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Championship hunger rumbles for Stoops, Sooners

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Championship hunger rumbles for Stoops, Sooners

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) After 14 seasons at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops understands the all-or-nothing culture that surrounds his Sooners.

Anything less than a national championship equates to a disappointing season in the eyes of many. To some degree, that includes Stoops.

``I hate it,'' he said Friday when asked about being out of the national title race again. ``We've been pretty used to it. I helped create that and to me, it's the pulse here and I don't like it.''

The Sooners finished 10-3 for the second straight season and head into the winter smarting after a 41-13 throttling at the hands of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Stoops knows much of the focus this offseason will be on the three losses to teams that finished the season ranked in the top 12, but he still believes the status of his program is strong.

He'll readily point out that Oklahoma has won 10 games each of the last three seasons, something only five other programs can boast. In that timeframe, the Sooners won the 2010 Big 12 title outright and shared it this season with Kansas State. No other team in the conference has won more games, in league play or overall, than his Sooners in that span.

``People get bored with just winning the Big 12 championship. They want more. You've got to win the national championship,'' Stoops said.

It's been that way since he led Oklahoma to the championship after the 2000 season. The Sooners also played for the title after the 2003, 2004 and 2008 seasons.

``Every four years, or within four years, we're competing for the national championship - in the game. I don't mean just part of it - in the game,'' he said. ``And even that isn't good enough if you don't win it. In the end, that's just how people are. I get it.''

So, while he sees the Sooners' final ranking of No. 15 as a sign the program is still solid, he's not satisfied with it because it's not No. 1. Going practically position by position on his team, Stoops' assessment was similar at nearly every spot: Good, but it can be better.

``Really, think about it: What's ever good enough?'' he said. ``Nothing, unless you win them all.''

Stoops said he doesn't foresee any changes on his coaching staff, although that's always subject to change. He has canceled an upcoming recruiting weekend for high school juniors, choosing instead to focus on locking down the seniors he will be able to sign in February and bring in for next season.

There will be plenty of holes to fill, including a competition between backup Blake Bell and others to replace four-year starter Landry Jones at quarterback. With safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Tom Wort exiting early for the NFL draft, a maximum of four starters will be back on defense next season.

Stoops is still waiting to find out whether junior cornerback Aaron Colvin will return.

``I never mind playing guys we're going to sign in February. We've had a lot of good ones come in and make big contributions, so that may be the case to a degree,'' Stoops said. ``But I think always, too, there's a lot of guys every year ... that people aren't seeing that we are trying to develop who come on and, `Wow! Who's this guy?'''

The Sooners will be counting on playmakers to emerge if they are to get back into the national title mix. And Stoops said he's not backing away from his statement before the 2011 season, when his team held the preseason No. 1 ranking, that it's time to bring another championship to Norman.

``You never know. We didn't seem very close when we had a shot at it in 2000. You never know when it's coming, and we're going to work hard for it,'' Stoops said. ``We may try and make some improvements here through the winter and spring and hopefully have a chance to be better next year.''

He needed only to point to one of this year's participants in the BCS championship game to show how early expectations can be deceiving.

``Year to year, you never know who progresses, who doesn't. Obviously, Notre Dame was that story this year,'' Stoops said. ``They weren't probably projected real high, did it right, had great team chemistry I'm sure, won some tight games and played well.''

One of those close calls came against Stoops' Sooners, who could find that same magical combination this season.

``In the end, we weren't quite good enough to win 11, 12 or 13 games,'' he said. ``We were good enough to win 10 and have a part of a championship once again, for the second time in three years. So, that's where we're at.''

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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