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Despite going 7-9, Saints liked their resilience

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Despite going 7-9, Saints liked their resilience

METAIRIE, La. (AP) As Saints players dumped belongings from their lockers into huge brown bags, right tackle Zach Strief said he wished he could look forward to a new season devoid of questions about the bounty scandal.

The seven-year veteran and offensive captain knows better than that.

He expects everything the Saints do when Sean Payton returns in 2013 to be compared to how the team struggled while its coach was suspended in 2012.

``I'm sure it'll come up again next year when it's not even an issue because now it's his first year back,'' Strief said. ``So it'll probably take two years to really get away from it.''

That doesn't mean it will take two years to return to the playoffs.

Although the Saints (7-9) never did quite recover from an 0-4 start, those first four losses all were by single digits, and they went 7-5 the rest of the way.

Given that Drew Brees passed for a whopping 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns, and that both Marques Colston and Lance Moore surpassed the 1,000-yard mark receiving, the offense doesn't appear to need much work.

Even New Orleans' historically bad defense, which gave up the most yards (7,042) ever in a single season, demonstrated progress under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and registered the club's first shutout in 17 years earlier this month.

So while the Saints will take a hard look at what went wrong defensively this season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, doesn't expect a complete overhaul.

``Extreme makeover - I don't know about that. I really don't, but that's why we're in the evaluation process now,'' Vitt said Monday. ``We'll make sure that we're putting the right players in the right positions to make plays. We'll match the proper calls with personnel groupings and do a hard evaluation of ourselves, that's only fair.''

The Saints dealt with unprecedented punishment and distractions in 2012. Not only was Payton suspended the entire season, but Vitt was suspended six games and general manager Mickey Loomis eight games. The Saints also lost second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013. Even though player suspensions for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive Will Smith never came to pass - they were thrown out on appeal - those players spent much of the season taking part in a legal effort to overturn their bounty sanctions.

While the Saints never used the bounty fallout as excuses during the season, they figured it took some sort of toll.

``I don't know how drastic of an effect it had ... but there was some effect there and there was a whole bunch of combination of things to equal the 7-9 record,'' linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.

The Saints' experienced team of assistants sought to take the same approach in terms of scheduling and routines that Payton had during the previous six seasons. They even had an expansive mural of a glaring Payton placed in the indoor practice facility to remind players of their banned coach's intensity, and that he was there with them in spirit.

Still, it was obvious that they missed Payton's ability to gauge the pulse of the team, motivate players and determine what needed to be fixed when things went wrong.

After winning more games than any team during the previous three seasons combined, the Saints had their first losing season since 2007 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.

``We certainly want coach back as soon as we can get him back,'' Strief said. ``We've said all along he's an important part of this organization. He's the leader of this organization, so you don't want to lose that guy.

``I know that he's going to be revved up. He's got 12 months of aggression wound up for us so I'm sure he'll be ready to go.''

The Saints will have a few key personnel issues to deal with when Payton returns, likely after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Several regulars will be free agents, including left tackle Jermon Bushrod, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, receiver Devery Henderson and Casillas. The Saints appear ready to part with veteran linebacker Scott Shanle, a former starter who was a healthy scratch the past eight games.

Saints players said Monday they hoped most of them will remain, citing the bond created in the locker room among players who never quit on a season that seemed doomed from the start. First, New Orleans rallied from 0-4 to 5-5, then responded to a late-season three-game skid by winning two straight and helping to knock Dallas out of the playoffs.

``The underlying story should be the resilience and the courage of our men in this locker room,'' Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. ``It was: Never give up on each other. Never give up on our team.

``We know that the business of football is unforgiving and we live in a production-oriented business,'' Greer added. ``Obviously, that changes every year and we realize that.''

Vitt, likewise, has said that the 2012 Saints was among his favorite teams in a career spanning more than three decades, and that he believes the way they handled the stresses of 2012 set them up for a very competitive 2013.

``We can sit and whine and sit here in self-pity and talk about coulda, shoulda, woulda, or we can try to get this thing behind us as soon as we can and move on to the business of getting better,'' Vitt said. ``That's what our players want to do. That's what our coaches want to do. That's what Sean would demand.

``But I have more respect now for this group of players and these coaches and our organization than I ever have,'' Vitt added. ``I'm proud to be a part of it.''

Watch a George Mason walk-on receive a full scholarship

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Watch a George Mason walk-on receive a full scholarship

There are not many videos better in this world than walk-on college athletes receiving a full-ride scholarship and their ensuing reaction. 

George Mason's men's basketball team gave everyone one of those emotional moments. Jack Tempchin, who's in his third year as a preferred walk-on for the Patriots, received the scholarship after Thursday's practice. 

His teammates reacted appropriately. 

On Twitter, the redshirt junior thanked his teammates, coaches and family who helped get him to this point. 

As a walk-on, Tempchin has only played in 16 games throughout his three years. Most of his minutes have been in garbage time of blowouts or to come in the game to pick-up a quick foul. Throughout those appearances, he's put up six points, four of them coming from the charity stripe. 

Gotta love when a player gets properly rewarded for their hard work and dedication. 

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Beal makes his case in win over Cavs

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Beal makes his case in win over Cavs

The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-112 on Thursday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. Just before tip-off, the NBA announced it's 2019-20 All-Star starters and not included in the Eastern Conference backcourt was Bradley Beal. Boston's Kemba Walker and Atlanta's Trae Young instead got the honors.

Whether Beal knew that fact when he took the floor or not, he put in a performance against the Cavs that should add to his case for being a reserve. The two-time All-Star followed up a 38-point gem against the Heat with 36 points against Cleveland just one night later. He also had eight assists and shot 15-for-22 (68.2%) from the field and 4-for-8 from three.

Beal now has the fourth-most 30-point games in the NBA since the start of last season with 40 of them. Only James Harden (86) Gianiis (54) and Damian Lillard (45) have more.

This 30-point game helped the Wizards bounce back from a loss the night before in Miami. Washington is now 15-29 on the season and 5-5 in their last 10 games.

2. In his previous six games since returning from a quad injury, Davis Bertans had put up some solid numbers and shown flashes. Against the Cavs, though, he did what we saw him to much more often a few months ago when he was healthy.

Bertans not only lit a spark off the bench, but he did so in microwave fashion. He had 14 of his 17 points in the first half, including three consecutive threes in the second quarter to force a timeout as the Wizards' lead grew to 14. That marked a big turnaround after Washington trailed by as many as 12 in the first quarter.

Bertans helped lead a monster effort from the Wizards' bench as a whole. They outscored the Cavs' second unit, 59-34. The Wizards are second in the NBA in bench scoring and that is despite all of the injuries they have dealt with in recent months. Now that they are nearly whole, the bench is becoming even stronger.

 

3. The Thomas Bryant situation is getting more interesting as each game passes. He has now been back six games and has been kept between roughly between 12 and 21 minutes a night. He played 17 minutes against the Cavs and contributed nine points and three rebounds.

Bryant is a big man coming off a foot injury, so the Wizards have incentive to play it safe and maintain a minutes restriction. But it has now been nearly two weeks since he came back.

Is it as simple as a minutes limit or is Ian Mahinmi's improved play having a domino effect on Bryant? The more Bryant plays limited minutes, the more that could become evident, if this is indeed performance based. 

Mahinmi, by the way, had seven points, seven rebounds and played strong defense, helping the Wizards to hold Tristan Thompson to six points and three rebounds.

4. Much like last week when the Wizards saw the Pistons and Andre Drummond, watching this game was reminder that Kevin Love is reportedly available in trades. That begs the natural question of where he would fit, if he gets dealt soon, like before the Feb. 6 deadline.

Some might argue the Wizards as an option, given their best players are guards and Love would technically complement them well. Given his age and contract, however, it would probably be too much of a risk for the Wizards.

The Blazers seem like they could use him and the Raptors could also be interesting. He would also fit well with the Rockets, though they probably don't have enough trade assets to get him.

What about the Timberwolves? They have disappointed this year and need to find Karl-Anthony Towns some help. Love wouldn't be joining a contender, as he probably hopes to, but it could be an interesting story if he goes back to the team he started with. And him and Towns would be a tough duo to stop given how well they rebound and stretch the floor.

Speaking of Love, he had the viral moment of the night when he pretended to resuscitate Beal. 

5. Backup center Anzejs Pasecniks was back in the mix after missing two games due to a left ankle injury. And not only was he available, he actually got some burn.

Pasecniks played 15 minutes and scored four points to go along with three rebounds. So, even with Bryant and Bertans back from injury, and Johnathan Williams III still getting minutes, Pasecniks maintains a role in the rotation.

That could change once other players come back. Moe Wagner, in particular, will probably take minutes away from him at the backup center spot. But Pasecniks still hanging around in the rotation is a testament to him and the way he has played. No one predicted he would play this much of a factor this season.

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