traits were in plain sight during his first stint in Washington. Ariza’s reputation was different. He played for six teams during his first nine seasons. The journeyman perception included sidecar mention when the Wizards acquired him and Emeka Okafor from New Orleans in 2012. 

Despite Ariza’s productive run in Washington, the Wizards had contingency plans. Ariza lost his starting job that first season in Washington to Martell Webster, who signed a contract extension the following offseason. 

During that summer of 2013, the Wizards also selected Otto Porter third overall in the NBA Draft. Paul Pierce signed almost immediately after Ariza latched on with Houston in 2014.

Drew Gooden, a 14-year NBA veteran, played in Washington during the 2013-14 season when Ariza shot a career-best 40.7 percent on 3-pointers.

“Yeah we missed Trevor, but we added Paul Pierce, a Hall of Famer. He was great for us,” Gooden, now part of NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast team, said. “[Ariza’s value] wasn’t as noticeable at the time until he started winning in Houston.”

Ariza’s 3-and-D work keyed Houston’s 2018 Western Conference Finals appearance. Analysts note what Ariza bolting this offseason to Phoenix for a one-year, $15 million contract meant to his former team when assessing the Rockets’ struggles this season.

“You saw how he made Houston kind of gel,” Gooden said. 

The league’s evolution toward deep shooters and those capable of defending the arc increased Ariza’s value. Playing two slender forwards together like Ariza and Otto Porter seemed far-fetched in 2014. That’s exactly the Wizards’ plan once Porter returns from his knee injury.

Despite a statistical drop in 26 games with Phoenix (37.9 field goal percentage), the Wizards weren’t alone in coveting Ariza this time. Other teams including the Lakers were reportedly in the mix when Washington swooped in.

“I think all NBA teams look at themselves and think they could be that much better with Trevor Ariza on their team,” Gooden said.

Part of Ariza’s local appeal involves helping former teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal elevate their performances. The Wizards go as their star backcourt goes. Just like most aspects of this frustrating season, their work hasn’t been good enough.

"We needed a change," Beal said of the team broadly. "Hopefully this is the change that sparks some energy out of us, some life out of us, that will get us to play the way we know we're capable of playing."

“It’s always great to add a guy like Trevor back, one of the best veterans and teammates I had,” Wall said. “We know what he brings to the table.”

Leadership is expected from the new oldest player on the roster. Don’t expect demonstrative acts. 

“How hard he works after practice. How he takes care of his body. His leadership will be shown out on the court,” Gooden said. “When younger players see this, it’s going to be a template of an actual true pro.”

Ariza long ago believed his traits meant NBA starter. He never shied away from putting in the work to prove his point.

“I just always had confidence in myself,” Ariza said in 2014. “I always know that I have to work for everything. Nothing is ever going to be given to you period. With that in mind, I just worked hard and told myself that I was going to do everything to be the player that I think I am.”

That’s precisely the approach current Wizards desire. They made their move. The subtleties of Ariza’s game no longer require self-promotion.

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